School districts release tentative closure plans amid coronavirus pandemic

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 16, 2020 at 8:14 PM

Shortly after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee released a public statement Monday morning recommending school closures throughout the state, local school districts outlined their plans amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

The governor recommended school closures through March 31 to “further mitigate the spread of this infectious disease.” As of Monday afternoon, Johns Hopkins University had recorded more than 180,000 infections globally, with more than 4,300 in the United States. Total global deaths rose above 7,000, with 78 deaths recorded in the U.S.

The virus has infected 52 people in Tennessee, including one in Sullivan County.

Johnson City Schools

Johnson City Schools will be closed until April 6. The closure includes all extra-curricular activities, all theater and music performances and athletic activities, including practices. 

The district is currently on spring break, and officials said they were “working on plans for child care, meals, instructional resources and making counselors available for both staff and students during closure” Monday morning following Lee’s statement. Superintendent Steve Barnett said planning for online classes is in the works to be announced by the end of next week.

“Students in 7-12 took their Chromebooks home for the break. If they did not, we’ll have an opportunity for them to pick them up,” he said, adding that specific details about each course still need to be worked out.

Barnett said officials have been working on tentative plans to provide food to students, which will hopefully be ready by the “middle of next week.” He said students will be able to pick up meals from schools, adding that delivery services will also be made available. 

“It’ll be a drive-through type of situation where families can come through and pick it up, but we’re also going to have sites where we deliver to different communities,” he said. “We’re also going to try to deliver work packets for students in grades K-6 in those communities with our food.”

ACT testing, which was set statewide for March 17, will be postponed. 

“We’re expecting ACT to provide makeup dates in May and June,” Barnett said. The district has 13 snow days available after spring break. 

The district’s Educare sites will remain open. Staff and students will have daily temperature screenings and practice social distancing. 

“As soon as more information becomes available, we will notify the public,” the district announced Monday morning.

Washington County Schools 

Washington County Schools will be closed Wednesday through March 27. Schools will continue to be closed the week of March 30 through April 3 for spring break.

Bill Flanary, Washington County’s director of schools, said the system was already scheduled to be closed March 17, except for 11th-graders at Daniel Boone and David Crockett high schools who will be taking the ACTs. Flanary said those tests will still be conducted as planned.

“These tests are important for their future,” Flanary said.

Flanary said all athletic events are canceled immediately, and only county school employees in the finance and maintenance departments will be reporting to work. He said food will also continue to be served to children up to the age of 18 “until we get back on regular schedule” at the county’s four preparatory kitchens at Daniel Boone, David Crockett, Jonesborough Middle and Boones Creek Elementary schools.

Officials will confer with the Washington County Health Department during the week of spring break to determine if students can return to classes on April 6. In the meantime, Flanary said his staff is developing resources for students to keep up with their studies online. He said information on that will be made be available to parents and the public as it comes. 

Other local public school districts: 

Johnson County Schools will be closed Tuesday until April 14. Administrators will reassess the situation based upon guidelines provided by the Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Students have been encouraged to take school materials and personal items home with them. The district is “currently working on a plan to distribute meals for those who need them,” according to a statement Monday morning. 

Carter County Schools will be closed for all activities Wednesday through March 31. The district will reevaluate the situation before April 1, according to a statement released on Facebook by Director Kevin Ward. Beginning Wednesday, lunch will still be made available to students at Happy Valley Elementary, Hunter Elementary, Hampton High School and Little Milligan School. In grades K-8, school instruction documents will be made available on each school's website and social media pages, and hard copies can be obtained at the Carter County Schools Administration Building. Students in grades 9-12 will have materials made available through Google classroom. ACT testing will be postponed. 

Elizabethton City Schools will be closed through April 3, but the school administration plans to continue providing breakfast and lunch to children. All three elementary schools will serve lunches to all students, according to Director Corey Gardenhour. Breakfast will be served from 9-9:30 a.m. and lunch will be served from noon to 12:45 p.m. Parents may also be served for $3.75. Students may go to any of the three elementary schools to pick up the meals. High school and middle school students may go to any of the elementary schools.

Unicoi County Schools will be closed for all activities from Tuesday to April 13. Officials said they will decide how to proceed toward the end of the closure period and were also working on a plan to feed the district’s children as of Monday morning. Elementary schools will have pick-up food services for district students, Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meals will also be provided on bus routes at bus stops beginning at 11 a.m. 

Under the recommendation of the Sullivan County Health Department, Bristol City Schools, Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County Schools will be closed for all activities, effective immediately, through March 27. At the end of the two-week closure, officials will decide when and how the district will resume. 

Additional information and periodic updates on each school system can be found at their websites.