In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, several New Orleans schools have temporarily moved specific classrooms online due either to increasing COVID-19 case counts or large numbers of quarantining staff and students which in some cases has caused staffing shortages.
The shifts came as the city — and schools — have seen a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. Last week, district officials announced that cases had tripled in schools and more than 700 people were quarantining across 27 schools. It was the first major weekly case increase since New Orleans public schools reopened for in-person classes in mid-September, after having been shuttered for most of the second half of last school year.
Though the increase didn’t require a “systemwide shift,” officials said, they did acknowledge that some schools had shifted specific grades back online.
Students and staff who are known to have had close contact with a confirmed case are then asked for quarantine for 14 days, per guidelines adopted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
A group of Louisiana superintendents asked the state officials for more leniency when it comes to quarantining students, according to a report from The Associated Press. They argued students are missing too much school. NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. was not at the meeting nor involved in the request, according to a district spokeswoman.
Reporter Melinda Deslatte tweeted Louisiana Department of Health officials response to the request in which they told her they would continue to follow CDC guidelines.
Multiple schools have had to shift single sections of classrooms for nearly half of the grades they serve back to virtual learning over the last several weeks.
At ReNEW Delores T. Aaron Academy in New Orleans East, so many faculty were required to quarantine that nearly half the school’s grades had to switch back to virtual learning.
“Due to contact tracing and possible exposure, some DTA teachers were required to self-quarantine. This led to a temporary transition to virtual learning for our 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th grade students,” DTA School Director John Gravier explained in an email. “We appreciate our students and families for their patience and flexibility, and we look forward to welcoming those students back to campus after Thanksgiving break.”
Ten people were quarantining after two student cases were reported at the school last week.
At Bricolage Academy in Mid-City, school officials moved fifth, sixth and seventh grade students back to virtual learning for the week leading up to Thanksgiving. The school is closed this week for the holiday. Last week, Bricolage reported two student cases and 33 people quarantining.
And on Friday, International School of Louisiana Head of School Melanie Tennyson told parents in an email that in-person classes this week would switch to online.
“We understand this is a last-minute shift and may inconvenience some of our families. We work hard to communicate in advance, whenever possible,” Tennyson wrote. “However, something we have learned with COVID-19 is to expect the unexpected and be prepared to act. Considering that we have five classes and their related staff members out in quarantine, it is best for our school community to shift to virtual learning.”
Tennyson, like other city leaders, called for families, staff and New Orleanians to follow health guidelines during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Be mindful of whom you come in contact with and for how long, be aware of social distancing, limit contact with the public, and wear your face coverings. It is our community’s responsibility to keep our children safe,” Tennyson wrote in the email, pleading for cooperation so students can re-enter the classroom in December. “I ask that you continue to follow the safety precautions and COVID-related protocols, allowing us to do our work within the school to keep instruction going and continue to help our students grow.”
Her call for vigilance echoed those of NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis, who last week gave a press conference to address the jump in COVID-19 cases in schools.
“As we enter the holiday season we are asking everyone to limit their interactions and keep family gatherings small,” Lewis said. “That will make a difference for our students.”
Update: This article was updated with additional information from a NOLA Public Schools spokeswoman.