Project Graduation has been cancelled this year because of the ongoing issues of the novel coronavirus, officials said.

In a statement Wednesday, Project Graduation officials said due to the many uncertainties of the days and months ahead, the Board of Directors for Project Graduation Hamblen County made the decision to cancel the event scheduled for May 22.

“Since the preparations for the event involve advance contractual commitments and payments, we feel that it would be fiscally irresponsible to move forward given the present circumstances,” the statement read. “We realize that there will be many needs in our community that are very important, and we want the resources of the community to be available for these needs.”

Project Graduation said if a donation has been made they would refund or return any gifts.

“This has been a heartbreaking decision, but we feel that it is in the best interest of our students, volunteers and our community supporters,” the statement said.

Officials said Project Graduation will return next year.

Courts remain open, in-person hearings suspended

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order restating that all Tennessee courts will remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, but extending the suspension of most in-person judicial proceedings through April 30.

The order also instructs judges not to take action to move forward cases involving eviction or displacement except in exceptional circumstances; includes alternatives for notarizing documents; slightly modifies the list of exceptions to the suspension of in-person hearings; and clarifies that courthouses in Tennessee should remain open for essential hearings and filings, even if some entrances are closed or an appointment must be made to enter.

In addition, the Order directs the presiding judge in each judicial district to submit a plan for a reduction in the local jail population. Judges had previously been directed to work with local law enforcement, prosecutors, and public defenders to review their local jail populations and make reductions when possible.

The Order includes a list of exceptions including proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, including bond-related matters, preliminary hearings and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals and matters related to relief from abuse

State parks change hours

Tennessee State Parks officials said operational changes for the state park system.

The park system is also announcing a series of operational changes effective March 26.

“Our state parks are part of the fabric of Tennessee communities and have been an important place of renewal during this crisis,” Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said. “The measures announced today will continue to provide healthy outdoor spaces for Tennesseans while providing more protection for our neighbors and our staff. We can do our part to flatten the curve of COVID-19 while continuing to provide open spaces when our neighbors need it most.”

Tennessee State Parks will transition to day-use schedules for all 56 state parks, opening daily from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. The new schedule goes into effect today and will be in place until at least April 10.

During this period, all public gathering spaces such as visitor centers, shelters and playgrounds at state parks will be closed. Additionally, parks cabins, lodges and campgrounds close. Future reservations with arrival dates between now and April 9 will be canceled. The parks will waive cancellation fees during this time.

Camps catering to large groups will be closed during the same period. Golf courses and clubhouses in the parks will also be closed. Parks events of greater than 10 people will be canceled or postponed, in accordance with Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 17.

All park-hosted events have been canceled through April 15. Restaurants, cafes and bars will remain closed until at least April 10.

Along with the new schedules and closures, Tennessee State Parks strongly encourage guests to practice social distancing and follow guidelines for hygiene while visiting the parks. Limited restrooms and bath houses remain open that will be cleaned based on established cleaning protocols in the parks.

The state is also encouraging residents not to travel and instead visit only nearby parks.

Tennessee State Parks will continue to assess the implications of COVID-19 and will alert the public when dates are determined for the reopening of public facilities and overnight accommodations.

Jefferson Schools out until April 24

Jefferson County Director of Schools Shane Johnston announced this week that in compliance with Governor Bill Lee’s request, Jefferson County Schools will remain closed through Friday, April 24.

During this time away from school, students are encouraged to continue to use the digital resource page provided earlier. Teachers are also reaching out to students through multiple platforms.

Beginning April 6, PBS television stations in Tennessee will begin broadcasting lessons for students. Students in grades one through eight will have the opportunity to view a 30-minute lesson in English/language arts and a 30-minute lesson in math each week, airing between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and rotating among the grade levels.

These lessons will also be posted on the Tennessee Department of Education’s web page for families that can access utilizing the internet.

An additional four hours of instruction will be streamed overnight so families can watch or record for viewing later. Parents and students are urged to check local listings of PBS stations for broadcast times.

The district will supply additional resources very soon, including online and print resources.

Meal distribution will continue for children ages 18 and younger from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday at Talbott Elementary, Dandridge Elementary, White Pine School, Rush Strong, Jefferson Middle and Patriot Academy. On Tuesday, volunteers prepared and handed out more than 14,000 meals to 2,336 students.

NUB discusses coronavirus policy

The Newport Utilities Board of Directors met briefly Wednesday morning in a conference call regular March meeting.

General Manager Michael Williford reminded everyone NU has made operational adjustments in following guidelines for COVID-19 adaptation and has closed the lobby of the Cope Boulevard offices. But he stressed the utility continues to provide the essential services Cocke County citizens need.

Broadband Manager Chris Calhoun reported that NUconnect has passed 30% total market penetration, with 3,267 current subscribers.

The Fixed Wireless Access Broadband Project is continuing to progress and the utility will begin setting up the first small cell site next week. Calhoun anticipates the completion of two wireless sites per week.

Spokesperson Sharon Kyser said NU has a flexible policy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but customers must contact the utility to establish a payment plan.

Kapers officially postponed

Kiwanis Kapers, the largest fundraiser of the year for the Kiwanis Club, has been postponed due to concerns with the novel coronavirus.

Adam Ivy, chairman of the committee, said the Board of Directors had decided that public health would take priority over the concert, which was to be help at Morristown-Hamblen High School West on April 5.

“Postponement was the only option,” he said.

Ivy said the Kiwanis Club hopes to hold the concert in the late summer. Those details are still being ironed out, he said.

He said the club is working with the band, Balsam Range, who was set to play the show to work out details. The group is an award winning bluegrass band, based in western North Carolina.

Once the concert is rescheduled, anyone who bought tickets to the April 5 show will still be able to use those tickets, he said.

Ivy said he wanted to thank the major sponsors for the event, the Citizen Tribune, Porter’s Tire Store, Michelin and 93.3 FM Country Legends for their understanding during this time.

AEC temporarily postponing disconnections

Appalachian Electric Cooperative announced Thursday it was temporarily suspending disconnections of electric service because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Due to the continued hardships that our members are facing, AEC is announcing the postponement of electric service disconnections through April 30th,” a statement from AEC stated. “The energy cost that you owe will still be due, but may be postponed through payment arrangements.”

AEC said it is continuing to leverage all available resources to provide assistance to its membership.

The coop asked if there were any questions, to contact them at 865-475-2032 or 423-586-4755 ext. 1820.

Hawkins plant has confirmed case of coronavirus

A Rogersville manufacturing plant closed Tuesday when it was discovered that a 25-year-old man there had been exposed to coronavirus.

Employees at the ABB electrical plant in Rogersville were sent home when the man tested positive.

“We can confirm that an employee of the ABB manufacturing facility in Rogersville tested positive for COVID-19,” said Tracy Long, vice president of communications for ABB Motion Business, North America. “We have taken – and will continue to take – all necessary precautionary measures, following the applicable guidance from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control.

“While continuing to monitor the situation, we will keep updating our employees with further guidance as necessary, and will take appropriate measures to mitigate the impact for our customers,” Long said.

Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee said that there was a confirmed case of COVID-19 and that the company sent everyone home for the day.

ABB hired a contractor to perform a deep clean and sanitation of the plant after closure on Tuesday. No further information was released.

Bybee boy reported missing

Cocke County authorities are looking for a 13-year-old runaway from the Bybee community who was reported missing on Tuesday.

Dickie Van Sanchez, of Needmore Road, reportedly rode away from his camper-home on his small army-green Mongoose bike Monday evening, according to Deputy Chris Williamson. The boy left a note for family members.

Family members say Dickie has run away before but usually returns a short time later.

The boy is believed to be wearing a blue jeans, a blue hoodie, a camo T-shirt and brown high top shoes.

On Wednesday, Deputy Lt. Chris Gregg said five deputies, along with EMA Director Joe Esway, searched the area and vacant buildings with no success. At last report, Dickie reportedly had been seen in Newport.

He has been listed in NCIC as a missing juvenile.