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3 New Orleans Public Schools Have Shifted To Online Learning Since Start Of School Year

Jonathan Bertsch
NOLA Public Schools
The newly renovated gymnasium at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School in Mid-City. Dec. 9, 2020.

Two New Orleans public schools temporarily pivoted to online learning this week due to the coronavirus. In-person attendance is mandatory this year, but the district does allow schools to transition students to online learning if absolutely needed.

Students at ENCORE Academy and New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School (Sci High) will switch to virtual learning for the next two weeks because of quarantine-related staffing issues and operational challenges. The schools did not identify suspected classroom transmission as a reason for the building closures.

ENCORE has reported 8 COVID cases since the start of the school year, 3 of which are active, and 102 students and teachers are in quarantine. Sci High has reported 13 COVID cases since the start of the school year, 7 of which are active, and 47 students and teachers are in quarantine.

“We do not have enough staff on-site to teach and supervise students,” ENCORE told families in a message dated Aug. 23. “Therefore, we have determined that virtual instruction for all students for the next two weeks is the best decision we can make for our students and staff.”

A third school, Livingston Collegiate Academy, in New Orleans East started the school year online on Aug. 11 but transitioned back to in-person this week.

Livingston has reported 5 positive cases of COVID-19 since early August. Ten students and staff members are in quarantine, according to data compiled by the district.

“This decision was made after careful consideration of our school’s circumstances amidst the national landscape and our local climate,” the school wrote in an Instagram post. “At Livingston, many of our instructional staff will be unable to be on campus for the next two weeks due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and associated protocols.”

NOLA-PS chief operations officer Tiffany Delcour said temporarily pivoting to online-only schooling is something officials expect when a significant number of quarantines causes staffing issues.

More than 4,600 students and teachers are currently in quarantine, up from 638 during the first week of classes and 3,004 the second. Louisiana’s surge in COVID cases has begun to slow for all age groups except for children between the ages of 5 and 17 years old.

School officials continue to remind parents that as far as they’re aware children and teachers are not spreading the virus on campus.

“There is still little evidence of COVID-19 spreading in our schools,” Delcour said. “The vast majority of COVID in our schools is related to community spread.”

ENCORE transitioned to online-only learning for two weeks last December after identifying a potential COVID-19 cluster. After consulting with the Louisiana Department of Health, Delcour said further action was not required.

Nearly half of the city’s charter operators, including the organizations that oversee Sci High and Livingston, have mandated that staff get vaccinated against COVID. At most schools, staff still have several weeks to comply with the mandate.

ENCORE Academy has not publicly announced a vaccine requirement for staff and told families in a message announcing the two-week closure that 80 percent of staff are fully vaccinated -- though the majority of remaining staff members have just one shot to go.

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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