It’s almost time.
In just a few days, NYC public schools across the five boroughs will open to City students and educators for in-school learning for the first time since last March.
Getting to this point has not been easy; the COVID-19 pandemic has upended all of our lives in countless and often tragic ways, forcing us to adapt to new realities that no one could have ever anticipated over eight months ago. But thanks to the collective grit of New Yorkers, including the hardworking educators and DOE staff members who have held it down for students and families over the past few months, we’re now at a point where we can reopen schools for blended learning.
Reopening schools this fall will require us to begin the school year in unprecedented ways—new class schedules, health protocols, physical distancing, and cleaning practices will be implemented across all of our schools, and remote learning will continue to play a major role in citywide instruction. And because the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff members remains our number one priority, we will be ready to make any necessary adjustments to our instructional plans and safety procedures in response to the City’s ever-evolving health landscape and/or the ongoing guidance we receive from City, State, and federal health authorities.
To help families make sense of our schools’ health and safety protocols this fall, we’ve broken down some of their key parts below—for a more detailed listing, check out the “Return to School 2020: Health and Safety” page on our main website.
Criteria for Reopening Schools
In order for school buildings to open in a few days and stay open, the City must see fewer than 3% of all COVID-19 tests come back positive over a seven-day rolling average.
Once schools are open, if 3% or more of New Yorkers who are tested for COVID-19 are found to have the virus (seven-day rolling average), we will close school buildings to in-person learning once more and switch over to 100% remote learning for all City students.
Since June, the City’s seven-day rolling average for positive tests has hovered around a rate of 0.5%–2%. We hope to maintain this rate as we reopen schools and head into October.
What Happens if Someone Gets Sick?
In close collaboration with experts at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC Health) and the NYC Test + Trace Corps (T2), we have developed strict protocols that address prevention, precaution, and response to one or more of our students or employees having a confirmed case of COVID-19:
- Testing: We’re strongly encouraging all City students and their families, along with all school staff members to get tested for COVID-19 in the days leading up to the beginning of the school year. COVID-19 testing is free and available citywide, and City students and staff members who get tested throughout September will be prioritized for expedited results at 22 Health + Hospital (H+H) testing sites. It is recommended that all school staff members get tested monthly during the school year.
- Prevention: Starting with the first day of the 2020–21 school year, if a student or staff member is feeling sick, they are required to stay home. Additionally, if their symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, they will be asked to get tested.
- Feeling Sick in School: If a student begins experiencing symptoms in school, they will be isolated and monitored by a school staff member until they are picked up by their parent or guardian. Staff members who become symptomatic at school must notify administration and immediately leave the building.
- Tracing: In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case in a school, T2 and NYC Health will investigate to determine close contacts within the school. All students and teachers in the classroom with the confirmed case are assumed close contacts, and will be instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days since their last exposure to that case. In older grades where students may travel between classes, this applies to all classes that the confirmed case was in.
- Communication: Whether symptoms begin at home or in school, there will be a clear flow of information to facilitate fast action and prevent spread. If a COVID-19 case is confirmed, schools will communicate to all families and students at school.
If there’s more than one confirmed case in a school, and those cases are not in the same classroom, learning will continue remotely and the school building will close for at least 24 hours while the NYC Test & Trace Corps and NYC Health investigate. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, affected classrooms or the whole building will remain closed for 14 days for quarantine.
In addition to these protocols, to help ensure that we swiftly and effectively address any COVID-19 cases that may emerge in our schools, we teamed up with NYC Health and T2 to create the COVID Response Situation Room (Situation Room), a multi-agency “one-stop shop” that will help facilitate quick and appropriate interventions along with rapid communication with school communities in response to any COVID-related incidents in City schools. The Situation Room will serve as our principals’ primary contact for any COVID-related situations in their schools.
Overall Health and Safety Protocols for Every NYC Public School
Testing and tracing are part of several strict protocols we are implementing to keep our school communities healthy. Here are some of the other key aspects about the DOE’s health and safety practices, policies, and protocols as we re-open our school buildings in September:
- Students and staff members will be required to wear face coverings that protect their noses and mouths AT ALL TIMES while at school or on their way to school. Exceptions will be made for children who cannot wear face coverings for medical reasons, and for younger children who aren’t developmentally able to wear face coverings.
- Face coverings, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies will be readily available in every school, and the DOE will have a 30-day supply on hand at all times. In addition, a hotline will be available for principals in case they need an immediate resupply for their schools.
- Schools will be cleaned throughout the day and disinfected each night, with special attention to high-touch areas.
- Students and staff members must maintain six feet of physical distancing throughout the school day, anywhere on school grounds and to and from school.
- Every public school building and every early childhood program across the City will have a qualified medical professional available every day once the 2020–21 school year begins in September. In addition, the DOE is contracting with a telehealth nursing provider in order to make a hotline available to all programs at the start of the school year, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- Every school will have a school-based team ready to respond in the event that there is a health concern.
- School buildings must have adequate ventilation to be used for the school year—rooms without adequate ventilation will not occupied by students or staff members. We are assessing our buildings and making repairs wherever possible in order to permit more air flow.
- Every school will have a designated isolation room for use in the event that a student becomes ill during the school day.
We hope this listing of our health and safety protocols has been helpful to you. For more detailed information about what we’re doing to ensure the safety of our school communities, check out our Return to School 2020: Health and Safety page—there, you can learn more about what was discussed here, and pick up details regarding some of our other protocols, including general screening protocols, entry/dismissal policies, and movement guidelines (i.e. lunch periods, elevator usage policies, etc).
As we slide into the start of the new school year, we’ll continue to share more details about our reopening plans. Until next time, thank you for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe to The Morning Bell below for more news and updates!