NOLA Public Schools Begins Phased Return to In-Person Learning
When it comes to educating our children during this pandemic, New Orleans puts safety first. NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) was the first district in Louisiana to declare they would open the school year completely online, and the only district that committed to re-assessing the date of in-person reopening based on public health data.
Today, after careful review of the latest COVID-19 infection rates, NOLA-PS has laid out their plan to gradually return children to the classroom. As always, this plan can shift at any time if there are significant changes in public health data.
What public health data informed NOLA-PS in their decision?
NOLA-PS worked closely with the City Health Department to continuously monitor the statistics around COVID-19.
A threshold of 50 or fewer daily positive test cases was set months ago as one of the indicators that the virus is well-suppressed in New Orleans, allowing for a return to in-person learning. For two weeks, and counting, the city has remained below that threshold.
Additionally, while testing rates have continued to be high, the percentage of positive tests has remained below the 5% threshold.
As community spread continues to decrease, New Orleans is seeing steady improvements in hospitalization rates.
Finally, testing capacity continues to increase across the city.
Along with guidance from City Health Department officials, the Roadmap to Reopening continues to guide NOLA Public Schools’ ongoing evaluation of public health data in determining whether in-person learning is safe.
Based on the data, when will schools reopen in-person?
PreK-4th Grade: Schools for these grades reopen in-person between September 14 – September 25. Individual schools have freedom to set their start dates within this window.
Students will return to school in-person, 5 days per week.
Schools will reach out directly to families with re-opening dates and other plans.
Grades 5-12: The aim for all other grades is to return to in-person learning by mid-October. This will continue to depend upon public health data; NOLA Public Schools will continue to monitor these data along with the City Health Department to determine whether the data support a return to in-person learning at that time.
All families, all grades: At any point, a family or a student can decide to continue learning fully online. Once they choose this, though, they must remain fully virtual through the 9-week period.
How will students and teachers stay safe?
Schools are putting rigorous social distancing, safety, and sanitation procedures in place. They will also test staff and students experiencing symptoms. Both Louisiana’s Strong Start document and NOLA-PS’ Roadmap for Reopening (as well as their supplemental guidance) outline clear safety procedures, by age group, that schools will follow.
Social distancing: Schools will follow the Strong Start and Roadmap for Reopening guidance around social distancing in schools. These include limiting the number of students that are allowed in a single bus or classroom at a given time, which will vary by phase of reopening.
Sanitation and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): NOLA-PS and schools have purchased hand sanitizer, thousands of masks and gloves, gallons of disinfectant, no-touch thermometers, and other critical PPE for schools. These materials were distributed to schools this summer.
The district has been working collaboratively with schools, the City Health Department, and hospital systems such as LCMC, Children’s Hospital, and Ochsner Health, to identify additional testing capacity.
School-based staff will be given front-line service for rapid COVID-19 testing if they are experiencing symptoms. Testing will be available through a combination of mobile testing sites, urgent care facilities, and hospitals.
NOLA-PS is also working with Tulane University to provide routine testing for school-based staff.
NOLA Public Schools will continue to identify additional testing strategies through local partnerships, as new technology arises.
Above all things, we cannot forget the safety protocols that have allowed us to take these steps. The basic safety precautions of wearing masks, washing hands, remaining vigilant looking for symptoms of COVID-19, and socially distancing are all critical in helping us remain on a positive trajectory. There is still a lot of work to be done and we must remain careful.
We cannot entirely predict the path of this virus, but we know its spread depends, in part, on all of our actions. The curve rises or flattens based on the precautions our community takes, and the leadership that our local, state, and national governments provide. By being careful, looking to data, and working strategically toward reopening, NOLA-PS is doing its part to keep New Orleans healthy, from our youngest children to their oldest relatives.