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It’s time to build on our progress.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City’s public schools have been among the safest places for young people to be across the five boroughs. Thanks to our hardworking staff members and our collective health and testing protocols, City public schools have been able to remain open and safe for learning this year even as positive COVID-19 cases surged in New York earlier this winter.

We know just how important it is for City families to keep our schools and classrooms open for learning, which is why we have done everything we can to ensure our classrooms are equipped to be safe learning environments in accordance with guidance we’ve received from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health (DOH).

Recently, the CDC updated their COVID-19 guidelines for schools, and in light of the CDC’s recommendations, NYC Department of Education has implemented the following changes to our isolation and quarantine periods for students who test positive and/or are exposed to COVID-19:

Teacher reading a book to elementary school students wearing face masks

Shortened Isolation Periods for K–12 Students

Beginning January 31, 2022, the isolation period for K–12 students with a positive COVID-19 test result has been shortened to five days, down from 10 days. This means that if your child tests positive for COVID-19 and is in kindergarten or higher, your child can return to school on day six.

Specifically:

  • Children can return from isolation on day 6 if they have no symptoms or their symptoms are improving, and they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Students returning from isolation on day 6 must wear a well-fitting mask like a KN95 or KF94, or a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask on days 6–10
  • Any child (in any grade) who has completed their isolation period is NOT required to show proof of a negative test result before being allowed to return to school.

Please note that children in 3-K and Pre-K who test positive for COVID-19 still must isolate for 10 days—we have not made any changes to our guidelines for children in these grade levels at this time.

Reduced Quarantine Periods for COVID-19 Exposures in Grades K–12

We’ve also adjusted our quarantine requirements for students exposed to COVID-19. Note that K–12 students will continue to use home test kits to stay in school after an in school exposure.

  • Children who are not fully vaccinated and were exposed to COVID-19 outside of a school setting must quarantine for at least five days. Previously, this lasted 10 days.
  • If your child is fully vaccinated and was exposed outside of school, your child can continue to attend school, so long as they do not have any symptoms.
  • All students are required to wear masks while on school grounds, and students who are exposed must wear a well-fitting mask, including a KN95 or a KF94 mask, or a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask, on days 6–10.

Students who are at least two years old in a LYFE, 3-K, or Pre-K program only need to quarantine for five days if they are symptom-free, have a negative test, and are able to wear a well-fitting mask through day 10. This quarantine period has been shortened from 10 days. Note that these children must either have a negative COVID-19 test from a health care provider on day five or two negative home test results from days four and five.

Children under two years old in LYFE who have been exposed must still quarantine for up to 10 days—this policy has not changed. These children can return to school on day eight if they are symptom-free and have a negative COVID-19 test from a health care provider on day five or later. Home tests are not considered valid for this age group unless administered at the direction of a health care provider.

If your child is in a LYFE, 3-K, or Pre-K classroom that was exposed to COVID-19, but does not get tested, your child will be able to return to the classroom after completing a 10-day quarantine.

Teacher (center) giving a lesson to two elementary school students who are sitting at their desks

Need a quick and easy way to determine what steps should be taken if your child is exposed to COVID-19 or tests positive? Check out our handy flowcharts for K–12 and Early Childhood students. For flowcharts in languages other than English, check out our “Health and Safety in Our Schools” webpage.

Face Coverings

As before, all students and staff members must wear face coverings (unless medically exempt) when they are anywhere on school property, indoors or outdoors, and riding on school buses. This mandate remains in effect regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

Forgot a mask? No worries—every school will have a replacement on hand for children and adults.

During lunchtimes, masks may be removed so students can eat comfortably at a safe distance from one another. Masks may also be removed during designated “mask breaks”—these periods provide students the ability to remove their masks for a short period of time while maintaining physical distance from each other.

COVID-19 Testing

City schools remain committed to regular COVID-19 testing to ensure their ability to protect their students and staff members. Currently, our schools are distributing free, take-home rapid test kits to students who exhibit COVID-like symptoms or have been in classrooms where a positive case has been identified. Additionally, our schools are continuing to provide random weekly in-school testing to students who have submitted consent for testing.

For more information about our COVID-19 testing policies, including how to provide consent for in-school testing, check out our COVID-19 Testing for Students page, as well as our page for our free Home Rapid Test Kits.

We also encourage you to get tested regularly—City students and families can go to any City-run COVID-19 testing sites to get tested or pick up readily available at-home rapid tests. To find a testing site near you, check out the City’s COVID Test webpage, text “COVID TEST” to 855-48, or call 311.

Daily Health Screenings

As before, every DOE student and staff member must complete our Health Screening Form prior to entering a DOE building each day. Anyone entering a DOE building must confirm that they are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, have not recently tested positive for COVID-19, and are not currently required to quarantine based on a close contact with an infected person.

If a student or staff member is feeling ill, they must stay home and get tested.

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We hope you have a better understanding of the recent changes we’ve made to our COVID-19 policies in schools. For more information, please visit our Health and Safety in Our Schools webpage.

Remember: vaccination remains the best way for New Yorkers to protect themselves and others from severe COVID-19, and as such, we strongly recommend that everyone aged five years and up get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. To learn more about COVID-19 vaccination, including vaccination sites near you, visit the City’s COVID-19 Vaccine page.

Stay safe, New York!


Banner photo by RODNAE Productions. Used under Creative Commons license. Original can be found on Pexels.

Official blog for the NYC Department of Education, home of a million students across 1,800+ schools

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NYC Department of Education, 2019