Public Schools

NOLA Public Schools to begin phased reopening of buildings starting Feb. 1 | Coronavirus

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

Nearly three weeks after closing public schools and ordering most students to learn from home due to surging coronavirus rates, New Orleans public school officials on Wednesday announced that buildings will reopen next week.

The district’s 76 public schools, mostly run by independent charter organizations, will resume classes as they were prior to winter break for lower and middle school students, officials said. That means daily, in-person class for students in preK-4th grade starting Monday, and a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning for students in 5th-8th grades, with specific schedules varying by school.

Starting Monday, the district’s high schools will be able to offer in-person classes for up to 15 students at a time, with priority given to those who might need extra in-person instruction, officials said. After the Mardi Gras break, as long as coronavirus trends remain favorable, other high school students will be able to return to their hybrid schedules.

“We know we have a different transition for our high school students, but I’m just asking for our community, for our educators, for all of us as a community, to continue to come together to make sure we can support our young people during this very challenging time so that they can receive their education even during COVID-19,” schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. said.

Students in all grades will continue to have the option of all-remote learning.

New Orleans public schools to remain virtual through January; here's what to know

New Orleans public school students districtwide will not return to in-person classes next week because average daily coronavirus cases in Orle…

The school district’s announcement wasn’t without some pushback.

In an open letter to the school district and board, a group of 325 educators and community members called “NOLA 4 A Safe Return” urged the district not to rush back and added that the the quarantines in-person school will no doubt prompt cause “greater instability for families.”

The United Teachers of New Orleans caled the district’s plan “rushed and ill-advised,” saying that widespread testing at Tulane University could be skewing the city’s data on which the district relies.

The reopening plans come as Mayor LaToya Cantrell plans to allow restaurants, salons and gyms to serve more customers under a modified Phase 2 starting Friday.

The city’s COVID-19 dashboard still says that the city is “actively experiencing an outbreak or is at extreme risk,” with an average seven-day case rate of 140 new cases a day as of Tuesday afternoon.

The positive test rate was at 3% average for the week, the city’s numbers showed, and 71% of the area’s hospital beds were in use.

Nonetheless, those trends were down significantly from the weekly average reported when schools shut down in-person learning to most of the district’s 45,000 students in early January. At one point, the city saw an average 266 new cases each day, and a percent positivity high of 9.2% reported Jan. 4.

The decision to send students home by Jan. 7 came only days into a new semester, with students having just returned to their classrooms following the winter break holidays.

Since then, district officials have re-evaluateed some of their school opening criteria.

For instance, last summer officials said they’d require students to learn remotely if citywide daily case averages topped 50 and if positivity rates rose above 5% for an extended period. 

New Orleans public schools suspend mobile testing due to concerns over 'false negatives'

After concerns were raised about the potential for false negative results, NOLA Public schools has suspended the use of coronavirus tests that…

But last week Tiffany Delcour, the school district’s chief operating officer, said schools can safely return to classrooms when positive test rates trend between 5 and 9%, as long as other key metrics remain in check. She also said average daily case rates could be much higher than 50, as long as trends were decreasing.

According to a draft document shared with school leaders earlier this month, the district said that mostly remote learning would be required if citywide data showed more than 350 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period and other trends were going in the wrong direction.

One exception is for schools with enough space to cap the number of students in a classroom at 15, at which point students with disabilities or students in preK through 5th grade should be prioritized.

At least one charter school, Edward Hynes Charter in Lakeview, took advantage of that allowance this week, letting younger students return to the building part-time. But district officials acknowledged that most schools weren’t likely to have the resources to make such accommodations.

Longtime Jesuit High disciplinarian accused of sexual harassment by teacher in lawsuit

Months before retiring last year, the longtime disciplinarian at Jesuit High School made “grossly inappropriate and sexualized comments” to a …

Under that matrix, if the city sees between 50 and 350 cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks, with a test positivity rate lower than 10%, in-person learning should be prioritized for young students, as long as other trends are favorable.

The United Teachers, in their statement, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control sets a threshold of 200 cases per 100,000 over 14 days for opening, but that Orleans Parish is currently at 506 cases per 100,000 residents.

The school district document said that the new metrics weren’t intended to serve as “hard thresholds.”

Lewis also said charter groups had made schools safe places for students and that they looked forward to extra protection offered by the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are confident here at NOLA-PS that COVID-19 is not spreading within our schools,” Lewis said. “It was our educators who did tremendous work in putting into place safety protocols.”

About the author

Mamie M. Arndt