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Tracking COVID-19: No New Restrictions For Public Schools, Classes Will Resume In-person

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

New COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to take effect in New Orleans, but public school operations will not be impacted, the district said in a press release Wednesday. Schools will begin post-holiday instruction on Jan. 4.

“I am hopeful our families, students and staff stayed safe during the holiday break, but now is not the time to let our guard down. Keeping our students in their classrooms is essential to their getting the best educational experience possible, so let’s stay vigilant going into 2021 for all their sakes,” Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in the press release

The city triggered the state’s emergency order Wednesday when its COVID-19 percent positivity rate exceeded 5 percent for the second week in a row. Under the order, bars and breweries can no longer serve patrons indoors, though they can still offer go-cups.

There isn’t a similar cutoff for school operations. Instead, NOLA-PS officials rely on the city’s health data, the district's own health data, and expert consult when making decisions. Right now, four of the city’s five metrics are in the danger zone and the city ranks its COVID threat level as an “active or imminent outbreak.”

Before the holiday break, the district reported 76 active cases across 39 schools and 769 people in quarantine. The district has reported 287 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff since reopening school buildings in late September.

The district has prioritized keeping students in the classroom and has not reinstated or introduced new restrictions since resuming in-person instruction.

“The district will continue to monitor the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and keep open and constant lines of communications with our schools and health advisors,” according to Wednesday’s press release.

If the district does decide to dial-up restrictions, the process will likely be targeted and gradual. New Orleans Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour has said several times that the district does not consider school operations as “a binary” — either open or closed — but instead as a spectrum.

Delcour said the district could choose to restrict extracurriculars, eliminate spectators at sporting events, reduce class size, reduce the number of children learning in-person, or shut down individual classes, grade levels, and campuses. A system-wide closure would only be used as a last resort.

Wednesday’s press release also announced the district’s new quarantine guidelines, which allow asymptomatic individuals to isolate for 10 days instead of 14 in accordance with state health guidelines.

The district plans to offer on-site rapid antigen testing for symptomatic students and staff starting next month. Its COVID-19 case tracker will be updated on Jan. 11 once students have returned for the spring semester.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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