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NOLA Public School Students Can Now Sit 3 Feet Closer Together

Aubri Juhasz
Band director Chris Herrero leads trombone practice at Edna Karr High School. Oct. 27, 2020.

New Orleans Public Schools will loosen social distancing requirements based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the district announced Monday.

Last last week, the CDC updated its guidance for schools and announced it “now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings.”

Previously, the CDC recommended that 6 feet of social distancing be “maximized to the greatest extent possible.”

The new guidelines, which have been adopted by Louisiana’s Department of Health, still call for teachers to maintain 6 feet of distance and for original standards to be applied to common areas and when masks are removed for eating and drinking.

Many see the revised guidelines as a chance for districts to return a greater number of students to the classroom and for schools that have been closed since the start of the pandemic to finally reopen.

In New Orleans, about 30 percent of students are still learning online exclusively, down from a previous high of 40 percent.

Under the district’s roadmap to reopening, static groups of students have not been subject to social distancing restrictions, allowing elementary and middle schools to return many students to the classroom full-time.

Due to the large number of families electing to learn from home, some high schools have been able to accommodate students full-time, though many are still operating under a hybrid model, with students cycling through virtual and in-person, depending on the day.

In a statement, the district said the CDC guidance would be applied specifically to students who “shift between different classrooms throughout the school day.”

“At NOLA-PS, we are excited for these changes because it means we are that much closer to returning all our students to in-person learning,” Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a press release. “Our high school students especially will benefit with more time in the classroom with their teachers and peers.”

The district said they will return to a 6-foot minimum for non-static groups if COVID-19 transmission in New Orleans reaches a “high” level, as defined by the CDC.

According to the New Orleans Department of Health, COVID-19 in Orleans Parish is currently “spreading in a slow and controlled fashion.”

The city’s seven-day average for new cases is 15 and its weekly positive test rate is 1 percent.

Public schools reported six new cases of COVID-19 last week, according to data shared by the district Monday. Officials said there’s no evidence to suggest they were contracted during school hours.

The district is currently tracking 13 active cases of COVID-19 across 10 different school sites. Two staff members and 11 students tested positive for the virus and another 138 people are in quarantine.

There was a slight uptick in cases last week when the district reported 21 new cases. This week’s total is more in line with where the district’s numbers have been in recent weeks.

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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