Columbia Public Schools and eight others around the state, including Kirksville, Chillicothe and Neosho, have canceled classes to combat the spread of coronavirus disease.


The Columbia district, one of the state’s largest, announced the plan in a statement sent to parents Monday afternoon. Classes will be held Tuesday, with schools closed beginning Wednesday until at least April 13.


"We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our plans as necessary," the statement read. "We will re-evaluate this decision as new information becomes available. We recognize the hardship this places on our families, and we thank you for your support and patience as we work through this process."


Catholic schools under the direction of the Diocese of Jefferson City are closing starting Wednesday through April 3.


The decisions came after Gov. Mike Parson said Sunday that his administration is strongly encouraging the cancellation or suspension of public events with more than 50 people, following federal health officials' recommendations.


The Centers for Disease Control recommended that all public gatherings of that size or larger be canceled for eight weeks. There are six positive coronavirus cases in Missouri, and the number of confirmed cases in the U.S., as tracked by Johns Hopkins University, increased Monday to 4,287 by 4 p.m.


There have been 74 deaths blamed on COVID-19 in the U.S.


There were more than 181,000 cases worldwide as of Monday evening, with deaths worldwide more than 7,100.


In interviews Monday, two candidates for the Columbia Board of Education expressed support for the decision to close.


"I think it's the best option," David Seamon said. "Taking kids out of schools is going to be painful for parents, especially for parents who can't take off work. It will definitely help prevent the disease. I'm hoping we have taken into account students receiving free and reduced lunch."


Board President Helen Wade, who is seeking a new term in the April 7 election, said it needed to be done.


"I think it's the best decision with the information we have now," Wade said. "Social distancing is the best action to take to mitigate the spread of the virus."


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Wade did think some of the focus leading up to the decision should have been elsewhere.


"We've spent an inordinate amount of time discussing how lunches will be provided," she said.


The messages to parents across the state were all similar — districts regretted the decision but felt it was best for students. All are seeking ways to deliver learning while students are at home.


In a message posted on the Harrisburg School District’s website and Facebook page, the district announced that classes would not be held Monday and schools would be closed through March 30.


The district’s spring break was scheduled for March 24 to March 27.


"This was an extremely difficult decision and one that we did not take lightly," Superintendent Steve Combs wrote in a letter to parents. "However, the safety of our students, staff, and community members must be our No. 1 priority. Therefore, we believe it is in the district’s best interest for school to remain closed for the next two weeks."


Other districts closing in areas covered by Gannett newspapers in Missouri are Kirksville and Adair County R-II in Brashear in Adair County, New Bloomfield in Callaway County, Chillicothe in Livingston County, Aurora in Lawrence County and Neosho in Newton County.


In Columbia, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman signaled the decision was coming Sunday night in a tweet responding to a student.


"I agree we’ll need to close," Stiepleman wrote. "We’re working to make sure we do it right."


In the message to parents, the Columbia district stated it would try to keep instruction going through remote programs.


Pre-kindergarten through fourth grades "will have packets of work and regular communications from their teachers," the statement read. "Fifth graders and secondary students will be able to submit assignments to their teacher through Schoology. "


Students who are learning English and those who receive special education services will be provided with support or alternative methods of instruction if individual plans cannot be fulfilled, the statement read.


The closure includes all athletics and extracurricular activities. The district set up a webpage for patrons to access more information: cpsk12.org/COVID19


The district is also working on plans to provide meals to students who depend on school food programs.


New Bloomfield schools in Callaway County are closed until at least April 6.


"This was an extremely difficult decision and one that we did not take lightly," New Bloomfield Superintendent Sarah Wisdom wrote in a message to parents posted on Facebook. "However, the safety of our students, staff, and community members must be our No. 1 priority."


Many districts are stating they will stay open. Superintendents of 29 districts in northeast Missouri, including Higbee, Moberly, Renick and Westran in Randolph County and Van-Far and Community school districts in Audrain County, signed a message stating they planned to continue classes.


"We believe the best place for our students is to be at school in the learning environment, and we will continue to provide education in the traditional way unless a cancellation is necessary," the superintendents wrote.


The Higbee district on Monday canceled all activities except classwork.


Some districts are uncertain about their plans. Glasgow School District in Howard County is preparing to close but hasn’t yet decided to do so.


"As of this moment, we ARE planning to be in session for at least tomorrow," Glasgow Superintendent Sonya Fuemmeler wrote on Facebook. "While I would love to say that we will remain in session, the most transparent answer is that you should now begin making plans for your child to not be in school in the near future. Once closed, we expect to be out of session for a minimum of 14 days."


A one-week spring break for Columbia students was scheduled to begin when classes released Friday.


The Boonville School District stated in a tweet Sunday night that it would hold classes Monday and that further information would be posted on social media accounts and announced through news outlets.


Around the state, some school districts are extending spring break or starting it early. In Neosho, Superintendent Jim Cummings notified parents late Saturday that schools would be out in the coming week, promising to find a way to provide meals and that more information would be coming.


The district understands the inconvenience, it stated on Facebook.


"On that note, we feel it's our responsibility to reiterate that the purpose for this school closing is to aid in keeping our community healthy through recommended social distancing," the district stated.


Kirksville R-III Schools followed suit Sunday night, announcing classes would be halted for two weeks, "although an extension of that time may also be necessary if the pandemic risks do not diminish," the district stated in a Facebook post.


The Neosho Daily News and Associated Press contributed to this report.


Check back later for more on this developing story