Students at 42 Charter School arrive on the first day of in-person classes since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March of 2020. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The NOLA Public Schools district will adopt some relaxed social distancing standards recently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for schools — including reducing the recommended physical distance between students from six feet to three feet in certain situations — district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo confirmed Monday.

“These new guidelines ease social distancing requirements for some student groups when transmission of COVID-19 in a community is low to moderate,” Alfonzo wrote. “Because this is the case in New Orleans, NOLA-PS will allow schools where students shift between different classrooms throughout the school day to reduce social distancing from 6 to 3 feet.”

“We will restore the 6-foot distancing requirement should COVID-19 transmission in New Orleans reach a “high” level, as defined by the CDC,” she added.

Louisiana Department of Health spokesman Kevin Litten said the department was adopting the new CDC guidelines for school districts across the state. NOLA Public Schools has followed LDH’s recommendations throughout the pandemic.

The change comes as the state has opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all essential workers and local case data continues to improve. According to the city’s data, Orleans Parish’s weekly average of new COVID-19 cases per day is 12 — the lowest since the pandemic began a year ago. 

Meanwhile, the district is tracking 13 “active” COVID-19 cases among staff and students, a drop from last week. Of those cases, two are staff members and 11 in students. Six of the cases were newly confirmed in the last week. As a result of those cases, 138 people are in quarantine. 

Last week, the district said it was monitoring 24 “active” cases across 14 school campuses and people in quarantine had tripled over the prior week to 339. The week prior, the district reported 12 “active” cases of COVID-19 among school staff and students and that 105 people were quarantining. Cases among all Orleans Parish public and private schools, reported by the state last week, also increased from the week prior. 

In the district’s statement released Monday afternoon, district Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said the changes on required distancing are a positive step forward.

“At NOLA PS, we are excited for these changes because it means we are that much closer to returning all our students to in-person learning,” the statement quotes him as saying. “Our high school students especially will benefit with more time in the classroom with their teachers and peers.”

In certain situations however, students and adults must still maintain six feet of distance, such as while eating, during band or choir practice, while exercising and in common areas, such as lobbies and auditoriums.

Alfonzo explained the change in social distancing wouldn’t affect busing. “This does not affect guidance for transportation, buses are still required to maintain a maximum of 75% of manufacturer capacity.”

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...