Parents drop off their children at Audubon Charter School housed at the McDonogh No. 7 building on Milan Street. Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

Individuals, including staff and students, in at least three New Orleans public schools are staying home as a precautionary measure after traveling to countries on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention risk-assessed list for the novel coronavirus that’s spreading throughout the world and country. In addition, late Monday, the NOLA Public Schools district confirmed that the Center for Resilience — a special program for students with extreme behavior needs that operates out of its own campus — asked a staff member to stay home.

Two of the schools began the measure before the individuals returned after Mardi Gras break last week. The third school began the measure mid-week, after the individuals had returned to school.

The virus has affected fewer people than influenza nationwide this season, but appears to be spreading quickly. On Monday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that one person in the state had tested positive. The results are being sent to the CDC for final confirmation. Nationwide, more than 30 states and the District of Columbia have confirmed cases, according to the Washington Post, including nearby Florida and Texas. At least 19 people have died in the U.S., the majority of deaths have occured in Washington State. 

Last week, the NOLA Public Schools district met with school leaders on Tuesday to discuss strategies to address the potential spread of the virus in Louisiana, something Gov. John Bel Edwards said was essentially inevitable. On Friday, the district confirmed three schools had reported that an unspecified number of individuals at each school were staying home due to travel the week prior. 

“We have received notice from three schools that have asked individuals to stay home due to recent travel to a country on the CDC’s risk assessed list over Mardi Gras break,” according to an emailed statement from the district. “Those schools are Audubon Charter-Milan Campus, Livingston Collegiate Academy and Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans.”

The individuals are being asked to stay home for 14 days, the statement said. 

“As of now, schools tell us these individuals are not showing signs or symptoms of illness,” the Friday afternoon statement read. “Individuals at Livingston Collegiate Academy and Lycee Francais de la Nouvelle-Orleans never returned to campus after break. Audubon Charter did have individuals return to campus after break but they are now staying at home as a precautionary measure.”

In an email Monday, Cheron Brylski, a spokeswoman for Audubon, said that after the school sent out an email detailing precautionary measures the school was taking and that parents and students could take, a parent contacted them. 

“After these suggestions were received, the school staff was notified by a parent that they travelled with two students enrolled at the Milan campus to an area with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice on the CDC’s risk assessed list during the Mardi Gras holiday, returning to New Orleans on February 28,” she wrote. “While the students did return to school for several days, the family shows no signs or symptoms of illness and are now adhering to the CDC recommendation of home-quarantine for 14 days. The students are expected to return to school on March 16.” 

“While this is not a confirmed case of COVID-19, the number of such voluntary actions by individuals will continue to grow as our area increases its vigilance about COVID-19 prevention,” Brylski continued. “Our school remains highly vigilant in prevention efforts.”

After this story was first published, Brylski sent an additional email. “After checking in with the school leadership team this morning, they said several families are now self-quarantined at home voluntarily across the Audubon campuses,” she wrote.

She reiterated no cases have been confirmed and the measure was “out of an abundance of caution.” Audubon operates two schools on three campuses. It was not immediately clear which, if any, additional Audubon campuses were affected.

Late Monday, The Lens also confirmed that a staff member from the New Orleans Center for Resilience had been asked to stay home following travel abroad. The Center for Resilience is a nonprofit K–9 education program that began its expansion to include high school students last fall. It serves students with some of the most extreme behavior needs in the city, often stemming from trauma or mental illness. In addition to core classes delivered in small group or one-on-one settings, the center is staffed with therapists and counselors.

Liz Williams, the director of the center, said the decision was based off of an airport stop during a recent trip the staff member had taken. The staffer “has shown no signs or symptoms of illness of any kind,” Williams wrote in an email Monday, noting the person would return to work March 16 if they remain healthy.

“This is a staff member who traveled through the Tokyo airport while returning from a trip during Mardi Gras. As you know, Japan is rated a Level Two country by the CDC – as opposed to Level Three – so we’re acting out of an abundance of caution,” Williams wrote.

Lycee Francais CEO Marina Schoen said the French-curriculum school polled employees before returning from Mardi Gras break and anyone who had traveled to risk-assessed countries was asked to self-quarantine for two weeks. 

“We want to assure our community that no one is present at the school that has traveled to countries with health notices (we polled our staff before our return from the Mardi Gras break), and that we rigorously follow ALL recommendations about prevention and detection from health officials,” according to an email Schoen forwarded to The Lens. “As mentioned in last week’s message, we ask families to report health concerns to our school nurses.”

At Livingston Collegiate, spokeswoman Zoey Reed wrote in a text message that the affected employee had not returned to campus. 

“Keeping students, families, and staff healthy and safe is our top priority. An administrator travelled to an affected country over Mardi Gras break and out of an abundance of caution has not returned to campus and will remain home for 14 days,” she wrote. “We will continue to closely partner with OPSB and health authorities to ensure we are taking all appropriate steps for our school community.” 

A handful of teachers from Jefferson Parish Public Schools and in New Orleans Catholic schools were also self-quarantining after travel. 

As of Monday, 11 people in Louisiana had been tested for the virus and all had come back negative, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Testing capability is expected to expand in the coming days.

In an email last week, the district asked school leaders to update school nurse information and report increases in absenteeism, especially if it appeared related to a respiratory illness.

In the city’s all-charter, decentralized school district, dozens of independent charter schools control their own school calendars and many administrative decisions, such as whether to cancel school. 

But a state law allows New Orleans’ schools superintendent to order schools “to temporarily close, dismiss students, or evacuate in the event that there are credible threats of terror, or an official state of emergency is declared for the area” including any schools under the district’s jurisdiction. At least six states have declared a state of emergency, Louisiana is not one of them.

The City of New Orleans Health Department will hold a coronavirus workshop for schools “to develop plans and respond to future cases” next week, according to an announcement sent to school leaders. 

The district is asking schools to report any students or staff who recently traveled to “countries identified as high risk by the CDC” and large increases in student or staff absences. The district asked schools to report absenteeism, “particularly if absences appear to be due to respiratory illnesses.”

The district has asked all schools to update the contact for their nurse and operations manager by Monday. 

Update: This story was updated after publication to reflect the first presumed positive case of coronavirus in Louisiana, additional information from an Audubon spokeswoman and new information about the Center for Resilience.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...