The extended shutdown order affects more than 1.7 million students in public and private K-12 schools. It means children will spend the rest of the year learning remotely.
"This was a critical step for us to protect as much people as possible," said Gov. Tom Wolf. "It was not an easy decision to make."
The order applies through the last day of the current academic year, a date that varies among districts because calendars are set by school boards.
Wolf made the decision after consulting with Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and Dr. Rachel Levine, the state health secretary, Wolf's spokeswoman said Thursday.
"Schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, but that doesn't mean learning is stopping in Pennsylvania," Wolf said in a video announcing the closure. "Teaching and learning will continue. Free meals for kids will continue. Connections will continue."
Dr. William Hite, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, found out about the announcement during a news conference on Thursday morning.
"That doesn't change what we intend to do with respect to remote learning, but it does answer the question of whether or not we will return to the school building... but it is why the remote learning plan is so critically important," Hite said.
He said the announcement now allows the district to plan more specifically.
It was news that came as a shock to Lilian Hernandez as she started the homeschool lesson for her three children Thursday morning.
"My anxiety went from zero to 1,000," she said upon hearing the news.
"I'm wondering how the kids are going to know if they passed to the next grade," asked Will Ancona, a West Philadelphia parent who has four children in Philadelphia public schools.
Hite says online learning will continue, with new curriculum, assignments and attendance starting on May 4.
"Students will have the opportunity to improve grades and stay on track for graduation or promotion. But it will not be based on what we would have been able to do if students had not lost all the days in between the time that we close schools and the time that we will have a robust remote learning plan ready to go."
Governor Wolf says schools will continue their remote learning plans and other services to students.
"Even though schools are closed, many of the important things the schools provide will continue," Wolf said. "Teaching and learning will continue. Meals for kids will continue."
The a statement from the governor's office clarified that the state mandate to close schools applies to "all public K-12 schools, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units. All Department of Education early learning program classrooms, including those for Pre-K Counts, Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP) and Preschool Early Intervention, will also remain closed."
The mandate also stipulated that campuses of colleges and universities remain closed until the governor allows them to reopen or until state government permits non-essential businesses to reopen.
Hernandez has a son who is a high school senior. Like many in the class of 2020, he's worried about what the closure means in terms of graduating.
"Everything was going so well," said Isaias Hernandez. "I was starting the college process and the next steps of my life and all of it was out on pause thanks to the virus."
The School District of Philadelphia is looking into the possibility of mailing diplomas to seniors and hosting a celebration at another time.
"We're going to do everything we can to acknowledge those young people," said Hite.
In addition, seniors in Philadelphia who paid fees for prom, graduation and other activities that won't happen will be refunded.
The state education secretary has mandated that schools can not hold classes past June30th; therefore they school year won't be extended beyond that timeframe.
But Philadelphia school officials say there will be opportunities for learning specificallyfor students with special needs, those who are English learners and those who need additional credits to graduate. The district will also provide counseling to students who have been emotionally impacted by the changes.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has been providing updates and guidance on COVID-19's impact on schools for more information, click here:education.pa.gov/COVID19.