Summer vacation is ending soon for our students and school will begin again. Each school will decide what that looks like for them within the guidelines that the state, and just recently the city, have set out.
We know students, families, educators, and community members are curious about what these guidelines are. Here, we provide a high-level overview. Schools will send additional information to their families to ensure that any additional questions are answered.
The Big Picture
The City of New Orleans and NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) have established health and safety protocols for each COVID-19 “phase.”
Schools will then use that guidance to develop their own reopening plans. At any point during the school year, school models may shift based on the phase of reopening the city is in. Both the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) and NOLA-PS have developed plans for phases 1, 2, and 3. If the city announces a stay-at-home order again at any point, schools will operate completely remotely, as they did this spring.
There Are Three Levels of Planning: State Level, City Level, and School Level
These “Strong Start 2020” guidelines, set out by LDOE, focus primarily on public health and broad logistical concerns for returning to school.
How did LDOE develop these guidelines?
LDOE brought together top statewide public health experts and superintendents for extensive conversation, planning, and re-working of plans until they landed on a strong final product. Then, LDOE called upon three separate groups to review and sign off on the guidelines: the “Resilient Louisiana Commission” (RLC) organized by Governor John Bel Edwards, the RLC’s Education and Workforce Task Force, and a K-12 subgroup of that task force of which our CEO, Patrick Dobard, is a member.
Younger students should be in small, static groups, with the understanding that physical distancing and mask-wearing may be harder. Older students should maintain a physical distance of six feet whenever possible and are required to wear masks.
LDOE’s guidance also calls for “close contacts” of anyone infected with COVID-19 at school to self-quarantine for fourteen days. Close contacts are people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for over fifteen minutes.
The “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” released July 1 by NOLA-PS is more specific. It provides uniform guidelines within which each school in our city can operate.
How were they developed?
NOLA-PS released a public survey through which New Orleanians could share their thoughts and concerns around school reopenings. NOLA-PS also assembled a Reopening Task Force, which was made up of city officials, school leaders and staff, charter school board chairs, members of the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Committee, and other key experts. This task force used the health and safety guidelines laid out by LDOE and the City of New Orleans alongside the survey results to develop the Roadmap to Reopening Schools.
What do they say?
The Roadmap to Reopening Schools details the different stages of school operation, based on grade level and phase of reopening. At any point, if safety considerations call for school closures, NOLA-PS will do so.
The Roadmap itself specifies more detailed notes on operational considerations such as transportation, school entry and exiting, hygiene practices, student transitions between classes, child nutrition, and extracurricular activities.
Each school and network will communicate to families how they will implement NOLA-PS’ guidelines in the coming weeks. They will have adjusted for differences in their school models, class sizes, transportation requirements, and more.
It is important to note that these plans are adaptable.
At any point, the state, NOLA-PS, or a given school can choose to adjust (within the guidelines) based on how their plan is going. If they feel a model is not working to safely educate their children, they have the flexibility to re-evaluate. The priority, across the board, is keeping children, educators, school teams, and families safe. We are confident that while the return to school will not be easy, and COVID-19 will continue to present serious difficulties, our city and schools are up to the challenge.