Interim P-12 School Masking, Isolation, and Quarantine Guidance

Effective March 2, 2022, the statewide requirement for universal masking in schools has been removed. 

  • This applies to P-12 elementary and secondary public, charter, private and state-operated schools, including residential schools and programs serving students with disabilities, as regulated by the New York State Education Department. the statewide requirement for masks in schools ended. 
  • *Masking is no longer required at school or on school buses or vans for individuals that are not under isolation.

Pursuant to the Dignity For All Students Act, students have the right to a school environment free from harassment and bullying. 

Masked and unmasked people will be working and learning alongside each other in schools. There are many reasons a student or staff member may or may not wear a mask, including medical reasons, protecting family members, a desire for increased protection.  It is essential that schools establish “mask positive” environments so those who wear masks, whether by choice, expectation, or requirement, are not stigmatized, bullied, or made to feel uncomfortable, and likewise, those for whom masks have not been required or recommended.  

Is there updated school guidance?

Yes, new guidance for schools was issued on March 1, 2022 by the New York State Department of Health. Its preparation was a joint effort with the State Education Department that involved extensive consultation with education stakeholders. This guidance also considers the most recent guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which ended its recommendation for masks in schools for most settings. 

*When is masking still required?

In all settings, masking continues to be required upon return from isolation during days 6 through 10 after COVID-19 infection. 

  • Students, staff and teachers must wear masks on return to school during Days 6 – 10 of their isolation period. Whenever persons are expected or required to wear masks, masks may be removed when eating, drinking, singing, going outside, or playing a wind instrument. When masks are removed for these purposes, physical distancing of 6 or more feet should be maintained to the extent possible. 

Masks should be well-fitted and appropriately worn (to cover nose and mouth) and should conform to CDC guidelines for masks and respirators 

When is masking at school recommended?

NYSDOH recommends students, staff and teachers wear masks well-fitted and appropriately worn (to cover nose and mouth) when: 

  • They were in the same room within the school as someone diagnosed with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or longer and were thus exposed or potentially exposed**, when group contact tracing is used.
  • They are known to have been exposed** to COVID-19 in any setting within the previous 10 days. 
  • They feel more comfortable wearing a mask for personal reasons. 
  • They are moderately-to-severely immunocompromised and have discussed the need to mask with their healthcare provider(s). 

**Exposed or potentially exposed individuals do not need to be excluded from school and should wear a mask and test as recommended. If schools become aware that individuals who should be masking and testing are not doing so, efforts should be made to educate those individuals and their parents/guardians and/or address testing concerns.

Why do schools have to identify and notify individuals who are exposed or potentially exposed and recommend or require masks and testing instead of treating COVID-19 more like influenza or other respiratory illnesses where none of this is required? 

At this stage of the pandemic, while there are still many individuals who remain susceptible to severe COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths, and the future course of the pandemic is uncertain, it remains important to alert exposed individuals or their parents/guardians so they can make good decisions about protecting family and others with whom they might come into contact. Masking and testing remain important tools to prevent spread. 

What about COVID-19 testing? 

In the absence of a statewide masking requirement, COVID-19 testing remains a recommended public health strategy for surveillance and to identify infected individuals quickly so that they can isolate and avoid spreading COVID-19 further. 

According to NYSDOH, whenever someone in school – student, staff or teacher – is determined to have been exposed or potentially exposed, the individual should be tested for COVID-19 as follows: 

  • Consider testing immediately upon learning of the exposure or potential exposure, 
  • At least 5 days after the last date of exposure or potential exposure, regardless of vaccination status, 
  • If the individual is not fully vaccinated and attending or working at school after an exposure or potential exposure, frequent testing (e.g., daily, every other day, at least twice within 5 days) from the date of the exposure or potential exposure (Day 0) through at least day 5 should be strongly considered and encouraged, 
  • Exclude from school if a test is positive and/or exclude from school and test as soon as possible if symptoms develop, 
  • Exception: Individuals with lab-confirmed COVID-19 within the past 3 months do not need to get tested unless they develop symptoms. 

Symptomatic individuals, regardless of vaccination status or recent infection, should stay home until tested and if positive or not tested, should isolate for 5 days, or until other criteria are met for school attendance (e.g., resolution of fever), whichever is longer. The NYSDOH flow chart addresses school attendance and requirements for children who have symptoms consistent with vaccine side effects shortly after receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

If a student is ill and does not get tested, will the requirement of 5 days out of school continue? 

According to NYSDOH at this time, symptomatic students who are not tested and do not meet other return to school criteria must be excluded from school for at least 5 days following onset of symptoms and until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medication and other symptoms are improving. After returning to school, they must wear a mask for days 6-10.

Click here for the entire list of FAQs from NYSDOH 

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