John McDonogh High School on Esplanade Avenue. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

After Hurricane Ida wiped out power to the entire city of New Orleans, its public schools will remain “closed until further notice,” NOLA Public School district officials announced Monday afternoon.

With the school year well underway, the district cancelled school on Monday and Tuesday ahead of Hurricane Ida’s arrival. But after lingering over southeastern Louisiana for much of Sunday, the powerful category 4 hurricane — that remained a hurricane over land for hours — knocked out power to the entire city and more than 850,000 households in the state. 

Entire trees, branches and downed power lines blocked roads and highways throughout the metro area as residents awoke Monday morning. Other critical services, such as 911, also experienced temporary outages. 

Neighboring parishes also affected by outages and debris-blocked streets are doing the same, including St. Tammany and St. Bernard public school districts which are closed until further notice. Jefferson Parish public schools are closed through at least Tuesday. 

“With broad power outages, it is unclear at this time when school will resume,” NOLA Public Schools district communications director Rich Rainey wrote in a press release. “The District will begin working with school leaders to assess any damages to buildings and begin to plan for when students can return to class.”

It’s unclear when that work may begin, as city officials on Monday stressed caution while power is restored, city infrastructure is assessed and city streets are cleared of downed power lines and debris. At a Monday press conference Mayor LaToya Cantrell pleaded with evacuated residents to hold off on returning to the city. Officials from Entergy New Orleans could not give a timeline for power restoration, stating they were in the early stages of assessing damage.

“Damage from the storm can create a dangerous environment, so we urge everyone to be cautious now that the storm has passed,” NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. was quoted as saying in a district press release.

Lewis said the district would rally around its educators and students. 

“Let’s put our resolve and our compassion to work,” he said. “The NOLA-PS team and I will be there every step of the way for our school community, and for our beloved City.” 

Lewis runs the district’s decentralized all-charter school district. While charter schools are in charge of day-to-day operations at the schools, most school buildings are owned by the Orleans Parish School Board and leased to individual charters.

Hurricane related-cancellations are nothing new to the district. Last fall, the threat of Hurricane Sally delayed the return to in-person learning, and Hurricane Zeta later closed schools for days. Students have repeatedly shifted to remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including during statewide closures that ran from March 2020 through the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

However, that virtual option could come in handy now if buildings are damaged or teachers and students are displaced. But without electricity throughout the city it certainly doesn’t appear to be an option in the immediate future. 

In an email Monday afternoon, Arise Schools CEO Jolene Galpin wrote that the district “has asked us not to perform post-storm assessments at this time, as the Mayor has stated it is unsafe to be traveling on the streets right now.”

Arise runs Arise Academy and Mildred Osbourne Charter School in the city. 

“Therefore, we are unsure of what, if any, damage our schools have experienced,” Galpin wrote in an email. “I am hoping to get out to the schools tomorrow or Wednesday but will wait on the green light.”

Arise leadership is “eager to support our school communities but at this time are in a holding pattern as we await more direction from the Mayor’s Office and NOLA PS,” she wrote.

Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise is the CEO of KIPP New Orleans Schools which operates eight schools in the city, enrolling over 6,100 students — about 14 percent of the city’s 45,000 students.

In an interview Monday, after clearing branches from her yard, she said the charter group is in a “wait and see” mode. School has only been in session for a matter of weeks and with an unclear timeline on when power will return she said a short-term learning plan hadn’t been discussed yet.

“Paper packets — we’ve talked about all of that but right now it doesn’t seem practical, especially because so many people aren’t in the city right now,” she said school leaders hope to learn more from district and city officials tomorrow. 

As for KIPP’s facilities, “We’re hoping by tomorrow we may be able to get out and see them all.

One of our buildings had temporary plexiglass in a window and that didn’t make it but nothing terribly serious from what I can tell yet.”

“The hope right now is that everyone is taking care of their families and that staff and students made it to a safe place to wait and see,” she said.

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...