Students at 42 Charter School arrive on the first day of in-person classes since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March of 2020. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The NOLA Public Schools district is tracking 268 COVID-19 cases connected to schools, and 821 students and staff are in quarantine after coming into contact with a positive case.

This week’s case count, released Monday, is a decrease from last week’s 525 reported cases

The district’s most recent release covers cases reported between Feb. 7 and 11. The 268 cases are among 32 staff and 236 students across 54 schools in the district.

The Lens recently uncovered holes in the district’s data reporting the week of Jan. 31, including the lack of any reported cases or quarantines at the district’s largest charter network: KIPP New Orleans.

For the third week in a row, Monday’s data did not include any quarantines at KIPP’s eight campuses. KIPP Director of Risk and Compliance James O’Donnell said that was a likely error in prior weeks as KIPP officials confirmed they’d reported quarantines. 

Last week, O’Donnell said a change in KIPP’s testing schedule could further delay data. 

“Starting tomorrow KIPP has transitioned its weekly testing to Fridays to help minimize exposure and disruptions to families,” O’Donnell wrote in an email on Thursday. 

He hopes the move will cut down on exposures because asymptomatic students will wait for their results at home rather than continuing to go to class. It will also allow parents to be notified of exposures at home rather than learn at work and have to leave to come pick up their exposed child. 

But it will mean that KIPP will not be able to report its weekly case counts and quarantines by the school district’s deadline. 

“However, as a result, this means we won’t be receiving results until the weekend, not ahead of Friday’s NOLA PS deadline. We are working to make sure that we can get all of them submitted by midday next Monday ahead of the dashboard’s update, but wanted to flag this as a potential low numbers/no numbers for next week as we are the only CMO doing testing on Fridays which could result in a temporary discrepancy as we adjust to a new data cycle,” O’Donnell wrote. “As this is the official LDH/NOLA-PS testing, we will continue working with them to determine how to best ensure this revised testing schedule can be congruent with NOLA PS’s data collection process.”

Two weeks ago KIPP reported 157 cases across its nine campuses. For the most recent week, the network reported 25 cases.

Schools are only required to submit reports to the district if they have positive cases. That means the data dashboard doesn’t distinguish between a school with zero cases or quarantines to report and one that failed to submit its cases. Both appear as zeroes in the data. Tulane University epidemiologist Dr. Susan Hassig suggested the district change its reporting standards, requiring schools with no cases or quarantines to submit weekly reports. If a school doesn’t submit a report, she said, that should be reflected in the data as a non-report rather than a zero. 

“I am very much opposed to using zero for a field that doesn’t have a report,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “It needs to be a non-valid response for the field, so if it’s a numeric field it should be a non-numeric response like an NR or an X.”

“If you use zero when there’s a ‘no report,’ that’s messing things up big time. It’s not an uncommon mistake. It happens all the time,” she said.

It did not appear Monday that the district had made any such changes in its weekly reporting practices.

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...