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NOLA Public Schools: No Masks For Vaccinated Students, Staff In Fall

Aubri Juhasz
PreK students at KIPP Central City Primary. Oct. 2, 2020.

New Orleans Public Schools will not require fully vaccinated students and staff to wear masks this coming school year, the district announced Tuesday.

Governor John Bel Edwards lifted his mask-mandate for schools in late May, leaving the decision up to local districts.

Thousands of New Orleans school employees received the vaccine in the spring and students as young as 12 years old have been eligible for the Pfizer vaccine since May.

“It will be so liberating for our students 12 and older and staff, who are fully vaccinated, not to have to wear a mask,” Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a press release. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure it’s easy for our students and their families to get their shots.”

The district is encouraging students and families to get vaccinated before the upcoming school year, which will be fully in-person, and to participate in COVID-19 testing programs at school.

“These are two ways our school community can protect themselves from the coronavirus and the more contagious Delta variant,” the press release said.

Roughly 50 percent of New Orleanians were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday and the vaccination rate for the city’s adult population was more than 60 percent. Among the 50 percent of people vaccinated, 3 percent are children ages 17 and under, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health.

Like many district-wide directives, application will be left up to individual schools and there is still some wiggle room. District guidance says schools “may allow” fully vaccinated students and staff to remove their masks indoors, but does not make it a requirement. All unvaccinated individuals, however, are still required to wear masks inside school facilities. No one is required to wear a mask outdoors.

For the most part, mask mandates related to vaccine status have operated on the honor system. That will not be the case moving forward, as all NOLA public schools are required to verify the vaccination status of those requesting to be indoors and maskless, according to the district’s new COVID-19 guidance.

In addition to the amended mask mandate, the district said they will no longer require schools to conduct daily temperature checks or follow hard caps on group size. Students will also be able to move around the building with a greater degree of freedom and eat in cafeterias.

As the district accounts for vaccination status, they’ve also amended their quarantine procedures. Vaccinated students and staff are no longer required to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 as long as they don’t experience symptoms. Unvaccinated individuals are required to quarantine for at least 10 days.

Classroom capacity will be determined based on whether the group is indoors or outdoors and whether the composition is static or changing. In groups with changing composition, students must remain three feet away from one another and six feet away from teachers.

School buses can operate at full capacity, but all riders and drivers regardless of vaccine status must wear a mask. Seating charts are required to assist with contact tracing if necessary.

All NOLA public schools are still required to report all known and suspected cases of COVID-19 to the district as well as to the Louisiana Department of Health. Some of this information is then shared publicly.

Schools are also expected to provide the district with the vaccination rate of students and staff, though the process for this has not yet been established.

The guidance follows health protocols set by the Louisiana Department of Education and recommendations from the New Orleans Department of Health and outside medical advisors, according to the district.

NOLA Public Schools and its local health partners plan to hold half a dozen student vaccine events over the next four weeks. The first event is at John F. Kennedy High School on July 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Parental consent is required.

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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