Spring break extended amidst COVID-19 concerns

Expressing safety concerns involving COVID-19, President Phil Oldham on Thursday extended Tennessee Tech University’s spring break for another week and announced subsequent online classes only until further notice.


Students prepared to take a weeklong break beginning Monday, now do not have to return to class until March 27. University faculty begin transitioning to online courses on March 30.


“We have a responsibility to the larger community to do our part with precautionary decisions and actions,” Oldham said in a statement released at 6 p.m. Thursday. “Our other planning goals have included ensuring our students can complete the semester.”


Tech follows Middle Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University, University of Tennessee and Belmont University in deciding to close or revert to online classes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.


The decision also forced officials to cancel this weekend’s International Public Debate Association national championships on Tech campus. OVC officials also announced Thursday they are suspending all athletic competitions and formal practices until further notice.


Tech’s speech and debate team was expecting 43 schools from 18 states for the national competition – the first time the event was scheduled to be in Cookeville.


“Our team has been preparing all year for this tournament and we were looking forward to learning more from the competition and to hopefully earn several national awards at the competition,” coach Jacob Metz said.


IPDA President Keith Milstead said more than 400 people registered for the banquet but by Thursday morning, the number was down to 225.


“There was just such a rapid descent of additional cancellations,” Milstead said. “We tried until the last minute to keep it as active as we could but there were so man things that pointed to a potential disaster.”


Metz said he hopes the tournament can be rescheduled for the sake of senior team members.


“For most of them, this was not only the last national tournament that they were scheduled to compete at, but it also was going to be the last tournament ever,” he said.


As for scheduled athletic events, five Golden Eagle teams face a possible end to their seasons. As of Thursday, the spring schedule included 37 baseball games, 29 softball games, seven men’s and women’s golf games, and nine indoor track meets.


Oldham said he briefed University trustees Thursday morning about monitoring the health issue nationwide. School officials suspended all official related international travel earlier this week.


He also said a special task force is meeting twice a week to keep on top of developments and they have opened a dedicated web page to keep students, faculty and staff informed.