The following is reprinted communications between the chancellors and principals; a shorter version was sent to families in New York City public schools. We are publishing on Epicenter to broaden dissemination during the holiday break. 

Dear Principals, 

We hope you had a restful holiday. We are writing today to share some critical updates as we prepare for staff and students to return on January 3, 2022. With an uptick in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant, which health experts say is more transmissible than previous variants, we are sharing our multi-pronged strategy and updated approach to safely returning to school in-person this January. Please review the following updates. A family letter with these updates is available on the DOE website, and attached. Please backpack home this letter to your families when you return to school buildings on January 3. Translations will be available on the Messages for Families page by Monday, January 3. 

I.                    Encourage COVID-19 Testing Before Returning on January 3

To keep our school communities safe when we return to school buildings, we strongly encourage all staff and students get tested for COVID-19 before returning to school on January 3, regardless of their vaccination status. The City continues to offer many free options for testing. In addition, families and staff members can go to any City-run testing sites to pick up readily available at-home rapid test kits. For a list of testing sites, including sites with at-home rapid test kits, call 212-COVID19, visit online at http://nyc.gov/covidtest, text “COVID TEST” to 855-48, or call 311 to find a nearby testing site.  

II.                  Increased In-School Surveillance Testing  

Beginning January 3, the in-school testing program will expand, doubling the number of students tested at each school, including both vaccinated and unvaccinated students. The random in-school surveillance program continues to provide public health experts with an accurate look at the prevalence of COVID-19 in schools. Please encourage all families, regardless of whether their young person is vaccinated, to consent to in-school testing. Families can complete the online form in their NYC Schools Account or return a signed paper form to the school. Additional information on testing for students can be found on the DOE website.

·       Along with increasing the number of students tested, testing will continue to be made available to DOE staff whenever schedule and capacity permit. Testing providers are bound by test capacity and the time scheduled and may not always be able to test all interested staff. However, all staff are now guaranteed an at-home rapid test kit each week in January, and each kit contains two rapid tests. These at-home rapid test kits will be distributed to schools prior to January 3 (see IV below).  

III.                Updated Staff Isolation Policy 

The State of New York recently issued updated guidance on isolation periods for essential staff, which includes teachers and school-based staff, the “Advisory on Shortening Isolation Period.” This guidance shortens the isolation period for these individuals who test positive, but are asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms, from 10 to 5 days. Teachers and school-based staff who are fully vaccinated may now return to work on Day 6 after testing positive for COVID-19 under the following conditions:  

·       Per State guidance, the positive teacher/school-based staff member must be asymptomatic OR have mild symptoms only:  

o   They must be fever-free for 72 hours without the use of medication;  

o   They must not have a runny nose; and/or, 

o   They must have a minimal cough only, cannot be coughing up phlegm.   

o   Symptoms must be improving or mild.  

·       At work, from Day 6 through Day 10, the positive teacher/school-based staff member must consistently and correctly wear a well-fitting higher-level face covering, such as a KN95 mask, which will be provided to staff if they do not have one. 

Individuals who do not meet the above conditions should still isolate for 10 days. 

We understand the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently recommended shortening the isolation period for all individuals (not just essential workers) who test positive, but are asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms, from 10 to 5 days. As the State and City reviews this policy, we will notify you immediately of any changes to the current isolation policy for students.  

IV.               At-Home Rapid Test Kits for Students and Staff 

As part of our multi-layered approach to keeping schools safe, all schools will be provided with a supply of at-home rapid test kits. Starting this week, free at-home rapid test kits will be shipped to DOE school buildings in preparation for January 3 when students and staff return from winter recess. We will share more information with schools throughout the week about test kit distribution. 

Schools will distribute these test kits to any students and staff who exhibit COVID-like symptoms OR students and staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 in a classroom setting beginning January 3. See below and “At-Home Rapid Test Kits” on the COVID-19 Testing InfoHub page for more information. A letter to families to backpack home with at-home rapid test kits (along with translations) will be shared before January 3.  

Distribution to Schools: 

·       By January 3, free at-home rapid test kits will be distributed to all DOE schools and will continue over time. 

·       The number of test kits per school will be based on enrollment and number of staff. The custodian of a shared campus will receive the individual allocation for each school on the campus. Additional information forthcoming regarding how schools may request to replenish their supply of tests.  

Guidelines for Test Kit Distribution to Staff and Students

Test kits may be distributed to students and staff who exhibit COVID-like symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 in a classroom setting. Principals may designate specific school staff, including school nurses, to have access and authority to distribute tests to students and staff.  

All test kits must be distributed with the DOHMH fact sheet and a DOE family letter that explains why families are receiving the kit with guidance on how to take the test. At-home rapid test kits should only be used at home and are not intended for use at schools. Schools should distribute tests by kit. Each kit contains two tests, and schools should not open the test kits.  

Guidelines for Test Kit Use: 

These at-home rapid test kits should be distributed: 

·       To all staff and students in a class where a positive case is identified. Staff and students in that class should use the take-home tests to monitor for COVID.  Those who have an at-home rapid test kit will need to take the test two times over the course of five days (each kit includes two tests). 

o   It is recommended that exposed individuals take one test that evening and one test on Day Five after exposure. 

o   If an exposed individual starts experiencing COVID symptoms before Day Five, they should use the second test.  

·       To any staff member or student who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.  

o   These individuals should be isolated, go home, and take this test at home.   

·       To all staff on a weekly basis for the month of January. Additional tests can be made available to individual staff if necessary if their class has a positive case.   

o   Anyone who tests positive from an at-home rapid test should immediately report it to the school and begin isolating. Principals should report any positive results from an at-home rapid test to the Situation Room. 

o   Staff that test positive from at-home rapid test kits should follow the Updated Staff Isolation Policy, as listed in Section III, above. No negative test is required when returning to work.  

o   Students who test positive must isolate for 10 days from the day of the positive test was taken or day symptoms started, whichever came first, and may return to school on Day 11. No negative test is required when returning to school on Day 11.   

·       For questions about at-home rapid test kits, please email stayinghealthy@schools.nyc.gov.  

V.                 Updates on the Situation Room

The Situation Room will continue to provide guidance when students and staff test positive; however, there are several important changes to note:  

·       Principals should continue to report all positive cases to the Situation Room. This now includes positive results from at-home rapid test kits that are reported to them.  

·       Beginning immediately, if there is a positive case in a classroom, schools should follow this protocol: 

o   Students and staff members who were in close contact with a positive case, but who are not symptomatic, should not automatically quarantine. 

o   Schools should immediately distribute an at-home rapid test kit to each student and staff member who was in the classroom(s) with the individual who tested positive. 

o   These individuals should use the at-home rapid test kit to test themselves two times within five days. It is recommended that exposed individuals take one test that evening and one test on Day Five after exposure. If an exposed individual starts experiencing COVID symptoms before Day Five, they should use the second test. 

o   As always, people who are experiencing COVID symptoms should stay home. 

o   As a reminder, all students, staff and visitors must pass the health screener in order to enter a school building. The health screener will include questions about test results from these rapid tests for those students and staff who receive at home rapid test kits due to possible exposure in a classroom. No other proof of negative result is required. 

·       The Situation Room will continue to: 

o   Answer questions from school leaders 

o   Support with school communications and letters to families 

o   Monitor for widespread transmission and provide guidance on large scale interventions like school closures 

o   Update summary data and track citywide statistics  

We have increased the number of Situation Room staff who support school intake so that schools can receive support quickly. As noted in previous editions of Principals Digest, you or authorized administrators can continue to open a case with the Situation Room by phone or email, using information found on the COVID Situation Room InfoHub page.

If you or your authorized administrators (principal designees, BRT members, charter schools co-located in DOE buildings, DYCD program leaders or site safety monitors, or DECE providers) are unable to immediately reach the Situation Room by phone, you are encouraged to open a case by emailing RTS@buildings.nyc.gov. 

For a list of detailed questions, please refer to the “Information Needed for Situation Room Calls/Emails” section of the COVID Situation Room InfoHub page. For questions on Situation Room policies and procedures, contact the Situation Room at 212-393-2780 or email RTS@buildings.nyc.gov.     

VI.               Staffing in January

We have robust supports in place and will utilize a variety of strategies to address any staffing issues at the school level. Additional information on staffing will be available in the coming days to help you prepare for reopening on January 3rd.  

We know that nothing is more important to you than keeping your children in school, learning in healthy and safe environments. The changes we are announcing today aim to keep students in our classrooms with the least amount of disruption as possible, while putting their safety front and center. We will continue to update you as the situation evolves and ensure we are hearing your feedback on these policy and process updates.

Thank you in advance for partnering with us to keep our children safe in school. 

Sincerely,

Chancellor Meisha Porter & Incoming Chancellor David C. Banks

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