Building Safety 

Building Preparations for Reopening

  • At the start of the school year, the DOE will provide all schools with necessary supplies to help protect students and staff from COVID-19, including hand sanitizer, soap, disinfectants, and thermometers.
  • DOE will make the maximum number of sinks available for handwashing.
  • DOE will increase cleaning throughout the school day, with special attention to high-touch areas.
  • DOE will make improvements to HVAC systems, as well as air conditioning repairs, to improve air circulation, as well as replacing regular air filters with higher efficiency types.

Building Safety Measures

Maintaining Healthy Environments

Keeping students and staff safe requires that the physical environment in which our staff works and our students learn must be modified to meet current health and safety needs.

Changes to School Buildings

  • Schools will be allowed, and in some cases directed, to modify or reconfigure spaces to ensure compliance with physical distancing rules. Additional guidance on the process for space modifications will be shared later this summer.
  • All schools will have a designated Isolation Room, as well as staff to supervise that space.
  • School Based Health Centers (SBHC) may provide supplemental care, if this is a viable option.

Ventilation in School Buildings 

The New York City Department of Education is following the guidance laid out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Council of Great City Schools, Department of Health & Mental Health (DOHMH), City University of New York (CUNY), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

According to our city and federal public health experts, a room is safe when air is able to flow in and out—whether through natural or mechanical means. This flow can be achieved either through use of an HVAC, an open window, or air handlers. All rooms must have adequate ventilation to be used for the school year.

Following public health guidance, we are assessing and making repairs on buildings designed and built to permit air flow through windows. We expect repairs to be completed by the opening of school and rooms without adequate ventilation will not be occupied by students or staff.

Ventilation in school buildings is provided by a combination of the following systems: 

  • supply and exhaust fans 
  • windows and exhaust fans 
  • HVAC Systems: rooftop units, air handling units, and dedicated outside systems in newer buildings, such as Univents 

These systems are installed to meet the Building Code Requirements at the time of design and construction.

  • Buildings that have supply and exhaust fans do not need operable windows. Windows can be used for additional air dilution and supplemental ventilation, or if the mechanical system failed.
  • Buildings that have operable windows and exhaust fans meet the ventilation requirements.
  • Mechanical ventilation can be with both supply and exhaust fans, or only exhaust fans and the use of windows for make-up air.
  • Mechanical ventilation is provided by HVAC Units that supply fresh air into inner core rooms of buildings that do not have windows. Outside air dampers should be opened (either manually or using the Building Management System) to between 75%-100% to maximize outside air supply and still maintain building comfort levels.

All DOE school buildings were surveyed by the NYC School Construction Authority.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Schools will need to implement enhanced cleaning and disinfection of surfaces to ensure the health and safety of staff and students. Throughout the school year, the DOE will continue the rigorous practices used to prepare buildings for reopening, including:

  • Providing adequate cleaning and disinfection supplies or plan to procure those supplies.
  • Requiring deep cleanings to be completed on a nightly basis, including with the use of electrostatic sprayers.
  • Improving HVAC systems to ensure proper ventilation.
  • Setting-up enhanced cleaning in classrooms, bathrooms, and for high touch areas such as doorknobs and shared equipment such as laptops. 
  • Providing teachers with cleaning supplies for classrooms.

Screening and Entry/Dismissal Protocols

In order to minimize the number of individuals who come in contact with each other, and in order to identify potentially sick students and staff to the greatest extent possible, schools will be required to follow all applicable health guidance and to develop entry and dismissal protocols consistent with the latest health guidance, including:

  • Staying up-to-date on guidance on symptom checks, which continues to evolve. 
  • Screening staff, students, and visitors daily on arrival for symptoms.
  • Creating guidelines for health screenings of staff who report to work outside of morning arrival. 
  • Managing student drop off and pick up outside the school building to minimize the number of external visitors.
    • It is strongly recommended that nonessential visitors do not enter the school building. Schools should limit the frequency and duration of other visitors. 

We will also be asking for feedback from principals, and monitoring best practices for building entry and exit protocols.

Movement Protocols

Similarly, schools must redesign building movement protocols to keep people in cohorts and allow for physical distancing consistently. In particular, schools are being required, to the extent feasible, to:

  • Redesign movement protocols within a building to minimize congestion
  • Designate one-way direction stairwells and single file routes
  • Address elevator usage policies
  • Requiring students to stay on campus during lunch periods

Signage may be provided to support appropriate movement protocols.

Using Staff to Maintain a Healthy Environment

With health and safety as a priority, it will be important to have staff dedicated to carry out enhanced health operations. Schools should:

  • Use the Building Response Team structure to develop a school-based COVID-19 team.
  • Deploy adequate staff to support with daily enhanced health protocols.

This fall, every school building in NYC and all early childhood programs across the city will have nursing coverage. Through a partnership with NYC Health + Hospitals, every student and staff member will have a qualified medical professional available every day as we reopen schools and continue to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Outdoor Learning 

We are proud to introduce the Outdoor Learning initiative to support the use of outdoor space for instruction at New York City public schools in school year 2020-21. Schools are encouraged to use the outdoor space for classes that require additional spacing per public health guidance such as physical education (PE), dance, theater, chorus, and band classes; however, all academic classes are permitted to be held outdoors where space permits. Schools can use on-site school yards, public parks, adjacent streets, and streets previously approved for play. 

When submitting a street location for outdoor use, schools are strongly encouraged to select streets with the following criteria:

  • Is a quiet, non-commercial street;
  • Is a one-way street; if two-way, not more than one lane of traffic in each direction;
  • Is not an MTA bus route or truck route;
  • Is not used by a police/fire station, parking garage, or hospital. 

If a school has a yard on-site, the school must alert the DOE of their intended use of this space for outdoor instruction. 

Outdoor Learning is open to all schools but we do understand that there are schools that do not have access to a yard or playground. Schools in 27 neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19 with no outdoor space on-site will be given priority approval for outdoor space. A cross-agency working group that will oversee the approval process and provide appropriate safety guidelines and rules regarding use of the approved space. 

Outdoor Learning will be subject to existing public health and DOE temperature/ weather policies. Staff and students must adhere to social distance practices and wear their masks to and from the outdoor site. 

Safety and Security

Schools must ensure safety and security for their students, including fulfilling the objectives of Avonte’s Law (a local law requiring alarms on school doors to prevent children, especially children with severe disabilities, from leaving school grounds unnoticed). Prior to the approval of any outdoor space request, School Safety will complete a safety assessment of the plan. The DOE will also provide schools with safety guidelines and considerations, including: daily steps for assessing external space (conducted by custodial staff or School Safety Agent); door alarm policies with procedures for deactivating and activating alarms, and monitoring deactivated doors; and emergency readiness policies. 

Permission Slips

Parents and guardians who wish for their students to participate in outdoor learning must provide signed permission slips (electronic or physical) to the school.

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