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New Orleans Public Schools To Reopen As Early As Sept. 15; No Timeline Yet For Nearby Districts

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

With power now restored to much of New Orleans, the city’s public school system said individual schools will begin welcoming students back to the classroom as early as Wednesday, Sept. 15.

NOLA Public Schools officially closed on Aug. 30 following Hurricane Ida’s landfall on Aug. 29. Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said while the district initially feared the worst for its schools, relatively little damage was sustained and most schools are only waiting to have power restored.

School site reopenings will be staggered based on each individual charter operator’s needs, but Lewis said he expects all students to be back in school by Sept. 22.

“We hope this window gives our families some certainty to plan around as they think about making their way back to the city of New Orleans,” Lewis said at a press conference Tuesday.

He said the timeline is meant to ensures that all teachers, families and school facilities have access to basic necessities like electricity, food and gas by the time classes resume.

Most Schools Suffer Minor Damage

Entergy expects 90 percent of its New Orleans customers to have power back by Wednesday. Tiffany Delcour, the district’s chief operations officer, said about 50 percent of school buildings had power as of Tuesday.

While districts in Louisiana’s River Parishes suffered devastating building damages from Ida’s winds and rain, facilities in Orleans Parish made out considerably well. Of the district’s 88 buildings, 22 sustained some level of damage — most of it minor, according to Delcour.

Some have roof damage and many have broken windows, both of which resulted in water intrusion. Delcour said all schools that let water in due to the storm will be required to receive environmental clearance before bringing students back into the building.

Frederick A. Douglass High School, in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, is the only school site that is unlikely to be able to serve students onsite by the Sept. 22 deadline due to more extensive damages caused by windows being blown out. Water intrusion on the second and third floors of the school building also trickled down to the first floor.

The district is working with Douglass’ operator, KIPP New Orleans, to come up with a solution in the next 48 hours to identify either alternative locations or spaces that can be shared, Delcour said. More information will be shared with families as soon as possible.

Staying On Top Of COVID-19

Before Hurricane Ida abruptly shut down NOLA Public Schools, the district was in the midst of an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We cannot forget that we are in the midst of a pandemic,” Lewis said. “I strongly encourage all students to get tested before coming back to school. That way we can minimize quarantines and build on the success that we have already started this school year.”

In addition to ensuring that students, faculty and staff have access to mental health resources to address trauma from the storm, Lewis said schools will also roll out COVID-19 testing resources to help prevent students and teachers from bringing COVID back to school with them.

Delcour said NOLA Public Schools is working with the district’s partners at CORE and Omega to understand where it can host testing sites.

“Our goal is to have multiple testing resources available across our school sites starting Sept. 13,” Delcour said. “We’re trying to understand our capacity and resources.”

Other Schools Waiting For Reopening Timeline

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley, who joined Lewis at Tuesday’s press conference, said more than 250,000 public school students across Louisiana remain out of school due to Ida. He expects roughly 75,000 will return to the classroom over the next week.

New Orleans Catholic schools are set to reopen as early as Monday, Sept. 13, with the Archdiocese of New Orleans saying schools with minimal damage might reopen sooner. Parents will be notified about school-specific reopening information by email, text and social media.

Both Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes, however, have not given a reopening timeline, and schools in the hard-hit River Parishes — Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Charles and others — are closed indefinitely, at least until power can be restored and necessary repairs are made to school buildings. Those parishes are expected to be without power until at least Sept. 29.

Jefferson Parish’s last communication with students, faculty and staff was in a letter sent out Aug. 31 by Superintendent James Gray, stating all schools and buildings were to remain closed until further notice.

In St. Tammany, school officials said 51 out of 55 schools have power, with the remaining four schools set to be restored sometime this week. On Thursday, St. Tammany Schools sent an alert out to families that said schools might be ready for reopening by Sept. 13, but held off on giving a definitive date. The next day, another alert was sent out that said a three-day notice will be given before a return date is announced to allow employees and families to be better prepared.

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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