A 42 Charter School employee holds a digital touchless thermometer to take students' temperatures as they return to school.

The NOLA Public Schools district on Thursday reported two new COVID-19 cases among school staff members over the past week — causing 10 people to quarantine — as the district prepares to reopen school campuses to students in fifth grade and older, thanks to promising health data in the city. 

One case was reported at Mary Dora Coghill Elementary School, the district’s only traditional, non-charter school, and the other at Success Preparatory. Ten people who were in close contact with the staff member at Coghill have been asked to quarantine for two weeks. The district did not specify whether they were staff or students. The district did not report any quarantines at Success.

Earlier in the day, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the city would move to phase three of its economic reopening this weekend. Cantrell detailed a modified “phase 3.1” that keeps more restrictions in place than other areas of the state, which moved to phase three in early September.

For now, the school district will remain in phase two of its plan, which limits classrooms to 25 people, including teachers, and school buses to 50 percent of their certified capacity. The schools’ phase two plan allows for hybrid learning for students in fifth grade and older, who are set to return to school buildings later this month. Two weeks ago, the district began welcoming pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students back to campuses. Weekly updates on new infections followed that last week. The two cases reported today are in addition to one case reported last week.

“We’ve welcomed our students back and we have not seen any negatives associated with returning our pre-k through fourth grade students back into the classroom,” Cantrell said at her Thursday press conference.

Cantrell said there have been no COVID-related deaths in the city for a week and that testing positivity and other health indicators remain below thresholds set by the city. 

The district is conducting health inspections at all schools and, according to a Thursday release, will complete the reviews at elementary schools by Oct. 9. They will begin high school inspections when students return to campus.

Several schools are planning to bring back students in shifts — alternating days or weeks in-class and learning from home. Students have the option to remain in distance learning.

Coghill has scheduled the return to the classroom for fifth through eighth grade students, who’ve been learning at home since school started this fall. Eighth grade students return on Oct. 12, seventh graders on Oct. 13 and fifth and sixth graders on Oct. 14, according to the school’s website.

Each charter network will plan its own reopening schedule. Many are planning to run hybrid models with certain grades alternating in-person class on a daily or weekly basis. 

Kate Mehok is the CEO of Crescent City Schools, which runs three elementary schools. They waited until the end of the district’s two-week window to open to young students, and are approaching this phase similarly. 

“Starting the week of Oct. 26th, we will begin bringing in our 5th through 8th graders two days a week,” she wrote in an email Thursday.

At InspireNOLA Schools, a larger charter network, campuses will open to students starting Oct. 13. Middle school students will alternate in-person and remote learning on a weekly basis, with fifth and sixth graders attending in-person one week and seventh and eighth grade the next.  

InspireNOLA’s high schools will rotate on a daily basis. Freshman and seniors will attend in-person on Mondays and Wednesdays, while sophomores and juniors will attend Tuesdays and Thursday. Fridays will rotate, and all students are expected to sign on to remote learning on the days they aren’t physically in the classroom. 

KIPP New Orleans School will open to its older students, including high school students, the week of Oct. 12, according to spokesman Curtis Elmore. All students have the option to continue learning virtually, he said. 

Louisiana Department of Health data updated Thursday showed 72 cases in Region 1 schools — which includes New Orleans — since the system started collecting information on Sept. 3. Region 1 includes Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Tammany parishes as well. 

“The purpose of the reporting system is to collect data for cases where an individual was on a campus and/or in a school building so that response efforts can be initiated when an exposure has occurred,” Kevin Litten, a spokesperson for the department, wrote.

Prior to that, emails show 25 cases were reported in July and August in New Orleans schools. Some buildings had opened for staff only. 

Families should check with their school for specific information on reopening.

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...