Hamilton County Schools to remain closed through April 13 amid coronavirus concerns

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / "Hamilton County Schools" is seen on a new school bus at the Hamilton County Department of Education on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn. First Student Inc. is providing the county with 185 new state-of-the-art buses which include GPS tracking systems, digital cameras, air conditioning and other features.

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Last week, the school district announced it would be closed until March 30 starting on Monday, March 16 in the wake of increased concerns about the COVID-19 virus, but some initially speculated schools might be closed even longer.

Hamilton County's announcement came after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee ordered every school district across the state to close by Friday, March 20, in response to efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"With this announcement and the continued uncertainty of the progression of COVID-19, we are not recommending any shifts to our calendar," read a statement from district officials. "Students will remain out until Monday, April 13."

Lee recommended schools stay closed until at least March 31 and said the state would issue further guidance later.

Some districts or schools in the area had already planned to close for several weeks. Many private schools, including Baylor School, McCallie School and Girls Preparatory School already moved classes online until after the schools' spring breaks or until at least April 13.

Many Hamilton County Schools teachers asked the district to close for longer, but have also questioned the district's original plan to reschedule spring break and instructions for distance learning.

Some of those instructions - like when students should be working and when teachers should be available - are still unclear. The Hamilton County school board also cancelled it's planned meeting on Monday.

"Out of an abundance of caution and concern for the health and safety of employees, Board members, media, etc. the Work Session scheduled for tonight (Monday, March 16, 2020) has been cancelled," read a statement from the district. "The facilities discussion will be added as an amended item to the regular agenda. Information regarding the calendar was sent out earlier by the communications team. There will be no change in the date for Spring Break."

Tennessee now joins at least 33 states that have shuttered schools statewide and more are expected to follow after updated guidelines and announcements Monday.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.