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Internet access still an issue as New Orleans schools prepare for virtual reopening

City Councilmembers voiced that concern Monday during a special meeting, noting that 20 percent of public school students don't have internet access.

NEW ORLEANS — When the bell rings for Orleans Parish public school students, they'll open up laptop computers instead of sitting down in a classroom -- at least for now.

But making sure every student has a laptop and internet access is just one concern as the start of school gets closer in the age of COVID-19. City Councilmembers voiced that concern Monday during a special meeting, noting that 20 percent of public school students don't have internet access.

Lewis said NOLA Public Schools has bought a laptop for every child in the public school system. He agreed that connecting them to the internet will be a challenge.

“They have a cellphone in the house, but we know that's only good if the individual is home when the student is learning,” said NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis.

“We do need to solve that short-term solution to make sure that families aren't having to drive all parts of town during the night to find WiFi so their kids can finish their homework,” Council Vice President Helena Moreno said.

The lack of a nurse for every school led to a dispute between Council President Jason Williams and Councilman Jay Banks.

“If we're going to invest more, it might be in the area of custodians or engineers to sanitize an area,” Williams said.

“Common sense would say that in a medical emergency having a medical professional on site ain't a bad thing,” Banks shot back, adding a charge that schools in better neighborhoods do have a nurse on campus full-time.

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Public school officials said they'll consider the number of new cases, the number of positive cases and testing capabilities for schools before they allow students back to campus.

Catholic schools in the metro area, however, will reopen. They'll allow a mix of in-person and virtual learning.

Catholic Schools Superintendent RaeNell Houston issued a statement to the council that read in part "these decisions were not based on feelings or emotions but by looking at data."

Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state's assistant health officer, told the council all schools should expect COVID-19 to affect their campus in some ways.

“Any school would be well-served to make investments now in their virtual-learning platforms,” he said.