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Roundup: School Closures Extended; Holy Week Changes

File photo/Diocese of Knoxville

Lee recommends schools remain closed

Governor Bill Lee says Tennessee schools should remain closed until late April, extending by nearly a month closures that began in the third week of March.

Some local school systems have already complied. Shortly after the governor’s recommendation came out, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Greene, Loudon, Knox, McMinn and Roane county school districts announced they would remain idled until April 24. Schools in Alcoa, Clinton, Lenoir City, Maryville, Newport and Oneida said they would do the same.

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said the state is working with PBS to produce educational shows and content for children whose academic year was suddenly truncated by the COVID-19 closures. That content should begin to roll out in about two weeks, Schwinn said.

“The Department of Education team will continue to work closely with our districts as they serve students and families during this time,” Schwinn said in a statement. “We are committed to doing whatever we can to support our district leaders as they make the necessary decisions to ensure students can continue to access critical meal and other services, as well as receive high-quality academic instruction while they are out of school.”

Gov. Lee hesitated to order Tennessee public schools to close this month, initially leaving the decision up to local districts and finally “urging” systems to close by March 20.

Tennessee churches look ahead to a different kind of Holy Week

The period leading into and including Easter Sunday is an important time on the Christian calendar. In Knoxville’s Catholic diocese, this year’s spring religious season will be much quieter than usual. Bishop Richard Sticka announced Tuesday that Holy Week services will be held in essentially empty churches, with parishioners invited to watch via live web streaming.

“There shall be no public gatherings (inside or outside churches, in cars, etc.) during Holy Week,” the diocese said. “Masses shall be celebrated without a congregation b the pastor/parish priest.”

Sticka himself will lead liturgies throughout Holy Week, including for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They will be livestreamed.

Sticka decided earlier this month to limit personal contact at church services, restricting communion and traditional greetings that included touching. All public Masses were suspended beginning March 20.

United Methodist Church Bishop Bill McAlilly has indicated UMC churches across the state may also suspend normal Holy Week services.

“It now seems obvious that to help protect the health of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will need to forgo gathering for worship and meetings in our buildings at least through Palm Sunday, April 5, and potentially throughout Holy Week and Easter,” McAlily wrote on his blog March 19.

Governor Bill Lee said on March 20, “Churches that continue to meet and gather with elderly and putting groups of people in the same setting, quite frankly they’re risking people’s lives. And there are ways to worship and there are ways to serve without congregating people.”

Social justice groups ask for steps to reduce COVID risk in prisons, jails and detention centers

The Highlander Center, Black Mama’s Bail Out Knoxville, the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and nearly forty other groups have signed a petition asking the state supreme court to take rapid steps to reduce the risk of COVID transmission in jail environments.

Their recommendations include issuing citations instead of making arrests; releasing low-level offenders, people in pre-trial detention and inmates at high risk for COVID complications; and adjusting sentencing for some felonies to probation and other supervised situations.

Law enforcement and justice authorities in Nashville have already taken similar steps as COVID-19 spreads through the population in Tennessee’s largest metro area.

“In this unprecedented moment in history…courts also have a moral obligation to protect the health, safety and well-being of people so detained, because they are unable to protect themselves from exposure to the coronavirus due to the inherent conditions inside jails, detention centers, and prisons,” the petition reads. “That obligation also extends to protecting the health, safety and well-being of everyone who enters or works within those facilities, as well as the public at-large.”

TVA donates N95 masks

The Tennessee Valley Authority says it will donate 50,000 N95 masks to state emergency management agencies. The much sought-after masks are in short supply across America. They help protect first responders, health care providers and others from the airborne particles and droplets that can carry COVID-19. State emergency officials will distribute the masks where they are most needed.