Under a proposed NOLA Public Schools district policy announced Thursday, all central office employees would be required to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. If approved by the Orleans Parish School Board, the policy would apply to about 200 people who work directly for the district. The school board is scheduled to meet next on Thursday, Aug. 19. 

“We’re going to move with a policy that I hope our board will adopt to mandate vaccinations for all of our public school employees,” Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. said at a Thursday press conference. 

But the vast majority of New Orleans school employees — including teachers, school administrators and school support staffers — would not fall under the proposed mandate. In the city’s all-charter system, the Orleans Parish School Board and the district’s central office staff authorize and regulate charter schools. But independent charter school boards, and the administrators they employ, are responsible for day-to-day operations, including hiring and personnel policies. 

Some charter schools, however, have already implemented their own mandates. Late last month, district high schools announced that they would require vaccines — or require weekly COVID testing — for their staff.

The district will also ask schools to provide vaccination rates for their staff and students. NOLA Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Tiffany Delcour said those numbers would likely be available in early September. 

The proposed mandate comes as infections and hospitalizations continue to rise around the state, a result of the highly infectious delta variant. Following months of declining case numbers and relaxed restrictions, officials over the past several weeks have brought back mitigation measures.

After initially planning to require masks only for unvaccinated school staff and students — a group that includes all students under 12, who are not yet eligible for a vaccine — on July 28, the district changed course, announcing that masks would be required for anyone entering school buildings. On July 30, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell reinstated a citywide indoor mask mandate, which she had lifted in May, and a vaccine mandate for city workers. Gov. John Bel Edwards, who had lifted a statewide indoor mask mandate in April, followed a few days later by reinstating a mask requirement for businesses and other public indoor spaces, including schools, throughout the state. 

Cantrell went further on Thursday, announcing that vaccinations or negative COVID test results will be required to enter restaurants, bars and other venues. The mayor has scheduled a late afternoon press conference on COVID mitigation.

District prioritizing in-person for this school year

Earlier this week, the NOLA Public Schools district reported 116 cases among students and staff, along with 638 people in quarantine after contacts with infected people. District officials said more than half of the people who reported cases never stepped foot on a school campus. 

District schools have not announced a vaccine mandate for students, other than high school students involved in extracurricular activities. But they, along with anyone entering district schools, will be required to wear masks. 

“Requiring masks is truly our best protection, especially for our youngest learners who are not eligible for the vaccine just yet,” Lewis said.

The NOLA Public Schools district has prioritized in-person school for the 2021-2022 school year. And New Orleans schools are not offering large-scale distance learning options as they did last school year. Lewis said on Thursday that many are offering accommodations for individual students. 

“If you have questions about distance learning accommodation, simply contact your child’s school. Contact them today,” Lewis said. “They’re here to support you every step of the way.” 

Delcour said students who have one of a number of CDC-identified conditions that put them at a greater risk of contracting the virus or having serious complications from it can request virtual schooling after filling out the district’s request form with their physician. It’s also possible a family member with one of those conditions could make the child eligible.

“We leave this up to our physicians and medical officials. It’s possible a child could be eligible, maybe not because of their individual need but of someone in the household,” Delcour said.

Delcour said the district is partnering with Crescent Care, which received a $90,000 grant to support school vaccination events. She also said on-site COVID-19 testing will continue at schools.

“We were able to perform 500 tests last week alone between our students and staff,” she said.

“Unvaccinated students and staff who are identified as a close contact will be required to quarantine for 14 days,” Delcour said. “Vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine, but they must be tested.”

“We are in a far better place now because of vaccinations than we were last year,” Delcour added. 

This story was updated to include a policy announcement from the city of New Orleans that vaccination or proof of a negative test will be required to enter certain types of businesses.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify that Crescent Care, not NOLA Public Schools, received the grant to support student vaccinations.

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...