What to know while Chattanooga area schools are closed amid coronavirus concerns

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Connor Wilson uses the Learning Blade program with classmates in their science class at Signal Mountain Middle High School on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Learning Blade is an online learning program geared towards STEM education for students.

Hamilton County Schools and other area school districts fell in line last week with others across the country and around the world by shuttering their facilities and programs in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

About 45,000 Hamilton County children will be home until at least April 13, joining tens of millions of students nationwide - including those in six states that have shut down all schools such as Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Florida and Illinois, and big-city districts including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Although Hamilton County Schools' plan is to reopen on Monday, March 30, and the Tennessee Department of Education has left that decision up to local jurisdictions, some local school officials don't believe that students will return in two weeks.

So what do students and parents do while kids are home? Some might have assignments or virtual activities, but others might be worried about access to lunch, much less logging online.

Here is what you need to know about school closures in our area.

What is closed?

In addition to Hamilton County, districts that are also closed include Bradley County Schools and Cleveland City Schools in Tennessee and Catoosa County Schools, Dalton Public Schools and Whitfield County Schools in Georgia. Several independent schools include Baylor School, McCallie School, Girls Preparatory School and Silverdale Baptist Academy, while local Catholic parish schools are also closed.

For how long?

Officially, most public school districts are closed through April 13. Many private schools are closed until mid-April, after previously scheduled spring break. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that short-to-medium closures (two to four weeks) do not seem to have an effect on slowing down COVID-19's effect on the health care system, but longer closures (eight to 20 weeks) might have a more significant effect.

K-12 schools aren't the only ones closed

Most colleges and universities are extending their spring breaks, pushing students to move out of their dormitories and moving their classes online for the remainder of the semester, including Bryan College, Covenant College and Southern Adventist University.

UT System campuses have moved classes online until further notice and Lee University has suspended in-person classes through March 30.

Some schools will still be serving breakfast, lunch

In Hamilton County alone, nearly 30,000 students have access to free breakfast and lunch every day at school and rely on those meals. While schools are closed, the district will have designated sites throughout the community that will provide free meals for pickup for students.

Other organizations such as the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and others are providing resources as well.

For more information, visit: www.hcde.org/hcs-continued- learning/resources_for_families/food_resources.

Few alternatives to leaving kids at home

Many facilities that typically serve as hubs for children when school is out, such as public libraries or Chattanooga's Youth and Family Development Centers, will also be closed. Many childcare facilities also do not have extra room for a sudden influx of children. Many worry this will have an effect on hourly workers' abilities to go to work and keep earning money.

Parents might be trying to work at home as well

Many major Chattanooga employers, like BlueCross Blue-Shield of Tennessee, Unum and U.S. Xpress Enterprises, are allowing, and in some instances mandating, that employees work remotely from their homes. Some wonder if local broadband will be able to support the increase of workers and students going online, but many parents with children at home might not be able to work from home. Workers in the service industry, such as restaurants and hospitality, have to be physically present, as do health care workers, taxi drivers, mail carriers and many more.

Resources available - if you have internet access

Dozens of online learning websites are sharing free lessons and activities with parents and teachers, such as Scholastic's Learn at Home platform or PBS' resources for parents.

Most schools have also sent assignments and packets home with students or will have teachers available to support students remotely.

Contact your child's teacher with any questions and visit: www.hcde.org/hcs-continued-learning.

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