Health & Safety Update

August 4, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

 

I hope you and yours are safe and healthy, and experiencing a bit of rest and relaxation this summer. It is essential in a period of uncertainty and stress to take some time to recharge, especially as we look to the beginning of the next school year. 

 

Last month, I wrote to you with information about our plan for blended learning in the fall. Today, I am writing to share details about some newly announced health and safety protocols, which are critical in what will be an unprecedented school year. Uncertainty is a constant during this pandemic, and our plans must be flexible enough to allow us to adapt as circumstances change. But in all cases, your safety and the safety of our students and families will be the first priority—no matter what. 

 

We all experienced anxiety and alarm from the events of this pandemic starting back in March, as the City struggled to understand this disease and the crisis was emerging. Since then, we have been working diligently and in partnership with other city agencies to build on the lessons learned and prepare fully for a new school year. We are committed to working in partnership with you to determine our next steps by listening to your suggestions and concerns, providing the fullest possible transparency in ever-changing circumstances, and drawing on your feedback and on the best-available public health guidance to craft our plans for the fall. This includes the policy on COVID-19 testing and tracing we announced at the end of last week, and is described here. 

 

Full details of the protocols are available on the DOE websiteI also encourage you to read the plan we recently submitted to the State Department of Health, which covers a great deal of information related to school operations for the 2020-21 school year. More information and guidance on non-school workplaces will be forthcoming as well.  

 

The major components of our health and safety planning include the following: 

 

·         Building Safety Measures: 

o   At all times, students and staff must wear face coverings protecting their nose and mouth while on school property or on DOE-provided transportation, unless students cannot medically tolerate a face covering or wearing the face covering is developmentally inappropriate. Central will provide these, along with disinfectant; hand sanitizer; and electrostatic sprayers. 

o   School leadership and facilities staff in every school are reviewing school space and making necessary repairs and adjustments to ensure safe conditions for in-person student learning, including repairs to HVAC systems, maximizing ventilation, and replacing regular air filters with higher efficiency types.   

o   Schools will be cleaned throughout the day and disinfected each night, with special attention to high-touch areas. 

o   School buildings will display signage on face coverings, hand washing and physical distancing.  

o   Schools will be allowed to modify or reconfigure spaces to ensure compliance with physical distancing rules. 

o   More information and guidance on non-school workplaces will be forthcoming as well.   

 

·         Test, Trace & Other Health Protocols:  

o   DOE recommends that all staff take a COVID-19 test in the days before the first day of school and monthly throughout the school year. Staff will have priority access for testing at 34 city-run testing locationswith tests provided free of charge and with expedited results. Free testing is also available for families citywide.  

o   If a student or teacher is feeling sick, they are required to stay home and, if their symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, are asked to get tested.  

o   If a student begins experiencing symptoms in school, they will be isolated and monitored by a dedicated staff member until they are picked up by their parents or guardians. 

o   Staff members who become symptomatic at school are asked to notify administration and immediately leave the building.  

o   In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case in a school, NYC Test + Trace 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.  

o   If there's more than one case in a school, and it's not in the same classroom, learning will continue remotely and the school building will close for at least 24 hours while NYC Test + Trace 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. The protocol lays out additional steps for each possible exposure scenario. 

o   There will be a clear flow of information to facilitate fast action and prevent spread. A positive confirmed case will trigger an investigation by the NYC Test + Trace Corps and DOHMH to determine close contacts within the school, and to work with the DOE to issue clear guidance and decisions based on the outcome of the investigation. Schools will communicate to all families and students within the school any time a case is laboratory confirmed. 

 

·         Screening, Entry/Dismissal and Movement Protocols: To minimize the number of individuals who come in contact with each other, and to identify potentially sick students and staff to the greatest extent possible, schools will be required to develop entry and dismissal protocols consistent with all applicable health guidance, as well as to redesign building movement protocols to keep people in cohorts and allow for physical distancing consistently. 

 

As a reminder, full details of the protocols are available on the DOE websiteI also encourage you to read the plan we recently submitted to the State Department of Health, which covers a great deal of information related to school operations for the 2020-21 school year. More information and guidance on non-school workplaces will be forthcoming as well.  

 

Additionally, principals and educators can see newly-released detailed instructional guidance and sample school-day schedules on the InfoHubWe will issue more information as we develop policies and protocols for a school year like none before, and we will keep you closely abreast of these developments. 

 

You have done an extraordinary job of rising to the challenge of this crisis, and our city owes you both a debt of gratitude and a rock-solid commitment to your health and safety as we move forward together. I know that I speak for all of the Department’s leadership in saying that your health and safety are deeply important to us on a personal level. We are humbled by your commitment and service to our students and families. 

 

Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to incorporate your feedback in order to ensure that these protocols best account for the conditions you are facing. In everything we do, we pledge to keep listening, to keep improving, and to value your health and safety, and the health and safety of our students, above all else.  

 

In unity, 

Richard