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Safety at schools

Visit the UFT's coronavirus hub for the latest news and updates. 

Masks and PPE

What is the new DOE indoor school mask policy?

Masks will now be optional for K-12 students and staff as of Monday, March 7, 2022 and for pre-K staff and students as of Monday, June 13. 

What are the policies with regard to students or staff requesting others to wear or not wear masks?

The decision to wear or not wear a mask is now entirely up to students, parents and staff; those decisions should be respected and those criticizing others for their decisions should be counseled to respect the choices of others. It is still recommend that New Yorkers of all ages continue to wear masks indoors and the DOE will continue to make masks available for any child or school staff member who wishes to continue wearing them.

What is the updated masking policy for students and staff who test positive for COVID?

The testing policy regarding students and staff returning from a positive COVID test has not changed; those who test positive for COVID who are returning to school must wear a well-fitting mask on days 6-10 after the onset of symptoms or the date of the positive test, whichever was earlier.

What is the policy for those exposed to students or staff who have tested positive?

The testing policy has not changed; students and staff in classrooms with individuals reporting a positive COVID test should continue to be given two tests on day one and day five, continuing to attend school in person unless they test positive. The Department of Health recommends, but is not requiring, that close contacts of an individual testing positive should wear masks for ten days after exposure. Schools should provide one KN95 mask per week to those exposed, upon request.

What if COVID cases rise again and/or another dangerous COVID-19 variant emerges? Will the mask mandate be reinstated?

Masks have proven to provide a layer of protection against the spread of COVID-19 and the UFT will be closely monitoring all developments, research and data. If new developments require more safety measures to be restored, the policy regarding masks can and will be changed.

Does the new policy apply to DOE staff in offices and other non-school sites?

DOE staff who work in offices and other non-school sites are no longer required to wear masks.

What is the mask policy for school visitors?

Wearing a face covering will now be optional for all visitors, but other visitor safety policies remain the same. All visitors wishing to enter DOE buildings must continue to show proof of having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, show identification, and complete the daily health screening form. 

Will masks continue to be required in nurses' offices and school medical rooms? 

Yes. Wearing a face covering will still be required in medical rooms and nurses' offices, as well as school-based health centers. Nurses will have masks on hand for anyone entering who needs one. 

What is the mask policy for sports and other after-school activities?

Masks are no longer required, however COVID-19 vaccination is still a requirement for all students and staff participating in high-risk Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) sports during the 2021-22 school year. High-risk sports include football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse (boys), stunt and rugby. High-risk extra-curricular activities include chorus, musical theater, dance/dance team, band/orchestra, marching band, and cheerleading/step teams/flag team. Any student attending a dance or prom must be fully vaccinated.

Will masks be required for students on school buses and on school field trips? 

Face coverings are no longer required on school buses or on field trips. However, should a field trip destination venue require face coverings, DOE students and staff must adhere to the venue's policy.

Is the vaccine mandate for staff changing?

No. All requirements for staff vaccinations remain the same.

Will personal protective equipment be provided to all schools for students and staff?

Yes, schools will have at least a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment on hand at all times. Hand sanitizer will also be available in every classroom and throughout school buildings. 

How much personal protective equipment must schools have on hand?

Like last year, schools must have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment. 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.

COVID-19 testing

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

Yes. Beginning on Feb. 7, schools will test the larger of either: 

  • 10 percent of the school’s student enrollment in grades 1-12, up to a cap of 250 students 
  • 20 percent of the school’s unvaccinated student population

This change allows schools with highly vaccinated student populations to test a larger group of students every week. Additionally, 10 percent of staff continue to be able to get tested weekly. 

In addition, close contacts and classmates of positive cases will now have immediate access to two at-home rapid tests that they can take to monitor themselves for the days after exposure. Schools should distribute these test kits to any students and staff who exhibit COVID-like symptoms OR students who have been exposed to COVID-19 in a classroom setting beginning Jan. 3. Two rapid tests will be provided to all staff on a weekly basis.

How can staff members arrange to get tested for COVID-19 at schools?

Staff members can request to be tested and must submit consent via the DOE’s Health Screening application–make sure you are on the “consent” tab, which is on another tab separate from the daily health screening form. At least 10% of school staff who express an interest will be tested each week. School communities should work together to determine a common-sense process for determining who will be tested if more than 10% of staff want to be tested. 

Testing providers may not always be able to test all interested staff at the time scheduled. However, the DOE has promised to provide every staff member with an at-home rapid test kit, containing two tests, each week. 

Who will be provided with at-home COVID-19 rapid tests?

Anyone working in the school building — including custodial staff, after-school staff, nurses, school safety agents and cafeteria staff — can receive an at-home test kit if they want one. Schools will distribute these tests to any students who exhibit COVID-like symptoms, or to students who have been exposed to COVID-19 in a classroom setting. 

As of April 27, the DOE will distribute four COVID-19 home tests per student each week until further notice. Two tests are for student use and two are for a family member. If there is a classroom exposure, students will still receive two test kits and a notification letter from the Situation Room, and would then receive two more test kits during the week. Staff members will continue to receive two test kits per week. 

In addition to weekly rapid tests being distributed to staff, can we request additional at-home tests if needed?

Staff members can receive additional tests on an as needed basis. If your school is not distributing test kits in this manner or experiencing a shortage, please ask your chapter leader to call the union’s safety hotline to report it. 

When should I take the two at-home rapid tests if I have been in a classroom where a positive case has been identified?

Individuals who have been exposed to a positive case should take one test the evening you have been notified of your close contact and the second test on day five after exposure. If you start showing symptoms of COVID-19 before day five, use the second test right away.

When should I take the two at-home rapid tests if I am already experiencing COVID-like symptoms?

Anyone experiencing symptoms should use both rapid tests 24 hours apart. The first test should be used immediately after returning home and the second test should be used 24 hours later. You should stay home until two negative rapid test results have been received. You may return to school after two negative test results and if you have been fever-free without using fever reducing medication for 24 hours.

Can rapid tests be taken at school?

No, these tests will only be used at home and should not be opened at school. A staff member or student who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 should be isolated, go home, and take their test at home.

Now that rapid tests are being used in schools, what types of COVID-19 tests are accepted by the DOE?

Acceptable forms of COVID-19 tests now include: a NAAT or molecular test, such as PCR; or a lab-based antigen test; or an in-home FDA authorized antigen diagnostic "rapid" test including tests distributed by the DOE.

Positive cases

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

Positive COVID-19 cases for adults no longer result in the quarantine of the entire classroom. Vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine unless they have COVID-like symptoms. 

As of Jan. 3, 2022, close contacts and classmates of positive cases will now have immediate access to two at-home rapid tests that they can take to monitor themselves for the days after exposure. City officials told us that every school staff member will get a testing kit containing two tests by Jan. 3, and more testing kits will be available for them on a weekly basis. Those who have a take-home test kit will need to take two tests over the course of five days. Students who were in close proximity to COVID-positive students can continue attending school if they do not have symptoms and do not have a positive test result from a COVID-19 test. 

Who is considered to be a "close contact" to someone else who has tested positive for COVID-19? 

The DOE considers close contacts to be individuals, either students or adults, who have been within six feet of a positive case for 10 minutes or more over the course of a 24-hour period, starting from two days before symptom onset (or for an asymptomatic person, two days prior to test specimen collection until the time the person is isolated. ​​Vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine unless they have COVID-like symptoms.

As of Jan. 3, 2022, close contacts and classmates of positive cases will now have immediate access to two at-home rapid tests that they can take to monitor themselves for the days after exposure. City officials told us that every school staff member will get a testing kit containing two tests, and more testing kits will be available for them as needed. Those who have a take-home test kit will need to take two tests over the course of five days. Students who were in close proximity to COVID-positive students can continue attending school if they do not have symptoms and do not have a positive test result from a COVID-19 test. 

Will staff who have been vaccinated be required to quarantine if they have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19?

No. Vaccinated members who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 do not have to quarantine if they are asymptomatic. A fully vaccinated, asymptomatic person who has been in close contact with a person who tested positive within the past 10 days should continue to report to work. 

Should staff who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 but still awaiting test results report to work?

No. Staff with symptoms need to stay home and would not pass the DOE's Health Screening. If your test results are negative, you may return if your symptoms improve. If you do not receive test results within five days of symptom onset, fully vaccinated school-based staff may return on Day 6 if you had mild symptoms only.

Will staff who have been vaccinated and who test positive for COVID-19 need to quarantine? 

Yes. If someone tests positive they need to stay home. Members who are vaccinated and who test positive would not pass the DOE's Health Screening and could not enter a school building. 

Teachers and school-based staff who are fully vaccinated may return to work on Day 6 after testing positive for COVID-19 only if they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms only, such as being fever-free for 72 hours without the use of medication; not having a runny nose; and/or having a minimal cough only and cannot be coughing up phlegm. 

In addition, from Day 6 through Day 10, the positive staff member must consistently and correctly wear a well-fitting higher level face covering, such as a KN95 mask. Staff working under this policy must continue to stay at home outside of school hours, take precautions to avoid household transmission, and observe other required elements of isolation while not at work until the end of the 10-day period.

Staff who do not meet the above criteria must continue to isolate for 10 days.

Do I have to quarantine if I recently had COVID-19 but am a close contact to a positive case?

Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past three months and have completed their isolation period do not need to quarantine when they are close contacts with someone who tests positive. 

Would I be considered a close contact if I taught in the same room but at a different time from someone who tested positive? 

No, people who use a classroom at a different time from a positive case of COVID-19 are not considered to be exposed. 

How should I report a positive result on a rapid test taken at home?

Anyone who tests positive from an at-home rapid test should immediately report it to your school and begin isolating. Principals will report positive results to the Situation Room. The DOE’s daily health screening has been updated to include questions about at-home rapid test results. These test results will not be uploaded to the screener, but parents, students and staff will have to legally attest to the results in the screening.

If I test positive, is a negative test required to report back to my school building?

No, a negative test is not required. An individual may continue to receive a positive COVID-19 test result for up to 90 days even though they are no longer infectious. 

If a student in grades K-12 tests positive for COVID-19, how long will they remain at home?

As of Jan. 31, 2022, the isolation period for K-12 students has been shortened to five days, provided that have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and their overall symptoms should be improving. In addition, students must be able to wear a well-fitting mask while at school from days 6-10. 

A negative test is not required to return to school.

See the DOE's family COVID flowchart for K-12 students for additional guidance. 

If an unvaccinated student in grades K-12 is exposed to someone with COVID-19 at home, how long must they remain in quarantine?

An unvaccinated student who is exposed to COVID-19 at home must continue to quarantine for an additional five days after the household member’s isolation period has ended if the household member is not isolated from the student during that time. However, if a student has recovered from a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 90 days, regardless of vaccination status, that student does not need to quarantine and may attend school unless symptomatic.

See the DOE's family COVID flowchart for K-12 students for additional guidance. 

If a student in 3-K or Pre-K tests positive for COVID-19, how long will they remain at home?

Early childhood students must continue to isolate for 10 days. Before they return on day 11, they should be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and their overall symptoms should be improving. 

Can early childhood students who have been exposed to COVID-19 test back into school earlier than day 11? 

As of Jan. 31, 2022, Students in 3-K and Pre-K who are at least two years old and have been exposed to COVID-19 may test back into school on Day 6, after completing a five-day quarantine. In order to return to school on Day 6, these students must be symptom-free, and test negative on a lab-based test performed by a healthcare provider on Day 5 or test negative using two at home rapid tests taken on Day 4 and Day 5.

Starting on Monday, Jan. 31, students aged 2 and older may now receive home test kits when exposed at school, in addition to when they are experiencing symptoms. Families may choose to use these home test kits to test out of quarantine and return on Day 6.

Please note that students in 3-K and Pre-K who share space with an individual that tests positive for COVID-19 must continue to quarantine if exposed to that individual during their infectious period. 

Students in 3-K and Pre-K that do not get tested can return to school on Day 11 after completing a ten-day quarantine.

For more information, see the DOE's family COVID flowchart for early education students

Health screening

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 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.

What is the safety policy regarding visitors who wish to come inside school buildings? 

All visitors, including parents, age 12 and older must show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination and take the DOE Health Screening, which they must pass successfully to enter.  Masks will now be optional for visitors. 

Lunch periods

What safety protocols will be used during student lunch periods?

Schools will use outdoor spaces and additional spaces in school buildings where possible to maintain adequate ventilation.  As of Monday, March 7, 2022, there are no longer requirements for social distancing in cafeterias, unless individuals are returning from isolation.  Those who test positive for COVID who are returning to school must wear a well-fitting mask on days 6-10 and must social distance when removing their masks for eating. 

Will instructional lunches be an option for students this year? 

Instructional lunches—a period where students are programmed to eat lunch while receiving instruction—will remain an option this year in schools where space constraints make it impossible for students to otherwise eat lunch safely. Your school’s COVID-19 building response team needs to be part of the conversation with your principal if your school believes it needs to use this option.

These instructional lunches may be programmed only if other strategies—such as using the cafeteria or other common areas or eating lunch outdoors—are not able to meet the safety needs. See the UFT-DOE agreement on instructional lunches » 

How will teachers who are assigned an instructional lunch period be compensated? How will it affect their schedule?

Instructional lunches are a scheduled teaching period and must be considered one of the teaching periods in the assigned teacher’s regular program except as part of a shortage-area assignment. Teachers programmed for instructional lunch will be compensated at the rate of one coverage per day. Principals are strongly encouraged to seek volunteers first but have the discretion to make assignments based on availability and qualifications.

Other safety issues

Will social distancing still be practiced in schools? 

As of Monday, March 7, there are no longer requirements for social distancing in public spaces, such as classrooms, cafeterias and auditoriums, unless someone is returning from isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. When a staff member or student returns to school after testing positive, they are required to wear a well-fitting face covering and to social distance when masks are removed for eating on days 6 to 10. 

Will students be permitted to go on field trips this school year? What safety precautions are required? 

For the 2021-22 school year, field trips are permitted across New York City and the tristate area provided that students and staff remain in stable groups and every every effort is made to keep students from interacting with the general public at trip sites. School trips outside the tri-state area and all overnight trips are permitted for students who are fully vaccinated. International trips continue to be prohibited. Read the DOE's field trip guidance for more information. 

What should I do if a student in my classroom shows symptoms of COVID-19 during the school day?

A classroom teacher or school aide should notify the nurse that a student is not well and experiencing one or more COVID-like symptoms. The student showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be escorted to the designated isolation area in the school by a staff member wearing appropriate PPE. The nurse will be contacted and will assess the student. Upon arrival of the student’s guardian, a staff member will escort the student to the visitors’ entrance for pick-up, review the NYCDOE’s “Sent Home With Symptoms” letter with the guardian and give the guardian a home test kit. The area/classroom where the student was showing symptoms must be isolated/closed immediately and cleaned prior to reoccupancy.

What are common COVID-19 symptoms I should be watchful for in myself and others?

Common COVID-19 symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Fever of 100 degrees or higher
  • Chills
  • New cough
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • New shortness of breath

How is the DOE maintaining adequate ventilation in schools?

The DOE has bolstered ventilation in all schools this year. At least two air purifiers have been placed in each classroom. Cafeterias in larger schools have large air purifier units and window-based exhaust fans. You can check the ventilation status of your school by finding your school’s information page at nycenet.edu/schoolsearch, which includes a section on building ventilation.

What are the best methods to ensure adequate ventilation in my classroom?

To ensure adequate ventilation in classrooms relying on windows for ventilation, two to four top windows should be opened with an opening of approximately three inches each. Opening the top window sashes will ensure cold air is not blowing directly on any students and staff.  Most of these buildings work in combination with a mechanical exhaust system which functions to draw air into the building through operable windows.

Be mindful of the exterior temperature and weather. Rooms must be maintained with an interior temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If the room is too cold, close 1 or 2 windows and consult with the building custodian engineer who can take the temperature and carbon dioxide measurements. Keep your radiators clear of items on top and directly in front of them. Items stored on your radiators can cause these items to melt or off-gas and also impair your radiators’ ability to heat your classroom. 

Schools that have a modern HVAC system and/or a supply air system with blowers have a system that mechanically distributes air via filtered heat. Therefore, these schools do not need to rely on their windows for ventilation. Be sure that you are not blocking any vents and radiators (or similar heating element) for maximum ventilation.

Will there be building response teams in school buildings this year? What should I do if my school does not have a team?

The UFT trained a large majority of COVID-19 building response teams to ensure all safety and health protocols and procedures are followed correctly in every school. If your school does not have a functioning COVID-19 building response team, please call your UFT borough office or UFT headquarters immediately. Report any safety issues at your school promptly to your chapter leader or your UFT district representative or call the UFT safety hotline at 212-331-6317.

Will there be deep cleanings of schools this year?

High-touch areas such as doorknobs and water fountains will be cleaned multiple times throughout the day, and each classroom will be deep cleaned and disinfected daily using electrostatic technology. In addition, all classrooms and common areas, such as auditoriums and gyms, will have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available.

What can I do if my school is not properly supplied with appropriate PPE or available rapid tests?

Contact your chapter leader who can report these incidents directly to the UFT, who will take quick action to correct the situation.