NYC school reopening: Mayor outlines safety guidelines for public schools

Reopening Schools

NEW YORK — As New York City prepares for the start of the new academic year, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced COVID-19 safety guidelines for public schools across the five boroughs.

“As we prepare for the school year, think about what families have been through,” the mayor said. “Think about a child who has not seen the inside of a classroom for a year and a half.”

Under the safety guideline handbook, the mayor highlighted the “gold standard,” which includes vaccines and masks, health screenings, school maintenance, options for immunocompromised students and a vaccine mandate for students participating in high-risk PSAL sports.

“All of these things together, layer upon layer upon layer, are going to keep school communities safe,” de Blasio said.

“It’s the return of New York City public schools,” Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter said.

The schools chancellor outlined several protocols that will be implemented by the start of school, including mask requirements for everyone no matter their vaccination status, three-feet social distancing where possible and health screenings. 

Families are also asked to do temperature checks and health screenings before heading to school.

All classrooms will have two air purifiers, and the Department of Education is also purchasing large purifiers and window exhaust fans for high schools, according to Porter.

Every school will have ten percent of unvaccinated individuals who have submitted consent for testing in their school population tested biweekly, according to the guidelines.

A school will close if there’s evidence of widespread outbreak, Porter said, referencing only two buildings that had to close during summer classes out of the 800 buildings open. 

COVID exposures in classrooms:

  • Elementary schools: If there’s a positive case in a classroom, all students in the class will be instructed to quarantine for 10 calendar days and will be provided with live, online instruction
  • Middle and high schools: 
    • Those at least 12, vaccinated and not showing symptoms will continue to attend school in-person, and are encouraged to take a COVID-19 test three to five days after exposure.
    • At least 12, vaccinated and symptomatic: Quarantine for 10 calendar days. They will receive access to remote learning while quarantining
    • Unvaccinated: Quarantine for 10 calendar days. On the fifth day of quarantine, they may take a COVID-19 test and return to in-person learning after Day 7 with a negative result. 

Under the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unvaccinated students won’t need to quarantine if they are at least three-feet apart from other students. When asked why the city is planning to quarantine all students in elementary school classrooms where one positive case is confirmed, Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said children under 12 cannot be vaccinated yet, so they want to take more precautions. Senior Advisor Dr. Jay Varma acknowledged the city’s more “conservative” approach, but said it aligns more with NYC’s concerns.

Immunocompromised students will not receive remote learning, but will be given the option of having a licensed instructor teach them at home, according to Porter. They also have the option to have individual or small group instruction online.

Health and school officials will continue to utilize the situation room to assess cases among students and schools.

The teachers union said the measures taken at schools will keep students and staff safe, but added they are working on details of the remote instruction the mayor “finally acknowledged.”

“The city’s plans for masking, ventilation, social distancing and testing protocols announced today will help keep students and staff safe this year.  At the same time the mayor has finally acknowledged the need for virtual instruction for medically fragile children and for those in quarantine. We still are working out the details of this remote instruction,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Though there is no vaccine mandate for students, the mayor is strongly encouraging eligible students ages 12 and older, get inoculated.

Public school teachers and personnel, however, are required to be vaccinated and have at least their first dose by Sept. 27. There will be no COVID testing option.

As of Thursday, about 5.3 million New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the mayor.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify students who will participate in COVID testing at schools.

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