Plessy Community School, housed at the historic McDonogh 15 School in the city's French Quarter. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Governor John Bel Edwards intends to grant waivers for state laws that require LEAP testing, school assessment and student attendance through the end of this school year as requested by state education leaders Monday, according to a letter sent late Tuesday. 

In a letter addressed to the “education community,” Edwards wrote, “Closing schools in an effort to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19 has created the need to suspend certain laws.

“As a result, I will be issuing a proclamation in the coming days to address these issues,” he wrote, outlining several laws he would suspend for the remainder of the school year. Edwards noted some waivers would be subject to federal approval.

The announcement follows a letter sent Monday from state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Sandy Holloway and State Representative Ray Garofalo, who serves as the chairman of the House Education Committee, requesting the waivers.

The move follows an order by Edwards last week to close schools to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

“In the unprecedented times we face, we must afford our educators the most flexibility in the important work they do,” Holloway and Garofalo wrote.

Dozens of states have cancelled schools since last week. And some, including Texas and Washington state, have already waived testing requirements, The Washington Post reported.

The letter from Holloway and Garofalo did say that if the requirement for standardized testing is lifted, the Department of Education could “continue to offer access to optional state assessments, as desired by schools and parents.” 

On Tuesday morning, the Louisiana Department of Health announced the state had confirmed 196 cases of the virus. Of the cases, 136 were in New Orleans. Officials also announced a fourth person in the state has died from the virus.

Holloway has already taken a series of steps to reduce requirements of schools, such as reducing required teacher observations to one and extending deadlines for childcare center license renewals that expire between March and the end of June by 90 days. 

The governor had already temporarily suspended compulsory student attendance laws and the state’s minimum instructional required, Holloway and Garofalo asked that his order, with some additional laws, last for the entirety of the 2019-2020 school year. 

School performance scores, Holloway and Garofalo wrote, “will not be produced due to closures of 18+ days, per BESE’s long-standing policy to address severe disaster impacts on schools, centers and students.”

“Diploma requirements for graduating seniors, including requirements for minimum instructional minutes for course credit, industry-based credentials, and financial aid applications, have been waived,” they wrote. 

And teacher evaluations, they wrote, “can be completed with no further action, other than recording in the appropriate data system.”

It’s unclear exactly how these changes will affect the NOLA Public Schools district and its charter schools. Nearly one-quarter of the city’s schools are up for charter renewal next year and those decisions are largely based on school performance scores. Those scores are based in large part on student performance on standardized tests. The main state test, the LEAP exam, was scheduled to begin at some schools at the end of this month. The statewide closure is set to last until mid-April and could be extended.

“We’ve seen multiple states now moving toward canceling state tests. At this time the district and our schools are focused on caring for our community by ensuring continuity of learning, and availability of child nutrition programs,” a statement from the NOLA Public Schools district said. “The decision to cancel testing reflects long-standing BESE policy related to extended school closures. We will be assessing how this decision will impact the 2020-21 school year as more information comes available over the coming months.

For high school students, statewide in-school administration of the ACT, which factors into high school performance scores, was scheduled to be given Tuesday. 

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...