BEST OF EDUCATION
Della Hasselle is The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate/NOLA.com's education reporter. She has been covering the charter school movement, early childhood education, and inequity in classrooms in the South for nearly a decade. Since New Orleans' two newspaper companies merged in 2019 she has been New Orleans' only journalist exclusively chronicling education for a daily, covering the city's unique and high-stakes system of charters attended mostly by economically disadvantaged children. Della covers private and public preschool and preK and early education policy; six traditional public school districts in suburban and rural parts of the metro area; higher education and private and parochial schools. Della has investigated chemical plants along Cancer Alley and covered courts, cops, the affordable housing crisis, and the death penalty. She was a Charter School Reporting Corps member for a New Orleans nonprofit news site, and a freelancer for several national publications. Prior to that worked in New York City as a breaking news reporter, producer, and anchor. Her work has been honored with numerous awards, including three regional Edward R. Murrows. When she was young, she was a professional modern dancer. Now she uses those skills to twirl with her two kids during living room dance-offs and perform ridiculously fun routines as part of an all-female Mardi Gras marching krewe.
BEST OF EDUCATION
Louisiana's hard-hit daycare industry is in store for a $773 million infusion from the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill to help operators with coronavirus expenses and parents by expanding access to sites. The day cares, like lots of businesses, have suffered major losses during the pandemic - about 70% were closed at one time last year amid plummeting attendance.
Audrey Ligier held her white lace dress as she stepped out of her front door two years ago on the way to her homecoming dance, confident in her choice, as a high school freshman, to publicly shed her boyhood and embrace her identity as a transgender teenage girl.
For a decade, 38-year-old Nadia Miller has barely made ends meet working as a provider at Clara's Little Lambs Preschool Academy, a daycare on New Orleans Westbank, as she cares for her three sons in their Algiers home. A single mom, Miller typically works 40 hours each week at $14 an hour.
Lio Schaefer had long struggled with school attendance. Because he was bored and frequently felt ignored in class, he said he often skipped junior year classes at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School.
For a year, Warren Easton Charter High School students spent school days growing restless in front of their computers, as the Mid-City high school operated either virtually or on a hybrid schedule for all of the 2020-21 school year.
Cashawn Hightower was at the end of her rope. Her mother's battles with depression and drug use had ripped her family apart. Failing grades and truancy threatened to keep her from graduating high school. At 17, she was five months pregnant, and could see no future without her diploma.
As thousands of students streamed back into Jefferson and St. Tammany Parish classrooms in recent days, state health and education officials were scrambling to get a new, massive school coronavirus early warning system up and running. By Wednesday, only 389 out of more than 1,800 schools statewide had been enrolled in the early warning system, according to Department of Health spokesperson Aly Neel.
Jemell Melanson's days stretch late into the night. There are the 12-hour nursing shifts at Ochsner Medical Center. Picking up her two kids at an after-hours child care center in Jefferson. Then a trip across the Huey P. Long Bridge to the house in Harvey.
Erin Lyons can't catch up on her sleep. An elementary mathematics teacher at Emmett Gilbert School of Excellence in Avondale, Lyons, 33, has grappled with the myriad complications to education brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Virtual teaching, enforcing social distancing and fears of infection have brought crushing fatigue.
In Louisiana, a lack of governmental assistance has left many without childcare options. Over the summer, Kinsley, then 19 months, was just starting to develop her vocabulary. Sometimes her mom, Christian Gobert, laughed about it, because the word Kinsley knew best was "no."
In the Louisiana Children's Museum sunlit art studio, eight kindergartners in Ms. Rhonda Christmas' class sat spaced apart at wooden tables as they worked on tracing letters of the alphabet. Just outside the classroom, in the "Make Your Mark" gallery, one group in Ms. Triege Cotton's pre-kindergarten class played kitchen in a shotgun-style playhouse designed by artist Terrance Osborne, while another tickled the ivories on a child-sized piano.
At a recent Wednesday morning Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Belle Chasse, a choir of middle school students gestured with their arms and fingers as they sang the Sanctus, translating the hymn into sign language.
By the first week of school in mid-August, it had already become clear at Lusher Charter School that the pandemic would make for another rough school year, especially for the graduating class, according to 17-year-old senior Mikayla Morse. Like others in New Orleans public schools, Mikayla and her classmates started the year remotely, apart from their friends.
NEW ORLEANS - Six years ago, author and creative writing teacher Anne Gisleson was looking for a school for her 4-year-old son, Otto, who attended a private Lutheran preschool in her Bywater neighborhood. But for kindergarten, she wanted him to attend a public school, with kids from all backgrounds and neighborhoods.
It will cost $30 million to bring students to and from public schools this year, compared to $18 million the year before Katrina. The increase appears to be a consequence of citywide enrollment and the shift from a centrally-run school system. A few schools are working together to negotiate busing contracts.
OVERVIEW BY GENRE
The release of the state's closely watched school performance scores earlier this month offered an overall update on New Orleans schools that seemed benign enough: A slight increase in overall student performance meant another C grade for the district. But a closer look reveals a startling fact.
Nearly a year and a half ago, the chemical company Denka Performance Elastomer made a landmark announcement: It had agreed with state regulators to cut emissions of chloroprene - a government-designated "likely carcinogen" that's been spewing from its plant in St. John the Baptist Parish for decades - by 85 percent.
Carter Davis showed up for football practice the Monday of Thanksgiving week to prepare for Lakeshore High School's first-round playoff game against DeRidder. Instead, the coach told the sophomore lineman to go home. He had been "contact traced," and would have to quarantine for 10 days away from the Mandeville school and Titans football squad to prevent any further spread of coronavirus.
How prepared is New Orleans for the challenges that climate change will bring in coming years - heat, bigger storms and heavier rain? WWNO and The Lens explore this question with a special series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not? Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Foundation for Louisiana.
Darkness fell Wednesday on New Orleans long before Hurricane Zeta finished shaking trees and houses, leaving uncertainty for the 77% of the city waiting for the lights to come back on. A few powerless customers might be waiting as long as 10 days. Entergy reported 158,920 customers without electricity in New Orleans and 178,700 in Jefferson Parish.
New Orleans news and entertainment
New Orleans news and entertainment
The USGS says sea-level rise and sinking could claim up to 4,677 square miles of land along the coast if the state doesn't implement major restoration plans.
They call him "Mr. Bee," "The Bee Guy" and, sweetly, "The Honey Man." For decades, Glenn Gueho has been southeast Louisiana's go-to exterminator when it comes to bees. Every year, he gets roughly 2,000 calls from city agencies and homeowners asking him to rid skyscrapers, public parks and private homes of the pesky insects.
DEEP DIVE: MORE ENTERPRISE, DATA REPORTING
Like many whose babies have died in Mississippi, Howard had a medical condition before she got pregnant. She has long had a hyperactive thyroid, she said, but wasn't aware of the potential effects on in utero development until recently. She said she had prenatal care but her doctors didn't explain the risks of her condition on pregnancy.
Just three years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that St. John the Baptist Parish had the highest cancer risk from airborne pollutants of any similar jurisdiction nationwide because of the "likely carcinogen" chloroprene, resulting in controversy and a federal lawsuit aimed at a local chemical plant.
This time of year, the social calendar would typically be filling up for Stephen Peychaud, a Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies parent who dedicates his spare time to slinging doughnuts at Dad's Club events and helps plan the school's annual gala and neighborhood Carnival parade.
NEW ORLEANS - It was early October, and Alvin Parker was on suicide watch at Orleans Parish Prison. He had been there for weeks, unable to make bail or see his overworked lawyer. The 28-year-old schizophrenic had recently relapsed.
NEW ORLEANS - Deandrea Frank had long dreamed of becoming a nurse. Even when she was living in a local homeless shelter after Hurricane Katrina, it was a promise that she repeated to herself. In late September, the single mom of three took her first step toward that goal, enrolling in classes to get her GED.
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana - When Stephanie Mingo talks about the St. Bernard Projects, the area in New Orleans' 7th Ward where she was born and raised, her voice gets tight. Her frustration is audible as she struggles to hold back tears and contain the anger that has been bubbling for nearly a decade.
COVID-19 IN SCHOOLS
As coronaviru s has decimated the economy, school districts in the New Orleans area have scrambled to help their most vulnerable populations: the children who might not get enough to eat every day in normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic.
When New Orleans public school mom Louise Fenton thinks about the end of the school year last spring, the anxiety comes flooding back. It was a crisis for Fenton, a 45-year-old single mother of two, when schools closed doors and went to virtual learning because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wearing blue and pink headphones, 6-year-old Teo Sloan pressed his nose up to a rose-gold iPad and giggled inside a makeshift classroom at the Broadmoor-based Rosenwald Recreation Center. Nearby, other children scribbled in notebooks and watched their teachers on screens.
Playground equipment sat untouched as first graders at KIPP East Community Primary rose from plexiglass-protected desks and danced in place for their "wiggle break." Across town, when the 10 a.m. bell rang last week at Eleanor McMain Secondary School, teachers, not students, rotated from room to room.
When St. Mary's Dominican High School's 870 students started class on a hybrid model in August, Anne Raymond wondered how it would work for her daughter, junior Julia Fluellen. Rather than going through the normal high school experience, Julia would be in a a few days a week, spending the other days logging onto online lessons from home.
Colleges in Louisiana are preparing for a second full semester of adjustments to the coronavirus pandemic, with many cancelling spring breaks and shuffling start dates to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on campus.
LOUISIANA'S CHEMICAL CORRIDOR
A chemical manufacturer in LaPlace that has come under fire in recent years for releasing concerning levels of chloroprene into the air has accused the Environmental Protection Agency of using faulty science when estimating safety limits for exposure.
It's been 15 years since Marcia Llewellyn left Norco, a community located next to an industrial complex long known for its distinctive odor, and a place that many residents said had become too polluted to live in.
More than a year after the St. John Parish-based Denka Performance Elastomer plant was expected to make an 85 percent cut in its emissions of chloroprene - a government-designated "likely carcinogen" - the chemical company still hadn't met that mandate, state regulatory officials report.
State Attorney General Jeff Landry has approved a request from state environmental regulators to file suit against Denka Performance Elastomer, a chemical plant in LaPlace that has come under fire in recent years for the amount of chloroprene that it spews into the air.
More than two years after Denka Performance Elastomer agreed to cut chloroprene emissions from its St. John the Baptist Parish plant by an eye-popping 85%, it says it has finally achieved the state mandate to slash pollution of the controversial chemical, a government-designated "likely carcinogen."
A long-awaited report released Wednesday by the University Network for Human Rights, a nonprofit founded last year by Stanford University law clinic instructors, found some Reserve residents had cancer at "extremely improbable rates," and pointed to the controversial Denka neoprene plant next door as the likely cause.
Less than two weeks after a federal judge allowed a Louisiana death-row inmate to find out more information about new drugs the state wants to use to kill him, the state has asked that some of that information be kept secret from the public. On Feb.
Tuesday night, an inmate in Oklahoma reportedly writhed on a gurney after being declared unconscious. Louisiana's execution method would use the same sedative, but in a much lower dosage. Death-penalty opponents say such a low dosage may not prevent suffering.
The Lens tried unsuccessfully for a year to determine when the state's lethal-injection drugs were due to expire, but prison officials repeatedly said they had no public records that showed such a date. Recently acquired documents show the state in fact had emails, letters and other records that reveal that information and more.
The state refused to say where it got a lethal injection drug just days before a scheduled execution in February. Now sources tell The Lens that it came from Lake Charles Memorial Hospital. "Had we known of the real use," said a member of the board of directors, "we never would have done it."
A trial on the legality of the death penalty in Louisiana has been delayed again as the state tries to determine its execution method. Wednesday, a federal judge delayed for 18 months proceedings on the constitutionality of Louisiana's death penalty procedures, as well as the execution of convicted child-killer Christopher Sepulvado.
The U.S. Supreme Court doesn't weigh in often on whether convictions should be overturned because prosecutors failed to turn over evidence - four times in the past two decades. Three of those cases came from Louisiana. Each time, the high court chastised prosecutors for violating the rights of defendants and the state's courts for letting the problem slide.