Commercial equipment sits in front of Frederick Douglass High School on St. Claude Avenue, helping to dry out the school after Hurricane Ida in 2021 broke windows and caused water damage that was followed by a citywide blackout. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

All but one of the 29 NOLA Public Schools campuses damaged by Hurricane Ida have passed their environmental inspections, meaning students can return to the classroom, district officials have told The Lens. 

Of 29 campuses that received some damage from the powerful Category 4 hurricane in late August, the district wanted 20 to receive an environmental clearance from a contractor before students can return to class. Some of those schools returned virtually while they were waiting on the clearance. 

“All schools have been cleared except Frederick Douglass High School,” on St. Claude Avenue, NOLA Public Schools spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo told The Lens on Friday.

NOLA Public Schools officials have yet to name the other 19 schools that required environmental clearance, nor offered specific details of the damage the hurricane caused there. Last month, The Lens filed a public records request for all school damage assessments, but the district has not yet produced the records.

This week, asked for the specific list of the other 19 schools that underwent an environmental review, Alfonzo declined, saying the information would be included in the requested assessments when the records request is eventually fulfilled. The 20 schools represent about one-quarter of total district school buildings. 

Frederick Douglass High School is still undergoing extensive repairs from water damage caused by broken windows. 

“There was an ongoing project to replace courtyard windows,” district Executive Director of Capital Improvement Jeanie Deceurs explained to board members last month. “The temporary closures on those windows failed during the storm.”

That moisture, combined with excessive heat in the days after the storm during the weeks-long power outage that followed the storm, left the facility unable to utilize air conditioning and could have caused additional mold or other environmental concerns as well. In the weeks after the storm, large portable commercial equipment was stationed outside the St. Claude Avenue school to presumably keep the building cool and attempt to remove moisture.

The district has approved a $15 million disaster recovery services contract for damage related to the storm. That’s up from the original contract amount of $500,000, signed earlier this summer as hurricane season started. 

Douglass students returned to school remotely in mid-September. And this week, they started in-person classes at the Ellis Marsalis building (formerly Allen High School) on the 5600 block of Loyola Avenue. 

Charter network KIPP New Orleans Schools runs Douglass. Network CEO Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise said they were happy to have students back on campus. Douglass students will likely use that campus for the remainder of the first semester depending on how repairs go at their home campus.

Statewide, Louisiana Department of Education spokesman Matt Johnson said the office estimates 20,000 students were still out of school as of Oct. 4. That’s about three percent of the state’s 700,000 students. In the week after the storm, more than one-third of the state’s students weren’t able to be in school due to storm damage. 

“All of St. John the Baptist Parish is out until 10/11. Phase 1 schools for St. Charles begins 10/6. Nine schools in Lafourche are set to reopen between 10/13 and 10/20. Jefferson has three schools closed,” he wrote in an email on Wednesday.

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...