NOLA Public Schools' West Bank headquarters.

The Orleans Parish School Board approved additional COVID-19 spending and a teacher recruitment contract with Xavier University at its Thursday night meeting. 

The COVID-19 related expenses included an additional $550,000 in technology spending from CARES Act funding to update computer hardware for state testing and to equip more students for virtual learning.

As a sign that the pandemic appears far from over, board members also approved a contract extension with LSU Health Sciences Center for ongoing medical advice. The initial contract with LSU would have expired at the end of October, but the extension takes it through June 30, 2021. The price will increase from $95,000 to $145,000 to cover the additional months.

The hour-long virtual meeting also included a short closed-door discussion about the lawsuit filed by John F. Kennedy High School students’ affected by the 2019 mismanagement and grade-changing scandal that led to half the senior class unable to graduate on time. This week an appeals court ruled the students can sue the district. A lower court had dismissed the district last fall. The district had no comment on the appeals court’s decision citing pending litigation.

The board approved a $225,000 contract with Xavier University to help recruit 220 teaching candidates.The NOLA Public Schools district — OPSB’s administrative arm —  hopes the partnership with the historically Black university will help schools recruit “highly effective, culturally competent teachers from diverse backgrounds starting in 2020.” According to figures on the university’s website, nearly half of Xavier students are from Louisiana, most of whom are from the New Orleans area. 

The district has struggled with teacher turnover, and in August, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported high principal turnover in the city as well. Between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, nearly 30 percent of city teachers didn’t return to their jobs. Various groups have collaborated on the effort to fill these jobs over the past several years.

The lawyer for students at Kennedy recently cited principal turnover as a part of the problem for the students she represents. 

Two people making public comments at the beginning of the meeting asked the board to consider including an update on COVID-19 in schools each month. This week the district reported 13 active cases tied to school staff or students. Overall it appears the district has reported 27 cases since schools reopened buildings to students, but its tracker does not list cumulative numbers. 

Board members John Brown Sr., Grisela Jackson and Nolan Marshall Jr. — all who are running for reelection — asked for the transcribed comments regarding COVID-19 to be provided to them.

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...