At least 1,000 New Orleans educators are set to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the week, NOLA Public Schools officials told Orleans Parish School Board members at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.
District officials continue to focus on a number of issues related to the pandemic — including honing in on student attendance and restocking personal protective equipment in schools.
Teachers became eligible to receive the vaccine on Monday, along with other school staff and daycare workers. The district’s Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour said the district is coordinating vaccinations for 46 schools and special programs, such as The Bridge, which is a non-profit that works with students at risk of not finishing middle school.
“We randomized the order of those schools to receive the vaccine,” Delcour said.
“One of those recent partnerships we’re really excited about is New Orleans East Hospital who are actually providing mobile vaccine units to go to a school and vaccinate willing staff members,” Delcour said.
The units spend roughly half a day at each campus. “We have about eight school sites this week that are receiving vaccinations through NOEH’s unit.”
Delcour said she initially thought about 750 staff members would be vaccinated this week but she said partnerships like the one with NOEH have created more opportunities.
Delcour said that more than 6,000 school employees responded to a survey asking whether they would like to be vaccinated. About 78 percent said they would. Those that said “no” generally gave a “no for now” answer, she said.
“The main reason for hesitancy was the speed around vaccine creation and general hesitancy with governmental processes,” Delcour said.
Delcour also said the district was distributing more masks, hand sanitizer and other personal protective equipment to schools this week.
District officials are also continuing to focus on student attendance, which is down, along with enrollment, amid the yearlong pandemic.
Shannon Perry, the district’s Executive Director of Student Support and Attendance, said the district has done 850 truancy checks to date this school year. A truancy check entails a social worker or police officer visiting a student’s home.
“Literally going to the door and figuring what is keeping this young person disconnected and out of school,” Perry said.
Perry said many of the families they are engaging with struggle with literacy, finances, and a variety of other issues.
“We’re noticing some of these families, we’ve seen them before, or they have financial concerns, basic needs — they’re struggling in terms of their basic needs,” Perry said. “We’re seeing the pandemic putting a spotlight on systemic barriers that families were already experiencing.”
Board member John Brown Sr. said he was also concerned about students’ attendance and various problems the pandemic has exacerbated and noted he was worried it would affect the graduation rate.
“I believe there is funding that is needed in order to increase efforts like these to really get in touch with these families early on,” Brown said. “To get in touch with these students and letting them know there are better options than giving up and dropping out.”
NOLA Public Schools officials said the district is working on creating a system to help them track struggling students. Part of that system will include attendance tracking, which the district only began collecting from charter schools during the pandemic.
Board members Nolan Marshal Jr. and Carlos Zervigon had high hopes for a centralized attendance system.
“That’s a weakness of our system that could maybe be remedied and give us insight,” Zervigon said. “When Mr. Marshal brought that up, I thought that would be great.”
Brown also asked whether state standardized testing would again be waived this year, as it was last spring amid the first spike of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
“There is no waiver that has been given at the federal level as was given last year,” Lewis said. “No one is trying to not have assessments, but this is a far from usual year.”