Students at 42 Charter School have their temperatures checked on the first day of in-person classes since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March of 2020.

The NOLA Public Schools district is tracking 12 “active” COVID-19 cases among staff and students leading to 116 quarantines as of Monday afternoon, a slight decrease from last week. One week ago, the district was tracking 13 active cases and 138 people were in quarantine. 

Of this week’s cases, three are staff members and nine are students. Nine of the 12 cases were newly confirmed within the last week. That largely follows city health data which has improved overall in recent weeks, though in recent days has seen a slight uptick. Four campuses have one case each resulting in more than 20 individuals quarantining. 

Just over one-third of city residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 20 percent are fully vaccinated, according to city data.

On Monday, Louisiana expanded its list of eligible vaccine recipients to include anyone 16 years and older. Meanwhile, generally improving health data has allowed schools to relax social distancing in some cases. The city of New Orleans’ low average of new daily case counts and average COVID-19 test positivity rate is what allowed schools to reduce social distancing from six feet to three feet in certain circumstances, in line with new CDC guidelines.

In an email Monday, district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo explained that earlier this month, the district began providing flyers to families with students over 16 years old with information about vaccine eligibility standards (previously people with certain medical conditions were eligible), the mass vaccination sites in the city and the city’s partnership with Uber to provide free transportation. Of the three vaccines approved in the United States, only Pfizer is available to 16- and 17-year-olds. 

Now that Gov. John Bel Edwards has expanded eligibility to everyone over 16 — which went into effect Monday — the district is exploring other ways to help get vaccines to students who want them, Alfonzo explained. 

“NOLA-PS, Children’s Hospital, and the City Health Department are discussing additional options given the Governors recent expansion of vaccine eligibility to all persons 16 years of age or older starting this week,” Alfonzo wrote Monday morning.

Meanwhile, teachers continue to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, many receiving their second and final dose of the vaccine over the last few weeks. 

Schools navigate mass staff vaccinations

The COVID-19 vaccinations’ side effects can range from pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you receive the shot and may extend to fatigue, headache, muscle pain, fever, chills, nausea or exhaustion. After a mass vaccination for staff members scheduled at Morris Jeff Community School last week, officials cancelled in-person classes the next day, holding only virtual classes instead. 

Roughly 50 Morris Jeff educators got their second vaccine dose on Thursday via the district’s mobile clinic partner or at their own provider, teacher Emily Gatehouse estimated. Gatehouse, a Spanish teacher at the Mid-City school, said school administrators agreed to hold class virtually on Friday in case a significant number of teachers experienced side effects from the vaccine. This was also due in part to the school’s decision not to use outside substitute teachers during the pandemic, Gatehouse said.

Morris Jeff is one of the few public schools in New Orleans with a union that has a collective bargaining agreement. As part of that agreement, a school leadership committee composed of three administrators and three staff members was created. That committee negotiated the virtual-only day, Gatehouse said. 

“So the question that admin posed to us is what do we do — do we have school open and try to get coverage for the classes? Because we’re not taking outside subs,” Gatehouse explained in an interview last week. 

Ultimately, the committee decided to do distance learning in case multiple teachers experienced side effects. 

“It was really great to see how quickly and effectively we were able to make that decision with teacher input,” Gatehouse said. 

Gatehouse said she was thankful for the flexible day after feeling ill for two and half days after receiving her second shot. 

“I checked in with some coworkers and we were all thankful to have that as a distance learning day,” Gatehouse said in a text message Monday. “I felt absolutely awful. I was not expecting it.”

The day before she got her vaccine she told her students. 

“I told my students today that I am getting vaccinated tomorrow and they all cheered so that is a good sign.”

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...