Students at 42 Charter School have their temperatures checked on the first day of in-person classes since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March of 2020.

The NOLA Public Schools district reported 12 active COVID-19 cases — resulting in 156 people quarantining — days before New Orleans’ older students are set to return to the classroom under newly announced modified phase 3 guidelines on Thursday.

That includes two student cases and dozens in quarantine at Landry-Walker High School, according to the district’s new COVID-19 dashboard. The district announcement explained that the Landry-Walker situation stemmed from “a single positive case associated with an extracurricular activity led to 1 other positive case and 71 individuals placed in precautionary quarantine.”

The news comes the same day Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the state would remain in phase 3 for another month — as Hurricane Delta barrels down on southwest Louisiana — and one week after Mayor LaToya Cantrell moved the city to a modified “phase 3.1.” The district’s phase 3 will also include additional restrictions, for example, classrooms will be capped at 30 individuals, five more than allowed in phase 2 but fewer than the district’s initial plan would have allowed.

Some 60 percent of the city’s pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students have been back in the classroom since mid-September. Others opted to continue learning from home. Older students can begin returning to the classroom on Monday, depending on their school’s reopening timeline, many of which are staggered.

“In-person learning develops the whole child, academically and socially. It’s the reason the District is prioritizing in-person learning whenever possible,” NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said. “We are encouraging families to send their children to school if they feel comfortable and, of course, distance learning remains an option.”

Most schools are rotating older students — either on a daily or weekly basis — between the classroom and online learning. 

Last week, district officials kept classrooms in phase 2, despite the city’s move to phase 3. But now, the district will also shift to a modified phase 3. That will increase classroom capacity to 30 students, from 25, but still well shy of the initially proposed cap of 50 students in phase 3. That’s for extra precaution, officials said. 

There have been three staff cases since the district began reopening buildings to students. One case in a staff member at Mary D. Coghill Elementary School resulted in 10 people quarantining. That case is still active according to the district’s website. (The district did not clarify whether those in quarantine were staff or students.) One staff case at Success Academy remains active and two weeks ago, one staff case was reported at Landry-Walker High School before students returned.

Other schools with active cases, in students and/or staff, as of Thursday include: Arise Academy, Bricolage Academy, Einstein Charter at Sherwood Forest, Martin Behrman Elementary, McDonogh 42 Elementary and ReNEW Accelerated High School. Additionally, two staff members who travel between schools have tested positive.

The district is completing health inspections at elementary schools this week and will begin high school inspections in mid-October.

Louisiana Department of Health data updated Wednesday showed 44 new cases in the last week in Region 1 schools — which includes New Orleans. Region 1 includes Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes as well. That’s in addition to 72 previously reported cases, making for a total of 116 since the department started collecting information on Sept. 3. Of the 116, 68 cases were in students.

The cases don’t appear to include students or staff who haven’t been on campus.

“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, explained in an email last month.

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

A spokeswoman for Landry-Walker High School would not disclose which extracurricular led to the 71 quarantining people, stating the school does not discuss COVID-19 cases beyond pure number of cases.

The district updates its dashboard on Thursday afternoons.

Update: This story was updated with information from a spokeswoman for Landry-Walker High School.

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...