New Orleans Public School District Announces Phased Return to In-person Learning, Rolls Out COVID-19 Testing Plan

NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) announced Friday (Aug. 28) that the dIstrict will begin a phased return to in-person learning, beginning with PreK through 4th grade students, between Sept 14 – Sept. 25. 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.  Meanwhile, any family, across all grades, may choose to remain on their current distance learning program.

“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.”

The decision for a measured return to in-person learning was made following weeks of 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 five percent or below and increased testing capacity, school officials said.

The District has carefully monitored 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.”

“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.”

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. The plan focuses on providing acute responsive testing that will help increase the ease, accessibility and frequency of testing for both students and staff. By teaming up with both LCMC Health’s Children’s Hospital New Orleans and Ochsner Hospital for Children, the public 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.

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.

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.

School officials add that the school district the authority to close any school building and revert to distance learning at any point it becomes necessary.

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