It’s been more than three months since Louisiana’s public schools closed as COVID-19 cases swept the nation. Now, as schools plan for the fall, protecting students and staff health is the top priority for teachers and parents in New Orleans, according to survey results released by the NOLA Public Schools district Friday afternoon. 

When the survey closed earlier this month, nearly half of educators said they would not feel safe if they had to return to work now. Educators also said they want more support in distance learning and social and mental health resources for themselves and their students. Parents said they want flexibility when it comes to in-person versus online learning, and more than half of parents want remote learning to be an option next school year even if the city’s public school buildings reopen for in-person classes. 

Survey results show the three most important things for parents, students, educators and community members in planning to reopen schools after they shuttered for three months due to COVID-19.

New Orleans schools committed to remote learning — either online or through paper packets — early on in the closure, which was initially planned to last one month but ended up going through the end of the school year

Late last month, the district launched the survey in part to inform its Reopening Task Force, which is charged with creating a plan to safely reopen schools as the threat of COVID-19 lingers. In recent weeks, nearby states including Texas and Florida have seen a steep rise in cases.  The task force has been meeting weekly but its meetings are not open to the public, something that’s been criticized.  

Two-thirds of the 7,227 people who responded to the survey were parents. Just over 20 percent were educators, eight percent were students, and five percent were other community members, the district reported.

The district’s press release said the results found that “86 percent of parents agreed their child had reliable internet access,” though the survey was only available online. 

In late May, the school district estimated that 20 percent of its 45,000 students did not have reliable internet access or access to a device. Schools and the district rushed to provide laptops and wireless access to students this past spring. 

In planning for next year, 64 percent of parents said they could make an alternating day in-person school schedule work. Staggered class schedules is one of many ideas schools are discussing to cut down on the number of people students come into contact with in a given day, which would in theory reduce the virus’ ability to spread. 

Half of parents said they could do a school schedule split by morning and afternoon classes and 37 percent said they could do an alternating week schedule. Twenty percent of parents said they could not do any of the alternative schedules. 

Schools will not make any final decisions until after they receive guidance from the state Department of Education. 

Another factor will be how far along the state is in its reopening. Last week, local educators told The Lens the key factor in determining what school will look like is the recovery phase the state and city are in. Right now both are in the second phase, allowing many businesses to operate at 50 percent of their normal capacity, up from 25 percent in phase one. The limits will also affect how many students can be in a classroom at one time. 

The district has already said it would provide supplies to schools, such as hand sanitizing stations and touchless infrared thermometers. But in a nearly all-charter district, the schools have great autonomy over their schedules and plans. 

The majority of parents and students reported their schools kept them informed during the closure and that they had support to do academic work. Next year, parents said they would like clear guidance on which of their student’s assignments are most critical to complete each day and a summary of what they should be learning in the grade. 

The district did not publicly release the full survey results, saying they would only be made available in response to a public records request. Instead, officials briefed the public on the survey’s major findings. 

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...