The three school systems announced the uniform two-week closure in a joint letter emailed to families and employees Sunday afternoon about 5 p.m. Sullivan County and Bristol already were scheduled to be on spring break the week of March 16-20, while Kingsport’s spring break is the week of March 23-27. School leaders said the closure decision came in consultation with the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.
“With the support of the health department, we are all going to be in a two-week break,” Kingsport Assistant Superintendent Andy True said Sunday afternoon. True and Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said the decision was made countywide, although school officials and health department Medical Director Dr. Stephen May said last week a closure because of the virus was not warranted then.
“Today they (health department officials) supported the closure,” True said, referencing a decision made after colleges and many K-12 schools nationwide made the same decision last week. Sullivan County has one confirmed case of the respiratory illness, and that person is self-quarantined at home.
“We were on spring break already,” Cox said Sunday afternoon. “The health department in Sullivan has recommended we close for two weeks.”
The Sunday letter was signed by Cox, Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse and Bristol Interim Director Annette Tudor, just like a letter Wednesday, March 11, that said schools were not closing at that time but urging folks to take precautions, including frequent hand-washing, keeping a distance of six feet from one another, to cough into the elbow and not to get out in public with symptoms of an illness.
Many churches, including the entire Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, have suspended church services and other activities. Cox said it makes sense for all three systems to close at the same time since they are so intertwined with athletics and other activities and are in close physical proximity.
True and Cox said no athletic or other extra-curricular activities would occur during the two-week school closure, although True stopped short of saying those activities were canceled permanently. They said the timing of the return to school would be assessed as the two weeks draw to a close.
Although no details have been worked out for potential make up days, Cox said during a regional superintendents and directors meeting in Greeneville on Friday that state Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn assured school leaders remotely that “the state department (of education) will give every consideration in working with us.”
School systems in Tennessee “bank” extra days by having longer school days, and in the past the state has allowed days missed for illness to be offset by those banked days much as snow or flooding days. Sullivan and Kingsport schools were closed earlier this year because of flu and other illnesses.
“We’ll just take it a day at a time,” Cox said. “Information is just changing so rapidly.”
Public schools in Sullivan County — Bristol City, Kingsport City and Sullivan County — will be closed, effective immediately, through Friday, March 27. This includes all extracurricular and athletic activities.
The decision was announced in a joint letter to stakeholders at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The letter reads:
“Dear Families and Staff of Bristol, Kingsport, and Sullivan County Schools:
We have continued to consult with the Sullivan County Health Department since our last communication, receiving updates and information related to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and how it affects school operations.
As of 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 15, 2020: With the support of the Sullivan County Health Department, Bristol City Schools, Kingsport City Schools, and Sullivan County Schools will be closed, effective immediately, through Friday, March 27, 2020. This includes all extra-curricular and athletic activities.
Please be aware that as we approach the end of this two-week closure, additional assessment will take place regarding when and how school will resume. Additional information will be communicated to you at that time with those details.
Also, each school district will be in communication with you with details specific to your individual situation regarding instruction, food, staff expectations, etc. Please be on the lookout for that information from your individual district.
As a community, we are all concerned with the health and well-being of our citizens and feel this is the most appropriate measure for Sullivan County’s students and families at this time. We thank you for your support during this time and wish all of our families the very best of health.”
The letter is signed by Dr. Annette Tudor, interim director, Bristol City Schools; Dr. Jeff Moorhouse, superintendent, Kingsport City Schools; and Dr. David Cox, director, Sullivan County Schools.