New York City schools will no longer require that parents fill out daily health screeners for their kids, according to new COVID-19 guidance released Tuesday.
The updated guidance for the upcoming school year also eases some protocols — like getting rid of random in-school testing — but keeps in place other vaccine-related requirements.
Kids who don’t have the jab will continue to be sidelined during some extracurricular activities, including high school sports, and school visitors—including parents—will still need to show proof of one vaccine dose to enter the building.
“Many high risk extracurricular activities are performed indoors, are strenuous, and entail closer contact than classroom activities,” said Michael Lanza, a spokesperson for the city health department.
“The guidance is intended to keep kids safe both in class and within these after-school activities,” he said.
Roughly 43% of kids under 17 are fully vaccinated, according to city data. Less than half of elementary school-aged kids have received both doses.
Some of the activities impacted by the requirement include sports, chorus and band, musical theater, and dance, cheerleading and step club.
Coach George Lanese, the co-founder of About-U Outreach, which uses sports to help kids focus on academics and careers, questioned the fairness of continuing the policy.
“Kyrie Irving was allowed to play,” said Lanese of the schools’ approach, compared to the rules for professional athletes. “We make exceptions for people who make money.”
Students have never been required to be vaccinated to attend classes, but all DOE employees are required to show proof of vaccination.
Close to 1,000 school workers have been fired for refusing to comply with the mandate — though 82 teachers suspected of submitting fake proof were recently put back on payroll pending an internal probe.
“Vaccination remains the single best protection against severe illness caused by COVID-19,” Lanza said.
At the same time, officials are also phasing out PCR surveillance testing for random groupings in schools. The lab results of PCR tests are considered among public health experts to be more reliable than rapid test results.
“Eliminating testing in schools means we won’t catch asymptomatic people,” said Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, the Manhattan borough president’s representative on the Panel for Educational Policy and a neuroscientist.
As a parent, Salas-Ramirez said the guidance doesn’t go far enough to make her feel like her kids are safe at school.
“Especially with an 11-year-old that has yet to get COVID, and a 3-year-old that got COVID six months ago and just got vaccinated, it is still possible for him to have a reinfection and for it to be severe ,” she said.
The guidance said students and staff exposed to COVID-19 should get tested, but stops short of requiring it. The schools were told to send them home with two tests to be taken four and five days after exposure.
The students and staff are “strongly recommended” to wear masks after the exposure, though that’s also not required. Masks are still mandated for those who test positive for COVID-19 when they return to school until 10 days after symptoms began or the first positive test.
The city scrapped the mask mandate in the spring—while the now-defunct health screeners asked students and families to attest to not experiencing symptoms, from a fever to a cough or sore throat. He also asked about positive results and close contacts within the past five days.
But Queens parent Jean Hahn still had concerns about the last-standing mandates, as her daughter — a dancer — enters sixth grade.
“It’s going to make it harder for her to meet other kids and make friends at her school,” Hahn said.
The Department of Education directed questions about the policies to health officials.