High school goes virtual after COVID outbreak

By  and , Daily Memphian Updated: August 18, 2020 4:55 PM CT | Published: August 18, 2020 11:57 AM CT

Memphis’ Harding Academy is suspending athletics and moving its 9-12th grade students to virtual learning for two weeks after 12 coronavirus cases have been confirmed.

The cases are among student athletes (9 in volleyball, one in soccer, one in football) and one faculty member, according to the school.

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Head of school Trent Williamson sent the following statement: 

“All confirmed cases are isolated to our high school athletic teams. Because we prioritize student safety, we have suspended all athletics and have transitioned all students in grades 9–12 to virtual learning for the next two weeks. Little Harding, lower school, and middle school remain open for in-person instruction. Parents in lower and middle school also have the option to choose virtual instruction. We are working closely with the Shelby County Health Department to ensure we are following all protocols to protect the health and safety of our students and faculty.”

Harding resumed classes on Monday, Aug. 10. 

Officials at the Shelby County Health Department and the “Back-to-Business” subcommittee of the countywide COVID task force have been clear in messaging that contact sports are considered high-risk.

Gov. Bill Lee allowed high school and college seasons to open this fall.

Tuesday, health department director Alisa Haushalter affirmed the health department’s position.

“Anytime we see a large number of young people who are impacted, that are engaged in the same sport or have been in close contact, that’s disconcerting to us.”

To be as safe as possible, Haushalter is directing coaches and school leaders to guidance on specific sports, available through the health department and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.

“But the key things really, are applying principles to the sport itself,” she said, including having teams practice in subgroups and employing strategies for social distancing.

In a short time, the athletic gear industry has come up with innovations, including shields for the helmets and new kinds of mouthpieces that make it hard to “expectorate the germs,” she said.

Haushalter expects sports will see both environmental changes - smaller practice sessions and bans on shared water bottles, for instance - and innovations in gear.

“We’ll also see testing playing a significant role in determining whether or not an athlete can safely play or not play.”

Innovations in testing likely will include saliva testing, which is being studied by several labs, including Poplar Healthcare.

Harding is a Christian, college-preparatory school. The main campus, 1100 Cherry Road, serves senior kindergarten through 12th grade students. The East Memphis Little Harding campus, 1106 Colonial Road, serves students 18 months old through junior kindergarten, as does the the Cordova Little Harding campus, 8350 Macon Road.


coronavirus Harding Academy
Elle Perry

Elle Perry

A native Memphian, Elle Perry has earned graduate degrees from the University of Memphis and Maryland Institute College of Art. She’s written for publications including the Memphis Business Journal, Memphis Flyer and High Ground News, and previously served as coordinator of The Teen Appeal.

Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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