Southeast Tennessee schools strategize against coronavirus outbreak

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, orange, emerging from the surface of cells, green, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)

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As Gov. Bill Lee on Monday ordered all Tennessee school districts to close by Friday in response to the coronavirus, many school systems across rural Southeast Tennessee had already responded to the outbreak by canceling activities and closing schools for as long as two weeks, while others planned to use spring break to monitor the situation as it develops.

Several school systems called off classes for a week before or after spring break to give them two weeks. Schools in Hamilton County closed Monday and will remain so until at least April 13.

Bradley County and Cleveland City schools were on spring break March 6-10 and canceled classes over coronavirus concerns for this week, according to statements on the systems' websites.

In Bledsoe County, schools closed this week for the coronavirus outbreak and students are on spring break March 23-27, according to a statement from director of schools Jennifer Terry.

"In a preemptive attempt to slow the spread of the virus ALL school activities will be cancelled during this two week period," Terry said in a statement on the system's website. "We will continue to monitor this fluid situation and provide updates as they become available."

Similar statements and planned actions appear on other system websites.

McMinn County Schools and city school systems in Athens and Etowah canceled classes this past Saturday until at least March 28, according to a notice posted online.

Polk County Schools will be closed this week in response to coronavirus, followed by spring break March 23-27, according to the system website.

Sequatchie County Schools are shuttered March 16-28 in response to the outbreak, according to a statement from director of schools Michael L. Swafford posted on the system website. Sequatchie's spring break is in April.

Schools in Marion, Meigs, Franklin, Grundy and Rhea counties have not closed, but students are on spring break all this week.

Franklin County director of schools Stanley Bean, who spoke about the issue on WCDT Radio in Winchester Monday morning, told listeners that systems such as Franklin with a spring break scheduled this week can use the time to watch other systems' response, monitor the outbreak as it develops and firm up plans later this week.

Likewise, Coffee County Schools were called off for this week, with a decision on future closures to be announced by March 19. Meanwhile, the two city systems in Coffee County took steps, as well. Tullahoma City Schools canceled classes until Wednesday, with spring break following March 19-27 and a tentative return to class March 30, and neighboring Manchester City Schools will be closed March 16-20. Both city systems will announce future plans by March 19, as well, school officials said on social media. Coffee County and Manchester schools have spring break in April.

School officials in all systems urged parents and students to check official system websites regularly for the latest developments in their communities.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at