COVID-19: New York Schools Can Officially Reopen

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Public and private schools can officially reopen for in-person education. Here’s what you need to know.


Update 8/7/2020: As all regions of the state have maintained infection and transmission rates below the limits set below, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced today that all public and private schools may resume in-person education.

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Conditionally, all schools must post their plans for remote learning and testing/tracing plans online for the public, set dates for 3-5 public discussion sessions with the community and parents, and set at least one separate discussion just for teachers. Additionally, all students will be required to wear masks when not social distancing and will be provided with masks if they do not have one.


On Monday night, July 13, Governor Cuomo’s office released a 23-page document outlining guidance for school districts to reopen K-12 facilities in New York State. The guidelines are to be used as a rubric for districts and private schools as they plan their in-person fall semesters. Still, it’s a lot of information to wade through, so here’s what you need to know.

Which Schools Can Reopen?

New York State schools will be allowed to reopen if their region has entered Phase Four of the state’s tiered reopening strategy and if the daily infection rate in that region (averaged over a two-week period) does not exceed 5%.

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After August 1, however, schools will re-close if the region’s infection rate rises above a seven-day average of 9%.

What Must Schools Do to Reopen?

All reopening plans must include set plans to address student and faculty capacity, face coverings and other PPE usage, social distancing practices, before and after school activities, cleanliness, transportation, the continuation of breakfast and lunch programs, mental health support, COVID-19 screening and testing, containment and tracing of infections, and plans for possible re-closure.

In addition to the minimum requirements for education and food service under Phase Four reopening instructions, all schools MUST:

  • Maintain social distancing guidelines whenever possible
    • Increase distancing to twelve feet between parties during activities like singing, playing woodwind or brass instruments, physical exertion (i.e. gym class), etc.
    • Maintain 50% capacity of any space
  • Utilize face coverings as much as possible and provide them to students without acceptable coverings
  • Post health instruction signage throughout schools
  • Prepare for a mix of in-person and virtual learning, as may be required
  • Limit the use of shared objects between faculty and students, like workstations, instruments, tools, etc.
  • Provide sanitizing stations and training on proper hand and respiratory hygiene to all students and staff
  • Frequently clean
  • Designate a COVID-19 Safety Coordinator
  • Maintain clear communication with the community
  • Maintain additional considerations at schools where students live on campus
  • Hold mandatory health screenings including temperature checks of students, staff and, if possible, contractors, visitors, etc.
  • Immediately send home any student or staff member who becomes symptomatic
    • Notify state and local health departments of any positive test results
  • Have plans to assist in contact tracing

Additionally, the following are highly suggested:

  • Reconfigure spaces for better distancing practices
    • Meals may be served in alternate areas if social distancing in the lunchroom is not possible at capacity
  • Stagger arrival/departure times of students and consider altering schedules
  • Build “cohorts,” or small groups of students who learn together so as to minimize cross contamination within the student body
  • Encourage “one-way” traffic lanes in hallways
  • Promote virtual staff meetings
  • Switch from hand driers to touch-free paper towel dispensers

Districts and private schools had previously been ordered to begin planning for returned fall semester. With these new guidelines in place, schools must submit their comprehensive and finalized reopening plans to the state by July 31. To read the full details, requirements, and suggestions from New York State, click here.

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