The NOLA Public Schools district will cut student meal pick-ups to two days per week, a Tuesday press release announced. But the sites will still provide enough meals for all weekdays.

The news came an hour after NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr told Orleans Parish School Board members that the district would continue serving food to students — despite other districts discontinuing meal service after Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide stay-at-home order. 

This week, the statement said, meals for Friday would be served at the Thursday pick-up. Community meal sites will be closed Friday. Beginning next week, families can pick up two days worth of meals on Mondays and three days worth of meals on Wednesdays. 

The statement said the change was “an effort to better serve and protect the health of students, families, food service providers, and staff at community feeding sites.”

Fidel Garcia, a parent of four students at Paul Habans Charter School praised the move. He said they picked up meals three times last week, twice at Habans and later in the week at a site that had opened closer to their home. 

“That will be a little better to just kind of keep everyone at home, you at least have a meal for a few days, that way everyone will stay home and we can get this virus out of the way,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

Garcia also said his two older kids were doing well with online school work.

“Everything is going good. Their teachers are sending out packets,” he said. “They’ve got several websites that they’re actually posting assignments through.”

He said the younger two required a bit more help with school work but overall things were smooth.

“Everyone is doing the best that we can to try to keep these kids entertained and learning.”

‘We’re going to be there until they tell us we no longer can be there to provide those meals’

At the Orleans Parish School Board’s online meeting Tuesday, Lewis told board members that serving meals and helping schools acquire technology to pivot to online learning were some of his top priorities. 

“I’m proud to share 89,000 meals and counting have been served to students of Orleans Parish,” Lewis said during the virtual meeting. 

Lewis noted that some school districts, like St. Tammany Parish, had suspended student meal service this week, after Edwards issued a stay-at-home order. West Baton Rouge and Tangipahoa have also suspended the service, according to The Advocate. 

Lewis said the district has stepped up safety for food service workers, which include temperature checks.

“We’re going to be there until they tell us we no longer can be there to provide those meals,” he said. 

Throughout the city and country, business and education have largely shifted online where possible. The board’s ability to hold its meeting online came from language included in one of Gov. John Bel Edwards’s emergency declarations. 

Lewis began Tuesday’s meeting by asking for a moment of silence, “Because we know members of our school community have passed away.” 

Of the state’s 1,388 known cases, 675 are in New Orleans. Nationwide, more than 50,200 cases have been reported and more than 600 people have died, according to the Washington Post.

Forty-six people have died in the state, including 26 people in New Orleans. One of them was Oliver Stokes Jr., a DJ who also worked at Arthur Ashe Charter School, according to a report in The Times-Picayune. Stokes left work March 9 with a fever and did not return, the story stated. 

Lewis told board members and the public — who were able to call into the meeting to listen or watch it online — that technology to improve access to distance learning was another of his top priorities during the statewide school closure. 

He said the district had purchased 10,000 Chromebook laptops in addition to the 5,000 hotspots that it purchased last week. The hotspots cost $1.2 million, and came from $5 million in emergency funding approved by the board the day the closure was announced. The laptops cost $2.1 million. Lewis said the district is working with schools on a distribution plan and the items will be distributed based on need. 

Will schools come back this year? 

Louisiana is not alone in its unprecedented closure. States across the nation have enforced similar orders. Edwards’ order for schools expires April 13. But this week, Virginia’s governor ordered schools to stay closed for the remainder of the academic year. 

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, asked whether school in Louisiana would be called off for the school year, Edwards said he didn’t have an answer yet. 

“I haven’t heard from the department of education and what their plans are. Right now we have not called off school for the rest of the year,” Edwards said. “They are scheduled to reopen on April 13 that may or may not be possible.”

Edwards said the department is working on three different scenarios. 

“One is that school resumes on April 13, another is it resumes at a later date, and the third one would be that it doesn’t resume at all during this academic year,” he said. 

Back in the Orleans Parish School Board’s virtual boardroom, Lewis didn’t address the topic directly, but said the district would serve meals as long as it could during the closure. He also addressed high school seniors in particular, noting his daughter was a senior. 

“I know it’s very very difficult for them,” he said, mentioning graduation and other special senior activities.

He said should graduation ceremonies have to be delayed the city would still celebrate their hard work later.

“It may not happen on that day but we can tell you we are going to celebrate with you as soon as we get the clear.”

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...