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NOLA-PS Moves To Phase 3, Reports 12 Active Cases Of COVID-19

Aubri Juhasz
A student arrives at McDonogh 42 on the first day of in-person classes, Sept. 17, 2020.

New Orleans public schools are tracking 12 active cases of COVID-19 among students and staff, the district announced Thursday.

Younger students returned to the classroom late last month and older students are expected to return part-time starting next week. The new cases will not impact back to school plans according to the district, which also announced they have officially entered Phase 3.

“We were prepared for the trend we’re seeing, and I applaud our schools for taking appropriate steps when necessary to keep our children and educators as safe as possible,” Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a press release Thursday afternoon.

The district shared the case count as part of its new COVID-19 tracker. It breaks the data down by school and whether the positive cases are students or staff. Right now four of the positive cases are students and the rest are staff. 

Credit NOLA-PS
Data on COVID-19 cases in New Orleans public schools as of Oct. 8, 2020.

According to the tracker more than 150 individuals were identified as having close contact with the positive cases and are currently in quarantine. The district did not share whether the individuals are students or staff.

At Landry-Walker High School in Algiers, two students tested positive for the virus and 71 individuals are in quarantine after attending an extracurricular activity, according to the district. The school is still in 100 percent virtual learning but expects to bring students back in-person on a hybrid basis starting next week.

The district said they will share positive cases reported by any student or staff member regardless of where they contracted COVID-19. It can be difficult to determine where a student or staff member first contracted the virus without clear contact tracing.

In the case of Landry-Walker, the district traced the source of the virus to one positive student who then spread it to another. A staff member at Landry-Walker tested positive for the virus late last month and does not appear to be connected to this week’s cluster.

Other positive cases of the virus were reported at Arise Academy, Bricolage Academy, Einstein Charter at Sherwood Forest, Martin Behrman Charter Academy of Creative Arts and Science, McDonogh 42 Charter School, and ReNEW Accelerated High School.

Last week, the district reported two cases among staff members at Mary D. Coghill Charter School and Success Preparatory Academy.

NOLA-PS Prepares To Enter Phase 3

Lewis said the district is encouraging families to send their children to school “if they feel comfortable.” In Thursday’s statement, he stressed the importance of in-person instruction.

“Nothing can replace the learning and personal connections that occur inside the classroom between teachers and students,” Lewis said. “In-person learning develops the whole child, academically and socially. It’s the reason the district is prioritizing in-person learning whenever possible.”

About 60 percent of PreK through fourth-graders have returned to the classroom and more are expected to return as the year progresses. Families have the option to select virtual or in-person learning each quarter.

After previously announcing that they would remain in Phase 2 through their next stage of reopening, the district announced Thursday that older students will return to the classroom under Phase 3 guidelines.

This allows for increased capacity in classrooms and on busses and also makes it easier for music instruction to resume. While Phase 3 sets a 50-person limit for groups, the district said they will adhere to a 30-person limit as an extra precaution.

Schedules for reopening vary based on charter operator and individual school. Under the district’s reopening plan, all schools are required to offer older students in-person learning at least two days a week and virtual learning the rest of the time.

COVID-19 Testing

The district has arranged for symptomatic students and staff to access rapid testing through LCMC Health Children’s Hospital and Ochsner Hospital for Children.

According to Thursday’s press release, the district has also worked with the Louisiana Department of Health to establish two additional surge testing locations in Orleans Parish to increase free test access for students and staff.

At this point the district is not conducting regular surveillance testing, but plans to “work with local health systems and national partners on how to increase access to regular testing moving forward.”

More than 1,300 cases of COVID-19 in K-12 schools have been reported statewide. The Louisiana Department of Health breaks down this data on a regional basis. As of Wednesday, Region 1, which includes Orleans Parish, Jefferson Parish, Plaquemines Parish and St. Bernard Parish had reported 116 cases among students and staff since Sept. 3.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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