Booker T. Washington High School. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

A majority of the NOLA Public School district’s independent charter schools have agreed to follow a common calendar that sets date ranges for holiday breaks and a weeklong start window next school year, according to press releases from the district and Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. 

Independent charter schools, which make up the entire public school system in New Orleans save for one traditional school, are free to set their own calendars. But that can complicate things for parents with children at multiple schools and certain city interactions with the school system, such as city enforcement of school zones.

“We heard our parents’ voices,” Sophie B. Wright Charter School Principal Sharon Clark said in one release. “This collective effort proves that when you unite around solving a common problem, you can get things done. In the wake of COVID-19, school leaders will continue to work with state and local officials to create and execute a plan to open schools safely in New Orleans.”   

Clark specifically thanked LAPCS’s Angele DeLarge in the release. Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education representative Kira Orange Jones, who represents the city, and district Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. all praised the commitment in a press release.

“We are easing the burden for working parents, caretakers, and educators who adhered to a disjointed calendar system,” Cantrell said in the release. “This is a positive step forward for our public school system and the City of New Orleans.” 

Here is a list of participating schools. Four schools are not participating, according to the district. They are the Living School, Lake Forest Elementary Charter School, Ben Franklin Elementary, and Opportunities Academy, a school serving special education students up to age 22.

“The 2020-2021 academic school year is scheduled to kick off between the common window of August 4-11, 2020,” a district release stated. “Schools have also agreed to common windows for fall, Mardi Gras and spring breaks and to align to the same dates for all single day holidays as well as Thanksgiving and winter breaks.”

However, schools may still schedule their own professional development days. 

In previous years, charter schools have often had widely varying calendars, a flexibility some charter leaders insist is necessary for unique programming and others use to attract parents. For example, this school year the Friends of King charter group began operating its two schools on a four-day week schedule. In the past, some schools would have a handful of week long breaks throughout the year and some have had near year-round schedules. Others release early on different weekdays. 

The district said it took months for charter schools to work out a calendar. Some schools have already moved toward a common calendar and the concept has been in discussion for years. 

After becoming an all-charter district in the summer of 2019, the district will take over Mary D. Coghill Charter School starting July 1 after declining to renew its charter contract. Last month, the Orleans Parish School Board approved a calendar for the Gentilly Woods elementary with an Aug. 10 start date

However, it still remains unclear what school could look like in early August amid the pandemic. NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. has said Coghill’s calendar is subject to change based on city or state orders and recommendations from the Louisiana Department of Health. 

When Gov. John Bel Edwards closed schools March 13, local educators worked to develop remote learning plans and purchased laptops and hotspots to help students work online from home. In some cases, it took weeks to get the devices to students. Eventually, Edwards extended his order through the remainder of the academic year. Some schools are planning remote summer classes and graduations, while others hope to hold in-person classes and celebrations. 

In its release, the district said it is meeting with school leaders weekly, and that they are “taking every precaution to ensure students, as well as school staff, are safe while keeping children engaged in learning.” 

They are discussing various scenarios for the fall return. 

“Additionally, NOLA-PS  is planning to have a licensed physician available to all schools in the district to advise on actions to take and how to keep our campuses safe.”

The Louisiana Department of Education has also started a “Strong Start 2020” campaign to help schools plan for the fall. Edwards is expected to announce more details on a potential phased reopening Monday. 

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...