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Safety at schools

Read the DOE's COVID-19 Health and Safety Guide for the 2021-22 school year.

Masks and PPE

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. In cases where students have medical exemptions, staff who interact with those students will be provided with enhanced personal protective equipment. 

What should I do if I have a student who refuses to wear a mask at school?

If a student refuses to wear a mask, here is how staff should respond:

  1. The school must document the incident in OORS
  2. Teacher speaks with student
  3. Student is sent to school counselor
  4. Student is sent to the administration
  5. Parent may be called to pick up the student

What will happen if a student continues to not wear a mask? Will there be consequences if students do not comply with the DOE mask policy?

If the student continues to refuse to wear a mask at school, the student may receive up to a five-day principal suspension. Continued noncompliance or a second infraction could result in a 10-day superintendent suspension. During these suspensions, the student will receive remote instruction.

Students with significant documented disabilities will be given supports to help with mask wearing and may be allowed a mask break in a well-ventilated area that allows for six feet of distancing.

If your school is not following proper masking or safety protocols, reach out to your school’s COVID-19 building response team and your chapter leader or call the UFT safety hotline at 212-331-6317.

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 non-contact 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 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, such as masks, disinfectant and gloves, on hand at all times. Hand sanitizer will also be available in every classroom and throughout school buildings.

Testing & positive cases

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

Every school will have 10 percent of unvaccinated individuals who have submitted consent tested weekly. Students who are fully vaccinated and students in 3K, pre-K and kindergarten are not required to be tested. Now that the vaccine mandate has been implemented for all DOE staff, the testing group will include only unvaccinated students whose families have provided consent as of Oct. 4, 2021.

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

Classroom closures may occur in early childhood and elementary schools if the positive case is an adult in the classroom where the children are all unvaccinated, or it cannot be determined that person who tested positive was properly masked and the others in the classroom were also properly masked and distanced. An entire classroom will no longer close when a student tests positive. Unvaccinated students who are wearing face coverings and have maintained at least three feet of distance from a student who tests positive will not be considered close contacts and will not have to quarantine.

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.

Students who have been directed to quarantine for 10 days may take a COVID-19 test and with a negative result, 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.

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

The DOE considers a close contact to be any person (student or staff member) who has been within six feet for more than ten minutes with someone who tests positive, or who has shared a room with someone who tests positive for a class period. Students who are three feet or more from a student case in a classroom are not considered close contacts if both the student who tests positive and other students have been masked throughout. 

Unvaccinated students will be required to quarantine if they have spent a sufficient duration of time closer than 3 feet to, or unmasked around, a classmate who tests positive for COVID-19. If student exposure to a positive student occurs when the positive student was unmasked (such as during lunch) or in a large, shared space (gym, auditorium), any unvaccinated student who was within six feet for more than 10 minutes of the positive student will be considered a close contact.

Contact tracers will base their recommendations on reports from school administrators, who in turn will receive information from classroom teachers and school staff. 

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. However, vaccinated people should still get tested 3-5 days after exposure, even if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19. See the CDC's guidelines for the fully vaccinated »

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

Yes. Members who are vaccinated and who test positive would not pass the DOE's Health Screeningand could not enter a school building. If someone tests positive and was vaccinated, a 10-day quarantine would be required. 

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. 

What does the DOE consider to be a confirmed case of COVID-19? 

A confirmed case of COVID-19 would be a student or staff member who tests positive via diagnostic PCR test and is entered into the Department of Health’s tracking system. 

When is someone who is COVID-19 positive infectious to others?

For those with symptoms, the infectious period for COVID-19 is generally two days before symptom onset until 10 days afterwards. For people who do not have symptoms, the period is considered to be two days before through ten days after a positive COVID-19 test is taken. 

Students or staff who have been ordered to quarantine may take a COVID-19 test and with a negative result, may return to school after seven days. How are those days calculated? 

If someone has been directed to quarantine, they may take a COVID-19 test five days from the first day of their exposure to an infectious person. When a person tests on the fifth day, they may return to school with a negative test result after the seventh day.

Will members of school communities continue to be notified of their positive cases, even those not required to quarantine? 

School communities will be notified of any positive cases of COVID-19 among staff and students in that school, but only those considered to be close contacts will be notified to quarantine. 

How are positive cases of COVID-19 handled in regard to close contacts on school buses? 

Only students or staff within six feet of the positive case are required to quarantine and the city’s situation room has access to bus ridership reports. Principals may help determine who was within six feet or include everyone who rides that bus out of an abundance of caution. 

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 do all of the following before entering a DOE building: show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, wear a mask and take the Daily Health Screening, which they must pass successfully to enter. 

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 support physical distancing and maintain adequate ventilation. During lunchtime, masks may be removed so students can eat comfortably at a safe distance from one another. When eating, students must maintain three feet of physical distance and should be seated in such a way that they are facing away from one another. Meals may be served during multiple time periods to provide as much physical distancing as possible.

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. A teacher’s classroom can only be used for an instructional lunch if it can accommodate three feet of physical distance between people. 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 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 for a total of three units. During meal times, schools will use outdoor spaces and additional spaces in school buildings where possible.

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.

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 nycenet.edu/schoolsearch, which includes a section on building ventilation.

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.