FirstLine Live Oak School in Uptown. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

It’s back to virtual learning for thousands of NOLA Public Schools district students on Wednesday as city and school officials await the arrival of Hurricane Zeta, the latest disruption in a tumultuous year that has seen statewide school shutdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic and seven tropical storm systems forecast to hit southeast Louisiana at one point or another. 

“Schools will directly inform families of their individual plans for what programming may be offered remotely, due to the weather,” district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo wrote in a release.

The storm is expected to hit Wednesday evening as a Category 1 hurricane in southeast Louisiana with winds increasing throughout the day leading up to landfall. Heavy rainfall is possible through the next 36 hours and the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board announced Tuesday that one of its turbines, which powers its pumping systems, is out of service. The city has dealt with several major street flooding events in the past several years.

“If [turbine 4] didn’t go down I probably wouldn’t be as uncomfortable as I am right now,” SWBNO General Superintendent Bob Turner told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon press conference with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell. 

As pandemic-related restrictions eased, New Orleans public school students began returning to classrooms in mid- to late-September. First, pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade students were allowed back and within the last two weeks middle and high school students have returned to at least two-days of in-person learning each week as well. 

The district has already cancelled school — and remote learning — due to previous storms. Some students returned as late as this Monday to in-person learning because school officials wanted them to be comfortable with virtual learning in case of future COVID-19 closures.

On Wednesday, students will shift back to remote learning. Charter groups and the district have made a concerted effort to supply laptops and internet hotspots to students since schools were first closed by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ mid-March order. 

School food service is cancelled Wednesday and the district will close its office at noon. 

“The District will continue to monitor the storm and will reassess needs for extended closures, distance learning, or announce a return to in-person classes as we continue to learn more on the potential impacts to our area throughout the evening and tomorrow,” a district press release says. 

NOLA Public Schools officials are monitoring the storm and will determine whether closures are necessary past Wednesday.

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...