Hamilton County Schools to remain closed until April 27 following Gov. Bill Lee's recommendation amid COVID-19 crisis

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions concerning the state's response to the coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Lee has asked all schools in Tennessee to close by the end of the week due to coronavirus spreading across the state. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Hamilton County students will not return to school until at least Monday, April 27, amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The district announced the extended closure quickly after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called for schools across the state to remain closed until April 24, during the Governor's daily press call Tuesday.

Lee's recommendation comes just a week after he initially recommended all Tennessee school districts to close through March 31.

Hamilton County announced an initial closure starting March 16, but like many things during the pandemic, updates have continued rolling in.

"Today, Governor Bill Lee announced all schools in the state of Tennessee will remain closed through Friday, April 24. With this announcement, Hamilton County Schools' will remain closed through April 24, with schools opening and students returning to school on Monday, April 27," read a statement from the district. "The district's teachers and students will continue virtual learning during this period with the exception of Spring Break. The break begins on April 3, and continues the week of April 6 through April 10. District leadership will monitor the situation and provide regular updates regarding the anticipated return to school on Monday, April 27."

Schools began closing in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Though Hamilton County only has 15 confirmed cases, Hamilton County Schools and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have both confirmed staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19.

On March 20, the school district announced that a staff member at Lookout Valley Elementary School had tested positive for COVID-19 and the district also advised the community that staff at four schools -Battle Academy, East Ridge Middle School, The Howard School and Ooltewah Elementary School - had possibly been exposed to the disease after Hamilton County reported its first case, that of Brad Whitaker, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn also endorsed Lee's recommendation Tuesday.

"This is an unprecedented time for our country and state and we thank Governor Lee for his leadership in protecting the health and wellbeing of Tennessee's students and teachers. We know school closures represent a significant disruption for families and students and the recommendation to extend them has not been considered lightly," Schwinn said in a statement.

The state education department continues to work with school districts to ensure students are receiving meals and distance learning continues while school buildings are closed, Schwinn added.

"Even in the midst of these challenges, we have seen an incredible outpouring from districts, schools, and teachers going above and beyond to ensure students continue to have access to food and have the supports they need to continue learning. This is a huge testament to our resilience as a state and the dedication of our educators and leaders."

Bradley County and Cleveland City Schools also announced Tuesday they will remained closed until April 27. All school-related activities scheduled through then will be canceled or postponed, according to a press release. Individual schools will make announcements concerning events, as needed.

Williamson County Schools has already announced that its schools will remain closed until at least May 1, potentially setting a precedent for districts across the state.

The Tennessee legislature approved suspending TNReady testing - the state's annual standardized assessment - last week as well, amid the extended school closures and some lawmakers wondered if schools would re-open at all this school year.

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