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Bristol, Kingsport, Sullivan and Hawkins schools closed for remainder of school year

Rick Wagner • Apr 15, 2020 at 7:12 PM

Sullivan County, Kingsport and Bristol, Tennessee, schools will be closed for the rest of this academic year, the three systems announced an hour after the 4 p.m. recommendation from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee that all public schools take that action. Hawkins County schools also will remain closed.

“I do agree with his (Lee’s) decision,” Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said after watching the governor’s news conference. “Students will still be engaged in online learning the rest of the (spring semester) time.”

The three systems’ closures include all extracurricular and athletic activities. The school year normally ends in mid-May with graduations, but the novel coronavirus pandemic that causes COVID-19 has shuttered schools, factories and businesses nationwide.

WHAT ABOUT GRADUATIONS?

“We understand that with this announcement, students and families will have many questions regarding events such as graduation and other end-of-year activities,” said the letter from interim Bristol Director of Schools Annette Tudor, Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse and Cox.

“Please be aware that we share your desire to celebrate the accomplishments of our students and are assessing all options, given the need and requirement to maintain the healthiest possible environment. All of these details will be communicated to you by your district as soon as it is possible to make such decisions.”

Kingsport Assistant Superintendent Andy True said city school officials are looking at available options for graduation recognitions. “We know that there are certain milestone events that are really important,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “It is important to us. We want to be able to celebrate our seniors.”

The three districts are to “remain in communication with you with details specific to your individual situation regarding continuation of instruction, operations, and nutrition plans for the remainder of the school year. Please be on the lookout for that information from your individual district and school.”

WHAT ABOUT HAWKINS COUNTY?

Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson said he was disappointed with the closure but understood the safety concerns about reopening schools. 

“We are currently continuing our education resources for all students as well as the twice-weekly learning opportunities,” Hixson said.

He said the system will offer resources through the summer and is “currently designing a three-day-per-week summer school opportunity for all students in the event we are able to run an educational setting later this summer.”

The “HCS Boot Camp” would work to recoup missed education and prepare students for the 2020-21 school year, Hixson said.

WHY NO MANDATE?

Lee on Wednesday stopped short of mandating all public schools close in Tennessee, something he said was not in his power.

“We think it’s important that we’re supporting districts’ efforts,” Lee said in response to a reporter’s question about mandating closures during a  virtual news conference, saying that although different parts of the state have varied impacts from COVID-19, he believes every public school will be closed for the rest of the year.

“We certainly would want to talk with them about that,” Lee said about leaders of any district that indicated it would reopen.

As for a goal of starting to “reopen” the state by May 1, Lee said input from health care professionals, business leaders and local leaders will “heavily” shape such a decision. “The most important thing is Tennesseans are protected and safe,” Lee said.

Staff writer Jeff Bobo contributed to this article.

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