Following a pandemic-driven hiatus that forced the Orleans Parish School Board to meet virtually for 16 months, the board will return to in-person meetings next week, the NOLA Public Schools district announced Wednesday.
The return comes just in time for two items that are sure to be hotly contested: Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.’s plan to revoke the embattled Dryades YMCA’s charter for James M. Singleton Charter School and the district’s plan to rename additional buildings that were named for Confederate sympathizers.
However the announcement also comes as the city and state are experiencing a concerning fourth wave of new COVID-19 cases. The increase has local health officials worried about the city’s health system’s capacity. On Wednesday, the city was averaging 117 new cases per day, a stark increase from the 10 to 15 average last month, and the test positivity rate was 8.1 percent, a marked increase as well.
Across the state, 5,388 new COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday. That’s the third highest single day total since the pandemic began according to Louisiana Department of Health’s Dr. Joseph Kanter.
The district is planning to have schools return fully in-person this fall. However district officials have said they will follow the latest advice of health officials.
“These guidelines are developed based on the current context of the pandemic and are likely to change over the course of the year as we observe the course of the pandemic locally and continue to learn from the science of vaccinations, viral transmission, and effective public health practices,” officials said in early July when they released new school operating guidelines.
The board room will have a reduced capacity, just 36 seats spaced three feet apart, and masks will be required, according to the district’s press release. Overflow space will be available in the building’s atrium which generally carries a live stream of the meeting.
Anyone wishing to make a public comment must fill out a comment card, as was the board’s pre-pandemic policy. In spite of the reduced in-person capacity, the board will not be accepting comments virtually as it has during remote meetings. The board meetings won’t be available on Zoom but the meetings can be viewed live online or on public access television.
Since the board last met in person in March 2020, four of its seven members have been newly elected and sworn in. The other three were reelected to their seats.
“The board is excited to meet in-person for the first time,” Board President Ethan Ashley said in a statement released by the district. “Since the installment of our new Board in January, we have not experienced meetings in-person and I am certain that for all of us, new board members and old, meeting in-person will be a good experience, especially as we welcome the start of the new school year.”
The board is scheduled to hold committee meetings July 27 beginning at 1 p.m. and the full board meets July 29 at 5:30 p.m.