This story was updated at 7:27 a.m. on Friday, March 13, 2020, with more information.
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UPDATE: Hamilton County students will not return to school until at least Monday, April 27, amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Hamilton County Schools will be closed until March 30 starting on Monday, March 16, in the wake of increased concerns about the COVID-19 virus.
"While at this time there are no known confirmed cases of coronavirus in the community, Hamilton County Schools will close for the next two weeks to provide a two-week window for children to be out of school to reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread. We make this decision with the safety of our children and the community in mind," said spokesman Tim Hensley in a news release.
Schools will be open and class will be in session on Friday, March 13, in order for teachers to send students home with materials and laptops needed for the break.
Class is canceled the week of March 16 to 20, and then district administrators are recommending that the system's spring break — originally scheduled for April 3-10— be rescheduled for the week of March 23 to 27.
"The district will recommend to the Hamilton County Board of Education that Spring Break be moved up two weeks to March 23-27 to reduce the loss of instruction time," Hensley said in the news release.
Several local private schools have also closures or a move to online classes. Girls Preparatory School, an all-girls school for students in grades 6-12, will begin moving classes online or assigning work remotely on Tuesday, March 17. The campus will be closed Monday, March 16, through April 13.
McCallie School, an all-boys 6-12 school, is also "transitioning to a virtual school environment and online learning format through Spring Break," according to a letter sent to parents Thursday. Classes will begin being held remotely via Google Classroom and Zoom teleconference platforms starting March 18. Baylor School also will suspend classes at the end of the day Friday and will continue instruction online through April 13.
As boarding schools, both McCallie and Baylor have international students unable to return home due to travel restrictions and have previously announced that campus will remain open for those students during spring break.
— Hamilton County Schools: open Friday, March 13, closed until March 30
— Baylor School: Campus closed beginning March 13 through April 12, online classes to begin March 16
— Bradley County Schools: Closed for the week of March 16-20, includes all school activities and YMCA after school care
— Chattanooga Christian School: Closed Friday, March 13, will announce plan going further on Friday
— Girls Preparatory School: Campus closed from March 16 to April 13, online classes and distance learning to resume March 17
— McCallie School: In-person classes suspended after Friday, March 13, online classes to begin March 18 and campus will be closed until April 14, some boarding students will be able to remain on campus
— Silverdale Baptist Academy: Closed beginning March 16. Online learning will begin March 17 and continue until further notice.
— Siskin Children's Institute: Closing and suspending services from Friday, March, 13, until Tuesday, March 17
The Hamilton County school board will have to vote to approve the plan, to reschedule the public schools' spring break, and several board members have already received complaints from teachers and concerns from families about the proposed change.
"The district knows moving Spring Break will disrupt family plans, and we will work with parents and students in this situation. If the board approves the change, planned trips for the original period for Spring Break, April 3 through April 10, will be excused absences for those students," Hensley continued in the release.
Students will miss an additional four days this school year over what was planned in the 2019-20 school calendar. The district has five "stockpile" days it can use to close school without needing to make up the time, according to Chief of Staff Nakia Towns Edwards.
She noted during a news conference with other Hamilton County officials that the district was continuing to plan for the possibility of schools not resuming on March 30.
"If we are not back in school as we anticipate, as we are planning for on March 30 then we have more distance learning [and] online learning capabilities," Towns Edwards said. "We will use next week for our staff to continue working on what those distance learning and online learning opportunities look like."
Most parents and students received an automated phone call Thursday afternoon informing them that all extracurricular, after-school activities, athletic events and practices and other school events have been canceled through March 30. District officials now anticipate reopening schools on Monday, March 30.
"We are in an extraordinary situation at this time, and out of an abundance of caution, the school district is looking to do its part to help address the problem," Hensley continued. "This district will continue to monitor the situation over the next two weeks."
District administrators met with school principals Thursday and are continuing to work out details, especially around student meals and continued learning while school is out, Superintendent Bryan Johnson told the Times Free Press.
The district announced the closure Thursday after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency to help the state address the spread of the new coronavirus. The number of confirmed cases in Tennessee doubled overnight and is now at 18, the Tennessee Department of Health announced Thursday afternoon.
The state's two largest school districts also have announced school closings, though the duration of the cancellations vary.
Shelby County Schools in Memphis announced that the district's schools will be closed starting Friday and reopen March 30, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.
Metro Nashville Public Schools were closed Thursday and will remain closed Friday, ahead of the district's spring break scheduled to begin on Monday, March 16.
"While there is no immediate threat to Metro Nashville Public Schools, I understand this is a quickly evolving situation, and closing for the rest of the week and through spring break will give us time to properly plan and evaluate what is in the best interest going forward," said interim director of schools Dr. Adrienne Battle in a news release. "Our teams will be using the next several days to develop contingency plans and safety precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our staff and students."
There have been no students or staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Battle, but there have been confirmed cases in the Nashville area.
Several area colleges and universities have canceled classes or moved instruction online in the wake of the crisis, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga State Community College, Bryan College, Lee University and Southern Adventist University.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.