Louisiana public schools will most likely remain closed for the rest of the academic year, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced at a Thursday press conference, one day after the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents asked him to do so.
Asked hours after also receiving letters from the president of the state board of education and acting state superintendent, Edwards said he planned to meet with Acting State Superintendent Beth Scioneaux to discuss what exactly state education leaders wanted.
“I suspect that that order is forthcoming very quickly,” he said Thursday.
State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Sandy Holloway joined in their call mid-day Thursday. Acting State Superintendent Beth Scioneaux said she could support the closure for safety reasons. Both asked that districts provide education remotely instead, calling it a “critical” service.
“We, the leadership of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), respectfully request that you act now in making a decision to formally extend school facilities closures for the remainder of the Spring term,” Holloway wrote in a letter to Edwards Thursday.
“I told Betsy that I would have a conversation with her after I received a request from them,” he said, holding up the letters above his podium. “I haven’t had that conversation but I’ll have it today. I’ll be making an announcement, and it’s going to happen really soon.”
NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. is among the school leaders who supported the request, the district confirmed Thursday. “Superintendent Lewis supported the submission for the Governor’s consideration.”
The superintendents sent their letter Wednesday via the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents. State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Sandy Holloway joined in the call mid-day Thursday. Holloway and the acting state superintendent, who said she could support closure for safety reasons, asked that districts provide education remotely instead, calling it a “critical” service.
“We, the leadership of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), respectfully request that you act now in making a decision to formally extend school facilities closures for the remainder of the Spring term,” Holloway wrote in a letter to Edwards.
Holloway said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued similar guidance and noted Louisiana’s vulnerability due to a high prevalence of underlying health conditions.
“The CDC factors for long-term facilities closure, based on available science, indicates that the citizens of our state are more at risk if children and staff are introduced into these facilities too soon,” she wrote.
Acting State Superintendent Beth Scioneaux wrote in a letter that she would support the closure if it is necessary for safety.
“If an extension of school facility closures is approved for safety, it is critical for learning to continue. Every community needs a plan for continued learning,” she wrote. “This not only ensures academic progress and social support for students and families; it provides stability during an uncertain and unprecedented time.”
The letters come one week after Edwards extended school closures through the end of April. Whether schools will reopen their doors in May, when many schools are weeks if not days away from the end of their academic year, is up to him.
With instructional minutes, state standardized tests and many other requirements waived for the year, schools have flexibility in how they evaluate students for course credit. School leaders said those waivers also helped ease pressure on families.
Last week, Scioneaux and Holloway urged school districts to offer online and remote education options for students.
“It is critical that school systems engage with students and families, including by providing distance education opportunities,” they said in a statement. “This not only ensures academic progress and social support for students and families; it provides stability during an uncertain and unprecedented time.”
As of last month about half of districts were providing remote learning, according to a department survey. The department sent out a new survey this week, which is due April 14.
Across the country, more than a dozen states and a number of counties have announced schools would close for the remainder of the academic year. On Tuesday, officials in the San Francisco Bay Area announced schools in six counties would not reopen this school year.
On March 13, Edwards announced schools would close for one month in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. Most New Orleans schools moved classes online or began sending home weekly schoolwork packets. Local charter schools organized meal pick-up sites to continue feeding students and the district purchased wireless hotspots and laptops to help students who needed internet access.
Nationwide, there are 432,000 confirmed cases of the novel virus and 14,800 people have died, according to the Washington Post.
Numbers continue to rise in Louisiana, too. According to the Louisiana Department of Health, at least 18,283 cases have been confirmed and across the state, and 652 people have died as of Thursday.
At press conferences throughout the week, Edwards said preliminary numbers suggest the rate of new cases was slowing, but said it was only due to people following his stay-at-home order. He implored citizens to continue to practice social distancing to “flatten the curve” and ensure it says that way.
“We are seeing more evidence that we are moving in that direction,” he said in a press conference Tuesday.
“This is truly a statewide public health emergency and that’s why we need everyone’s cooperation,” Edwards said.