Gov. John Bel Edwards updates the public at a press conference amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

UPDATE: Though Gov. John Bel Edwards indicated he would issue the order closing schools until the end of the academic year on Tuesday, the order was delayed by one day. In an afternoon press conference on Wednesday, April 15, he and Acting State Superintendent announced that the order had gone into effect.

Public schools in Louisiana will not reopen this academic year, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced at a press conference Monday, as the state and nation battle the spread of COVID-19.

Edwards said he expects to finalize an order on Tuesday, but on Monday, he was clear about what it will contain.

“It is my intention now, to announce that school will not resume in the sense that students will be going to the school building,” he said at a Monday press conference. “But education will continue.”

The Louisiana Department of Education is in the middle of surveying its districts for a second time to see how many will offer online and distance learning opportunities. As of last month, only half of districts statewide were. But the NOLA Public Schools district confirmed last week all of its schools were offering distance learning.

“It’s just not going to be feasible to resume the operations of our schools this academic year,” he said Monday, noting many schools would only have three weeks remaining after his order expires April 30. “There will be more information on this tomorrow coming from me.”

Edwards had all but confirmed his intentions last week, hours after state education officials and district superintendents asked him to call off the school year. But, before making it official he said he wanted to meet with acting State Superintendent Beth Scioneaux to understand exactly what the state Department of Education wanted in such an order. 

Scioneaux and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education officials have called remote learning plans “critical” and implored school districts to continue providing services to the best of their ability. 

Earlier this month, the NOLA Public Schools district confirmed all of its schools are offering remote learning while school is out, through a combination of paper packets, phone calls and online resources. Schools are still serving meals and the district has provided laptops and wireless hotspots to charter schools for students in need. 

But statewide, just over half of school districts are still teaching, according to a department survey. The department is resurveying districts with results due Tuesday.

Louisiana is not alone. More than a dozen states have cancelled school for the remainder of the academic year. Others are planning to start school early next fall or reteach curriculum when school opens again.

Edwards’ initial order came the week the first cases were diagnosed in New Orleans. On March 13, he ordered schools closed for one month. Later, he extended it along with his “stay-at-home order” through the end of April. 

If schools had resumed in person, the majority of them would have had just weeks left in their school year. BESE president Sandy Holloway questioned whether the risk of reopening was worth it, especially in a state with a high rate of underlying 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 in her Thursday letter to Edwards. 

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 students, families and teachers. 

The state has provided specific guidance for determining whether high school seniors are eligible to graduate. Guidance on how and whether to promote younger students is forthcoming. 

On Monday there were at least 557,663 confirmed cases of the virus and 22,116 reported deaths in the United States, according to the Washington Post. While the rate of new cases in New Orleans has slowed, Edwards said that is solely due to the mitigation measures in place and that the public must continue to follow social distancing guidelines and only make essential trips out of the home. 

At the end of his Monday press conference, Edwards said distance learning will continue in local districts.

“You’re going to have a lot more information coming from the school districts about what that will look like.”

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...