Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Notre Dame High School is seen on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Update: On Monday, the Diocese of Knoxville closed all 10 schools in the diocese until April 13. At-home learning will begin for Chattanooga-area schools on March 18, the announcement said.


Some Chattanooga Catholics hadn't even heard the news before they made it to mass Sunday morning.

Bishop Richard Stika, head of the Diocese of Knoxville, finally granted Catholics an exemption from attending mass for the rest of the month due to concerns about a coronavirus outbreak late Saturday, despite announcing that the diocese would not stop mass at any of its 51 parishes and mission churches Friday.

In Saturday's late announcement, was news that parish schools will also be closed this week.

"After much prayer and consultation, we have decided to transition our schools to a different sort of learning for the week of March 16 to 20," said Sedonna Prater, superintendent of the diocese schools, in a letter to schools Saturday. "Our continual monitoring will shape decisions about future weeks. Teachers have been preparing for this possibility and you will hear from each school individually about their specific details."

On its website, Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga posted an announcement that said the school will "transition to remote learning for the week of March 16-20 with continual monitoring shaping decisions about future weeks."

Prater said the diocese had already suspended extracurricular events, co-curricular events, school-sponsored events, field trips and non-essential meetings through April 13, as well as school-sponsored travel to Washington, D.C. 

Faculty and staff of St. Jude School will report to work on Monday, March 16 to plan for virtual learning, but students will not be in attendance — similar to Hamilton County Schools, the public school district's plan for teachers.

Parish schools are the most recent wave of closures in recent days. Hamilton County Schools announced on Thursday that all schools will be closed until March 30 and many private or independent schools have announced even longer closures amid coronavirus outbreak concerns.

Some colleges and universities have transitioned to remote work for even longer, with many opting to complete the entire spring semester online and ordering students to move out of their residence halls.

Catholics in east Tennessee can still attend mass though. Though Stika announced people were excused, he did not cancel services like other dioceses or denominations have across the country

"Mass will still be celebrated for those who wish to attend but given the fact that attendance may cause some to be anxious, I thought it best to offer this dispensation," he said in a statement.

On Friday, the pastor of a large downtown Chattanooga church —  Brad Whitaker, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church— was identified as the first case of COVID-19 in Hamilton County. The Times Free Press determined that the Whitaker made contact with hundreds of people in the weeks following his exposure

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