A NOLA Public Schools nurse receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

The NOLA Public Schools officials won’t require central office employees to report their COVID-19 vaccination status by Thursday as was required by a recently approved policy, according to district officials. District officials told The Lens this week that the delay in implementing the policy was due to disruptions from Hurricane Ida. 

In August, the Orleans Parish School Board approved a policy championed by NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. that requires all central office staff, about 200 employees, to produce proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September. The district’s mandate only applies to staff employed directly by the district. The vast majority of city school employees — teachers, school administrators and support staff — are employed by independent charter schools, many of which have set their own staff vaccine mandates. 

But the storm prompted hundreds of thousands to evacuate the area. And the citywide blackout caused by the storm led to school closures and post-storm evacuations. Because of that, the district is not sticking to the policy’s original Sept. 30 deadline, district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo told The Lens via email on Tuesday.

“Given the two-week disruption caused by Hurricane Ida and schools working diligently to create a routine and stable environment for their students and staff, NOLA Public Schools is giving schools and its central office staff more time to report their vaccination rates/status,” Alfonzo wrote in an email. 

Alfonzo did not respond to questions about a new deadline.

Though case numbers rose in the district this week to 99, up from 33 the week prior, they are still well below the numbers officials reported prior to the storm. District officials recommended — and some schools required — students receive a negative COVID-19 test before returning to school after the hurricane closure which likely prevented some exposures and quarantines.

District officials had anticipated vaccination rates of students and staff at each of the district’s charter schools would be available this week as well. But Alfonzo said that reporting is also delayed due to the storm.

Every high school in the city signed on to a letter requiring their employees and any students participating in extracurricular activities to get the vaccine or commit to weekly testing.

Several other schools are also requiring staff to get vaccinated. Crescent City Schools, a charter network that runs three elementary schools in the city, implemented a vaccine requirement for staff over the summer — well before many other organizations. As of this week, more than 99 percent of the network’s staff members are vaccinated, according to CEO Kate Mehok.

The network is also collecting data on student vaccinations, Mehok wrote in an email. That work is still in process, and as of this week, Mehok did not have any numbers to report. As an elementary school network, only Crescent City Schools’ oldest students — those 12 or older — are eligible for the vaccine. 

“We are eagerly awaiting FDA approval on vaccines for 5+,” Mehok wrote. Pfizer sent clinical trial data to the FDA this week and say they will seek approval for the vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds in the coming weeks.

Firstline Schools CEO Sabrina Pence said just over 90 percent of network staff are vaccinated and 25 percent of eligible students have received the vaccine.

KIPP New Orleans Schools, the city’s largest charter operator, also has a vaccine mandate for staff, CEO Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise said Wednesday.

“Our staff is approximately 95 percent vaccinated,” she said.

Kalifey-Aluise didn’t have a student number readily available.

“I’m very optimistic about the student vaccine rates,” she said, pointing to the requirement for extracurricular activities. “Ida obviously set us back on getting a good picture of where people are and now that we’re back we’re getting a better picture, promoting the vaccine and getting back to incentives.”

The NOLA Public Schools district is partnering with the Louisiana Department of Health and, through a federally funded program, giving financial incentives to students who get tested weekly. 

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...