One of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans' campuses in New Orleans.

Several Louisiana immersion schools were already facing potential staffing shortages and even the loss of entire immersion language programs — according to an internal Louisiana Department of Education memo issued two weeks ago — before the problem was potentially compounded by President Donald Trump’s ban on certain types of visas, including the ones many schools use to hire teachers from abroad.

The June 11 memo relayed a dire warning and called for immediate action from the United States government to fast-track U.S. visas for teachers in France awaiting them — otherwise the French government would cancel recruitment to ensure their teachers had jobs.

“Widespread negative effects are imminent to both individual schools and entire school systems,” the memo stated. Just over half of the state’s new French language hires were recruited from France.

The department memo was shared with the Office of Culture, Tourism, and Recreation and state officials, department spokesman Ted Beasely wrote in an email. It was “created to outline the potential ramifications and impact to Louisiana’s World Languages programs, specifically highlighting impacts to French language education, if annual recruitment of international teachers were to be suspended.”

French government partners, with whom Louisiana has a unique relationship, requested the visas be approved within 48 hours, according to the June 11 memo.

“If the process is not cleared, the government of France will begin procedures to cancel international recruitment for the 2020-2021 school year to ensure that their civil servant teachers will not become jobless in France,” it says.

Then, on Monday, Trump issued the proclamation, banning the issuance of certain visas for teachers altogether.  

Trump has cast his ban as a jobs protection decision for U.S. workers amid high unemployment caused by the COVID-19 crisis, which has stalled the country’s economy and life as Americans know it. This week, the department confirmed it could jeopardize 72 teachers bound for Louisiana, including 22 French teachers set to go to Orleans Parish. 

The memo, prepared by the department’s world language specialists before the ban was announced, said that several schools and districts were already in danger of losing a substantial portion of their language programs or instructors. The memo doesn’t say what prompted the concern, but the State Department has suspended many routine visa services since late March, a move that the department said was a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans, a French immersion and curriculum school in New Orleans could lose 35 percent of its staff, according to the memo. Five other schools across the state could feel significant impact as well.

Lycée CEO Marina Schoen said Friday afternoon that she was “cautiously optimistic” after being asked for the names and emigration information of the teachers they were expecting. She said the school made one hire recently and is still looking for staff. She expected to have additional information on the teachers awaiting visas next week. 

Other schools and districts may face even larger consequences, like Mamou Elementary School in Mamou, Louisiana and Teche Elementary School in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, which could lose their entire French immersion programs. Concordia Parish could lose its entire second language program, the memo states. 

This week, the department spokesman said staff shortages are still a real possibility. 

“At this time, there is no change in the potential impact to World Languages programs in Louisiana in regards to the President’s proclamation,” Beasley wrote. 

Additionally, the state could be on the hook for any money the teachers spent trying to emigrate based on their job offers. 

“LDOE is working with the Office of Culture, Tourism, and Recreation and other State agencies to determine what actions are appropriate regarding the mentioned financial ramifications,” Beasley wrote. 

The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) is housed in that office. CODOFIL helps schools hire teachers in the U.S. on J-1 visas, used for educational purposes by teachers, students and others. 

Earlier this week the department, CODOFIL and Lycee said they were all working together on solutions. 

In an email Friday, CODOFIL Communications Director Matt Mick wrote “Communications regarding an exemption for the teachers are ongoing.”

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards’ office did not respond to a request for comment. 

International School of Louisiana, another immersion school in New Orleans, also has teachers on different types of visas that Trump’s order targets. But CEO Melanie Tennyson said the school is lucky to be in a low-transition year, having only requested one new teacher this year.

“The 2020-21 school year is exceptional in that we have never had so few ‘new’ teachers coming in … a bright spot in a year of much change and stress.  I empathize with those school leaders who are in a big turnover year,” she wrote in an email Thursday. “The [International Associate Teachers] are essential to the work we do in immersion schools.”

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...