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.

Hours after State Superintendent Cade Brumley announced a major policy shift that would allow students who have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 to return to the classroom without quarantining, NOLA Public Schools district officials have come out against it. 

“NOLA-Public Schools and Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr. strongly disagree with the Louisiana Department of Education’s recent decision to allow school districts to disregard quarantines for students exposed to COVID-19 because it will immediately increase the risk of COVID-19 transmittal within school buildings,” a district statement issued Wednesday afternoon read.

“As a result, NOLA-PS will continue to follow the data and science-based guidance provided by leading health experts regarding all matters related to this pandemic, including quarantine guidelines,” the statement said.

Brumley argues the change is necessary for students who continue to face repeated quarantines and may be missing weeks of school. 

“We can no longer ignore the unintended academic consequences of our students unnecessarily missing school,” Brumley said in a statement. “This new, common-sense option empowers parents and local communities with the authority to make health-related decisions for their students.”

Brumley described the policy change as a “parent choice” option. Under the policy, mandatory quarantines for students defined as “close contact” will no longer be required.

But NOLA Public Schools officials say the risk is too great. Roughly half the student population is under 12 — too young to be eligible for the vaccination. 

The policy is optional for school districts, and NOLA Public Schools Superintendent indicated that city schools will opt out, maintaining current quarantine protocols. District quarantine guidelines call for unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to stay out of the classroom for 10 days. Staff and students can return after an exposure if they are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

“The Louisiana Department of Education’s decision flies in the face of the data, the science, and the sound advice of our health and medical advisors when it comes to protecting our students and educators amid the latest surge in this pandemic,” NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in the statement. “We have proven that our approach is effective at keeping COVID-19 out of our schools, and we will stay the course and continue to listen to health experts.”

The district’s statement said it will continue to follow the Louisiana Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine recommendations for unvaccinated individuals — including all students under age 12 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. The Advocate reported LDH State Health Officer Joe Kanter immediately denounced Brumley’s new policy. 

In a press conference Tuesday, he noted a rise in cases among youth, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

“There still is just a ton of COVID out there,” he said. “Masking is going to be important for schools as long as the risk of community transmission remains elevated.”

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...