NYC Public Schools Reopening in September 2021: What You Need to Know

The New York State Education Department has issued school reopening guidance to help school districts prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, which starts Sept. 13 for NYC public schools. Overall, the state is leaving it up to individual school districts to set COVID-19 rules. New York City students will return to full-time in-person learning next month with no option of remote or hybrid classes.

The information in the guidance was created based on the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention and guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to the NYSED.

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NYC Public Schools COVID Guidelines for Reopening

Here are answers to frequently asked questions parents have about NYC public schools reopening. These NYC public school COVID guidelines, which aim to keep everyone healthy, apply for the 2021-2022 school year:

Will NYC public school students be tested for COVID in school?

Starting Monday, September 27, the DOE will increase random COVID-19 testing in all elementary, middle, and high schools for students in grades 1-12 from biweekly to weekly. Parents are encouraged to provide consent for their children. Consent forms can be submitted on the NYC Schools Account (NYCSA) or by downloading the form on the DOE's COVID testing page and sending it to the school.

Will NYC public school classrooms be closed when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID?

Per a letter sent to families by the DOE, starting Monday, September 27,  NYC public school classrooms will no longer close an entire classroom when there is a positive case in the classroom. According to the  latest guidance from the CDC, unvaccinated students who are masked and at least three feet distanced from a student who tests positive are not considered close contacts and will not have to quarantine. 

On their website, the DOE stated: “Schools will be closed only when it is determined by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) that there is widespread transmission in the school. With the health and safety measures in place, we expect that school closures will be limited.”

Are NYC public school students required to get the COVID vaccine?

Currently, children younger than 12 are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As such, the NYSED recommends schools practice other protection strategies including physical distancing, mask requirements, and isolation/quarantine when necessary.

Are NYC DOE teachers and staff required to get the COVID vaccine?

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Aug. 23 that all public school teachers and staff must receive the COVID vaccine, and must show proof of at least one dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27, 2021.

The NYSED guidance also notes that New York State schools and districts may choose (but are not required) to work with their local partners and health departments to offer COVID-19 vaccination for eligible students. Parents, of course, must give consent for children ages 17 and younger to receive the vaccine

Do schools require proof of vaccination for those eligible for the COVID vaccine?

The NYSED guidance cites the CDC when it comes to asking for proof of vaccination. Schools that obtain documentation of students and workers's COVID-19 vaccination status can use this information, consistent with applicable laws and regulations, to inform prevention strategies, school-based testing, contact tracing efforts, and quarantine/isolation practices.

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Are kids and teachers required to wear masks in NYC public schools?

While the state guidance recommends everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status, everyone who enters a NYC public school is required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. This includes students, teachers, other staff, and visitors.

Across the state, school bus drivers and passengers must also wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. This applies to buses operated by both public and private school systems.

What are the COVID safety guidelines for sports and other extracurricular activities in NYC?

Prevention strategies during these activities remain important, especially since  “school-sponsored sports and extracurricular activities provide students with enrichment opportunities that can help them learn and achieve and support their social, emotional, and mental health,” according to the NYSED guidance. At a minimum, students and adults should follow the same school-day policies and procedures during athletic and extracurricular activities.

The guide reads that high-risk sports—those that involve increased exhalation—should be virtual or canceled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are fully vaccinated. As part of the city's multilayered approach to school health and safety, NYC has mandated that COVID-19 vaccination will be required this year for public school students and staff participating in Public Schools Athletic League sports that are considered high-risk for potential COVID transmission. These sports include football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, stunt, and rugby. Participants in these sports must get their first dose of the vaccine by the first day of competitive play.

Coaches and athletic directors will check vaccination cards or the city's vaccination portal to confirm vaccine status. If a student participating in a high-risk PSAL sport does not have their first dose by the first day of competitive play for their sport, they will not be allowed to participate in practice or competition.

Parents can upload their child's vaccine status on the city’s vaccination portal:

Will NYC DOE schools be doing temperature checks and questionnaire screenings?

The CDC no longer recommends temperature or questionnaire screenings at schools. The NYSED guidance adds that families should be mindful if their child exhibits symptoms of COVID-19, to seek testing when these symptoms are present, and to keep their child home if they are sick.

To see the New York State Education Department school reopening guidance in full, visit