NOLA-PS: Students will return to campus beginning September 14

Guidelines for Reopening Schools

NEW ORLEANS – On Friday, NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) announced that the City’s current health data is exceeding all health and safety criteria and unless our progress towards these goals changes the District will begin a phased return to in-person learning, beginning with PreK through 4th grade students, starting between Sept. 14th through Sept. 25th.

The reopening plan, guided by NOLA-PS’ Roadmap to Reopening, was announced with support from local public health officials.

Middle and high school students in grades 5th through 12th will continue distance learning until at least mid-October. At that time, if health data trends remain positive, these students will return on a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning.

Additionally, per the Roadmap to Reopening, any family, across all grades, may choose to remain on their current distance learning program.

The decision for a measured return to in-person learning was made following weeks of carefully tracking the latest health indicators – including a sustained decrease in the daily number of new COVID-19 cases at or below Phase 2 targets, a positive test rate of 5 percent or below and increased testing capacity.

The District has carefully monitored these health metrics in coordination with City officials and as of today, these key indicators show that the city has met our reduction in new case and positive test rate goals for 18 consecutive days and the District has identified partners to increase the availability of testing for our school community. The District will continue to monitor these data metrics and make adjustments, if needed, depending on how data trends change.

“Our students, teachers, schools and families have done an incredible job transitioning to distance learning, but we know nothing can beat an in-person education, especially for our youngest students,” said NOLA-PS Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr. “Therefore, we at NOLA Public Schools are so pleased that the health data indicates we can and should begin plans for returning students to the classroom starting in mid-September. I know as a parent and educator that the road we have been on has been challenging and these next steps won’t come easily and without concern. But I want all our families and educators to know we at NOLA-PS have and continue to make the health and safety of our community our top priority. Together we have come this far- through masking up and being mindful of what keeps us healthy- and together, we must continue to do our part to open our classroom doors and keep them open through the tremendous love and care we have for one another throughout our great city.”

“Our people have stepped up to help slow community spread of COVID-19, and because of their dedication: our children are in the process of returning to classrooms,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell. “Over the past few weeks, I have visited schools, both virtually and in-person, and I have seen the innovative and intentional approaches our educators are implementing to ensure that students’ needs are met in the classroom and for virtual learning. Transitioning back to in-person learning means that we have to also show up for and support our educators, school administrators, staff, and their families, starting with prioritizing their COVID-19 testing. Together, we are making it possible for our children and those who dedicate their lives to their education return to schools safely and for the long-haul.”

“When cases of COVID-19 were rising in New Orleans, we asked our community to step up and reduce the rate of spread in order to create conditions that would allow for students to start safely returning to classrooms,” said New Orleans Department of Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno. “Our announcement today means that our community listened. Our current data has significantly improved from where we were in July and we at the New Orleans Health Department support NOLA-PS’ plan to reopen classrooms to students in a slow and phased manner. But, in order for us to be successful in keeping schools open and returning more students back into classrooms, we must all remain vigilant in the daily steps we take to keep transmission rates low.”

As students in PreK through 4th grade and their teachers prepare for in-person learning, NOLA-PS also announced a multi-layered COVID-19 testing plan. First, the plan focuses on providing acute responsive testing that will help increase the ease, accessibility and frequency of testing for both NOLA Public School students and staff. By teaming up with both LCMC Health’s Children’s Hospital New Orleans and Ochsner Hospital for Children, our school community will be given front-line service to rapid COVID-19 testing if they are experiencing symptoms. Tests will be available through a mix of urgent care facilities, hospitals and mobile units deployed to community locations on a daily basis. More details on how to access these sites will be coming in the weeks ahead. An additional component of the plan also includes NOLA-PS working with Tulane University to a develop an asymptomatic testing program to deliver ongoing screening for teachers and school-based staff.

“Children’s Hospital New Orleans is proud to partner with NOLA Public Schools to provide COVID-19 testing for students and educators,” said Leron Finger, MD, Chief Quality Officer at Children’s Hospital. “The health of students and educators is crucial to safely returning to the classroom, an important step to getting our city back on its feet. This COVID-19 testing will serve as an important tool to quickly identify positive cases and further prevent the spread of the virus.”

“Ochsner Hospital for Children recognizes testing is key to helping school leaders make data-driven decisions to keep school communities safe, while minimizing disruption to education whenever feasible,” said William Lennarz, MD, System Chair of Pediatrics, Ochsner Hospital for Children.   

“Tulane University is committed to proactive, asymptomatic testing in our community. The reopening of our schools is essential for students and the community and we are committed to helping make classrooms as safe as possible – for teachers and students. Screening these populations, in addition to our Tulane community, helps to make NOLA safer for everyone,” said Tulane President Michael A. Fitts.

Additionally, school-based staff will have access to LCMC Health’s nurse hotline to call for guidance on situations involving team members or students potentially affected by the virus. 

“This pandemic has created historic challenges for our school community, but thanks to the hard work of our teachers, schools and the people of New Orleans, we are making it through,” said Board President Ethan Ashley. “We at NOLA Public Schools are so pleased for the partnerships with LCMC Health, Ochsner Hospital for Children, and Tulane University to offer a variety of testing strategies to our school community, all of which are essential tools for maintaining health and well-being of our students, teachers and staff.  Together, we will continue to set and implement high standards for safely reopening our schools.”

Throughout the coming weeks and months, NOLA-PS will continue to partner with health experts to monitor the latest health data to prepare for a phased return to in-person learning and provide regular updates to our school community. If any significant changes occur, decisions related to reopening will be reconsidered.

As always, NOLA-PS maintains the authority to close any school building and revert to distance learning at any point it becomes necessary in order to safeguard students, teachers, staff and their families.

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