LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has ordered all schools in Indiana to close until at least May 1 as the number of COVID-19 cases soars in the state.

State officials announced Thursday that 17 additional cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed, brining the state's total to 56. Since that news conference, the Floyd County Health Department announced that an additional case of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the area.

Holcomb said during a news conference Thursday that the statewide school closure could be extended through the rest of the 2019-20 academic year.

"As we get nearer to May 1, we may have to close permanently," he said, "but we'll make that call down the road."

The state will seek a standardized testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, he said, noting that he will cancel ILEARN and other standardized tests scheduled for this school year.

Holcomb said he had been in contact with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who supported removing "all barriers" for Indiana and other states affected by the global health pandemic.

The department has indicated that it will grant one-year testing waivers for schools impacted by closures as they try to limit the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

"We're making sure that they know that we'll be applying for a waiver so that we don't jeopardize or lose any funding in our efforts to keep our kids healthy and safe," Holcomb said.

"If, and I stress if, by some miracle we get students back this year, we'll use that time in class for instruction, not cramming for tests, so I'm canceling Indiana's student assessments for this school year."

Steve Griffin, assistant superintendent for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation, said the district is developing eLearning and non-traditional instruction plans for students, who are currently on spring break. 

The district was scheduled to resume classes March 31.

"We've been working on an eLearning plan in anticipation of this," he said, noting that families will be updated on the district's plans early next week.

The potential of losing the rest of the school year "breaks our hearts," Griffin said.

"We think we have some of the best teachers on the planet, and there's no better instruction than face-to-face," he said. "We're firm believers in that, but we also know what our current reality is, and we want to do all we can to work with our families to accommodate an alternative learning opportunity for students."

Greater Clark County Schools Superintendent Mark Laughner said the district will alternate weeks between eLearning and taking advantage of instructional waivers offered by the Indiana Department of Education through May 1.

He hopes that students who don't have internet access at home will be able to connect elsewhere and download assignments, noting that the schedule gives students and teachers additional time to complete and grade work.

Laughner said the district is prepared to follow that schedule for the rest of the school year, if necessary.

The prospect of losing the rest of the year is "very challenging," particularly for seniors worried about staple events like graduation and prom "that they may never get back," he said.

"Obviously you don't want to do that, but with the circumstances, we may have to do that," Laughner told WDRB News. "There are some really tough decisions we're having to make that impact students."

Greater Clark will continue its meal service program during the extended closure, Laughner said.

"I think it's the right decision," he said of the decision to call off classes until at least May 1, noting efforts to limit to spread of COVID-19 through social distancing.

"For us, we're just trying to make sure there's some semblance of education going on. We still want to engage our students in some kind of education to keep them going, and that's important to us."

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