Outside Frederick Douglass High School Thursday afternoon, a flatbed truck full of generators hummed, hooked up to dehumidifiers and post-Ida necessities inside the St. Claude Avenue building. The school experienced water damage during the powerful Category 4 storm and, like much of the rest of the city, was without power for days. Now, it’s preparing to reopen for students, though it’s not yet clear when that will happen.
New Orleans area metro schools are wrapping up their second week of school closures due to storm damage from powerful Hurricane Ida, which left about 1 million electric customers — including homes, businesses and schools — without power. Though recovery efforts and power restoration have improved over the past week, schools remained closed as NOLA Public Schools district officials assessed damage, school staff or contractors cleaned kitchen freezers, and teachers and students returned from their own evacuations.
St. Tammany Parish Public Schools will open Sept. 13, as will St. Bernard Parish Public Schools. Jefferson Parish, which sustained more damage in the storm, is reopening in phases, The Times-Picayune reported Friday. Thirty-one Jefferson Parish schools will reopen this month. Another 41 will be reopening on Oct. 1. Three schools in hard-hit Lower Jefferson Parish will be closed indefinitely.
NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said he expects the “majority” of district schools to open between Sept. 15 and 22 — though a few school leaders have announced they will be unable to open their campuses due to damage. Instead, they will start virtually.
Douglass is one of those, said Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise, the CEO of KIPP New Orleans Schools, which runs Douglass and seven other charter schools in the city.
“Douglass is starting virtually, every other school will start in person,” she said of the eight school network. “It’s going through a significant drying process with all sorts of commercial equipment.”
Douglass is one of several city campuses dealing with water and other storm related damage.
Broken windows on the second and third floors at Douglass led to water intrusion that affected lower floors, district officials said earlier this week, and a citywide blackout led to days without electricity or environmental control at the renovated high school during blistering heat.
Before students return to any campus, NOLA Public Schools district Chief Operating Officer Tiffany Delcour said it will have to be inspected.
“Before any student returns to a building, we will have an environmental health clearance,” Delcour said at a press conference earlier this week.
Delcour said roughly one-quarter of school buildings had received some level of damage and about half had had power restored as of earlier this week. That number has likely increased since then as Entergy New Orleans had made progress, now having restored 98 percent of the city’s power.
Bricolage Academy, on Esplanade Avenue, also had water intrusion issues and lost its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in part of the building.
“We cannot safely have in-person school due to damages to our HVAC system and the suspicion of mold in some water damaged areas of our building,” Principal Antigua Wilbern told The Lens on Friday. “HVAC repairs are already under way, our building is being dehumidified and the 1st of at least two required rounds of mold testing is in progress.
In an email to families, Wilbern described the damage, including the loss of air-conditioning in the auditorium, cafeteria, and second and third floors on one side of the building. Nine classrooms received water damage and she wrote that there could be “potential microbial growth (mold) in water damaged areas.” Those areas will be tested before students return, she wrote.
Bricolage will start virtual instruction on Sept. 20. Students can pick up necessary technology materials on Sept. 17. The school has also added four days of school to make up for lost learning time and converted two half-days to full days. State law requires schools to provide a minimum number of instructional minutes each year.
“I cannot provide an exact date that we will resume in-person learning at this time as we must now await environmental clearance. We will update our families on progress weekly,” she said. “These are difficult times but the Bricolage Trojan community is strong and resilient and we will continue to get through this together.”
At Lusher Charter School, sixth through 12th grade students will begin virtual classes on Sept. 15, as the building evaluation is complete. A school spokeswoman said students at the Willow St. campus, in grades kindergarten through fifth grade, will return to in-person instruction on Sept. 15.
Other schools experienced little or no damage, and are now preparing for students to return either next week or the following week.
Firstline CEO Sabrina Pence said all of its six school programs expect to reopen in-person on Sept. 20. The network is requiring a negative COVID-19 test for students to return to school.
“We were very fortunate,” she texted Friday.
At Crescent City Schools, staff will return Sept. 20 and students will be welcomed back Sept. 22. InspireNOLA CEO Jamar McKneely said they plan to start school in-person on Thursday. Two of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans campuses may return virtually while one will be in person. School officials said they are tracking mold remediation.
Families should check with their individual schools for return information. The NOLA Public Schools district does not have a centralized list of school return dates.
The school district is encouraging staff and students to get COVID-19 tests before returning to school. Schools may offer tests for students and the district is hosting three community test events next week as well.
Community testing sites will be hosted at Hynes’ Lakeview campus on Sept 15., Landry High School on Sept. 16 and Abramson Sci Academy on Sept. 17. Each testing site will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Bricolage will also offer testing to students and their families on Sept. 13 and Sept. 16.