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Q&A on the Issues

2021–22 school reopening

New York Teacher

As school buildings fully reopen for in-person learning in September, there are many questions about the health and safety protocols to keep school communities safe. The following Q&A answers some of UFT members’ most commonly asked questions. Be sure to check the coronavirus hub for updates and new information.

Will masks be required for students and staff in New York City public schools this school year?

Yes. All students and staff must wear a face covering while riding on school buses and anywhere on school property — both indoors and outdoors — regardless of vaccination status, unless they have a medical exemption.

How much personal protective equipment must schools have on hand?

Like last year, schools must have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks for adults and children, KN95 respirators, face shields for adults and noncontact thermometers for temperature screening. Schools must also have an electrostatic sprayer, cleaning supplies for daily and nightly cleaning, gloves, disinfecting sprays or wipes, and hand sanitizers in every room. If your school lacks appropriate supplies, please report it to your UFT chapter leader as soon as possible.

Will there still be health screenings required for students and staff this school year?

Yes. Every student and staff member must complete the DOE Health Screening Form prior to entering the school building each day to confirm that they are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, have not recently tested positive and are not currently required to quarantine based on close contact with an infected person. If a student or staff member is feeling ill, they must stay home and get tested for COVID-19.

Will there still be COVID-19 testing at schools this year?

This year, 10% of unvaccinated individuals in every school who have submitted consent for testing in their school population will be tested biweekly. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated and students in 3K, pre-K and kindergarten are not required to be tested. The testing group will include only unvaccinated students later this fall once the vaccine mandate has been fully implemented for staff.

What will happen if positive cases of COVID-19 are discovered within a classroom?

The DOE has provided different protocols for elementary, middle and high schools:

Elementary schools: If there is a positive case in a classroom, all students in the class will be instructed to quarantine for 10 calendar days.

Middle and high schools: In the event there is a positive case in a classroom, students who are:

  • At least 12 years old, vaccinated and not showing symptoms will continue to attend school in-person and should take a COVID-19 test five to seven days after exposure.
  • At least 12 years old, vaccinated and showing symptoms will be directed to quarantine for 10 calendar days.
  • Unvaccinated will be directed to quarantine for 10 calendar days. On Day 5 of their quarantine, students may take a COVID-19 test and with a negative result, they may return to school on Day 7.

School buildings will close for 10 days if there is evidence of widespread transmission as determined by city public health officials.

Will social distancing be practiced in school buildings?

The DOE will follow the CDC recommendation to maintain 3 feet between students within classrooms where possible. When it is not possible to maintain 3 feet in a given school, the DOE advises layering multiple other prevention strategies, including encouraging vaccination and improved ventilation. Classrooms in which physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained will have an additional air purifier installed. During meal times, schools will use outdoor spaces and additional spaces in school buildings where possible.

How is the DOE maintaining adequate ventilation in schools?

The DOE has bolstered ventilation in all schools this year. Two air purifiers have been placed in each classroom. Cafeterias in larger schools have large air purifier units and window-based exhaust fans. Classrooms in which physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained have been given an additional third air purifier.

You can check the ventilation status of your school by finding your school’s information page at, which includes a section on building ventilation.

What are the requirements for school staff to be vaccinated as schools reopen in the fall?

The city announced that all DOE employees need to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on or before Sept. 27, 2021. The requirement applies to per diem employees and all contracted employees who work in any DOE building. It does not apply to school bus drivers or DOE staff working in 3K and preschools located in non-DOE buildings. In impact bargaining, the UFT is working to ensure that the city respects union members’ rights by law and the DOE-UFT contract in the implementation if the courts hold that the mandate is legal.

How can I submit proof of my COVID-19 vaccination? What documentation is acceptable?

You must submit proof of vaccination using the DOE’s Vaccination Portal. Your information will be kept confidential. Proof of vaccination can be an image of your vaccination card, the New York State Excelsior Pass or other government record.

Will students who are 12 or older be asked to submit proof of vaccination?

Yes, the DOE is asking parents to upload proof of vaccination of their children since vaccination status will determine whether older students without symptoms will be required to quarantine if another student in their classroom tests positive.

Am I required to set up a digital classroom this school year?

Yes, all teachers and related service providers must set up a digital classroom by Oct. 1. The set-up should include uploading necessary materials for the first day of an emergency closure. You are not required to upload any additional content more than 24 hours prior to an emergency closure. You will receive $225 on Oct. 31 for setting up this digital classroom. You’ll use this digital classroom for conducting parent-teacher conferences; synchronous/live instruction on snow days; asynchronous instruction on Election Day and for quarantining students during partial-class closures; and synchronous instruction if you have to quarantine and are able to work remotely.

Related Topics: Coronavirus