The UFT has compiled answers to our members' most frequently-asked questions about the upcoming 2021-22 school year. We will continue to update this page as more information and guidance is determined.
Vaccine requirements & exemptions
What are the requirements for school staff to be vaccinated as schools reopen in the fall?
The city has ordered all DOE employees to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday, Sept. 27, and provide proof through the DOE’s Vaccination Portal. The mandate applies to per diem employees and all contracted employees who work in DOE buildings. It does not apply to school bus drivers or DOE staff working in 3K and preschools located in non-DOE buildings. In impact bargaining, the UFT is working to ensure that the city respects union members’ rights by law and the DOE-UFT contract in the implementation if the courts hold that the mandate is legal.
How can I submit proof of my COVID-19 vaccination? What documentation is acceptable?
You must submit proof of vaccination using the DOE’s Vaccination Portal. Your information will be kept confidential. Proof of vaccination can be an image of your vaccination card, the New York State Excelsior Pass or other government record.
I am currently not vaccinated. Do I have to take weekly COVID-19 tests prior to the city’s vaccine deadline of Sept. 27? Will I have to arrange a test on my own time?
From Sept. 13 until Sept. 27, any employees who have not provided proof that they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine must submit a weekly negative COVID-19 PCR test (rapid or non-rapid) by the end of each week (by Sept. 19 and by Sept. 26). Staff must upload proof of the negative test result to the DOE Vaccination Portal.
When testing is happening at your school or office, unvaccinated staff will be able to get tested on site. When testing is not happening at your school or office, unvaccinated staff are eligible for up to one hour of additional pay or leave (for staff with annual leave) to get tested outside of work hours (not release time). All staff can get tested for free at city sites.
How would I qualify for a medical accommodation this school year? Where would I work if I am granted an accommodation?
Vaccinated UFT members with weakened immune systems due to a documented medical condition may apply via SOLAS for a medical accommodation. The online application form will go live on Monday, Sept. 13 and members will have until Monday, Sept. 20, to apply. These requests must be documented in writing by a medical doctor. If the accommodation is approved, the immunocompromised member must be offered work in a non-school building for as long as their medical condition lasts.
How would I qualify for a permanent medical exemption from taking the COVID-19 vaccine?
Permanent medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate will only be considered where the individual has a documented allergic reaction such that the member cannot receive any of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines. The online application form for a medical exemption will go live on SOLAS on Monday, Sept. 13. UFT members will have until Monday, Sept. 20, to apply.
Temporary medical exemptions may also be granted to those who may need to delay taking the vaccine, such as those undergoing specific medical treatments or who recently were diagnosed with COVID-19 (see below).
I recently had COVID-19 and cannot take the vaccine before the deadline of Sept. 27. Will I lose my job if I cannot get vaccinated right now?
You can request a temporary medical exemption on SOLAS by Monday, Sept. 20 to delay taking the vaccine, which must be documented by a medical provider.
Temporary exemptions may be granted:
within the isolation period after a positive COVID diagnosis
within 90 days of monoclonal antibody treatment of COVID-19
I am undergoing a medical treatment that prevents me from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine right now. Will I lose my job if I cannot get vaccinated before the deadline?
Members who are undergoing active therapy or treatment, such as chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, or CAR T-cell therapy, or who have pericarditis or myocarditis, may be eligible for a temporary medical exemption. You can request a temporary medical exemption to delay taking the vaccine on SOLAS by Monday, Sept. 20, which must be accompanied by documentation from a medical provider.
In cases where members seek exemptions for medical conditions not mentioned above, an independent arbitrator will decide if the exemption is appropriate. Members will be required to be vaccinated when the temporary condition has been removed, such as when treatment has ended, and will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
I was denied a medical/religious exemption from taking the vaccine. Can I appeal this decision? Will I keep my job while the appeal is in progress?
If denied, the member will have one school day to file a notice of appeal with additional time to submit supporting documentation. An independent arbitrator will promptly review the appeal—and convene a hearing if necessary—before issuing a final determination. During the appeal process, the member will be temporarily granted the exemption and kept on payroll.
How can I qualify for a religious exemption for the DOE vaccine mandate?
Exemption requests will be considered only for members who belong to recognized and established religious organizations and not where the objection is personal, political or philosophical in nature. Applications for religious exemptions must be documented in writing by clergy or a religious official.
Where do I apply for a medical accommodation, or a religious or medical exemption?
The online application form for a medical accommodation or an exemption will go live on SOLAS on Monday, Sept. 13. UFT members will have until Monday, Sept. 20, to apply.
I am pregnant. Would I be eligible for an exemption?
UFT members in their last trimester of pregnancy, whether vaccinated or not, have the option to go on leave immediately. First, members must exhaust their CAR days. If the member exhausts their CAR days before giving birth, the member can decide to start their six weeks of paid parental leave (if eligible) early. Members in their first two trimesters of pregnancy must be vaccinated if they want to remain on payroll.
I do not want to take the COVID-19 vaccine but also do not qualify for an exemption from the mandate. Will I lose my job?
Members who are not vaccinated by Sept. 27 but do not qualify for a medical accommodation or an exemption must be offered two options, both of which include one year's health coverage.
Unpaid leave option: UFT members may go on an official unpaid leave for up to one school year. The member cannot take other paid employment during this leave. They will continue to receive city health insurance through Sept. 5, 2022, as long as they do not take a job elsewhere. Their job will be held at their school for this period, too.
If at any time prior to Sept. 5, 2022, the member takes the vaccine, the member may return to work. On Sept. 5, if the city's vaccine mandate remains in effect and the individual remains unvaccinated, the person will be automatically deemed voluntarily resigned but will not be prevented from seeking DOE employment in the future.
These members must either get vaccinated or make the selection to extend their leave by Nov. 30. Otherwise, they will be subject to disciplinary action.
Severance option: Members who resign will be able to exchange CAR days in their bank 1-for-1 up to 100 days (under ordinary circumstances, it is 2-for-1), though this time is not pensionable. They will also receive medical insurance for one year as long as they do not have access to other insurance coverage during that period. Unvaccinated UFT members have until Oct. 29 to choose the severance option.
Those who take this option do not have a right of return to their school, but they will not be prevented from seeking DOE employment in the future.
If you are granted a religious or medical exemption, or awaiting the result of an appeal, and are therefore not required to be vaccinated, must you continue to be tested for COVID-19?
If you are granted a religious or medical exemption, or awaiting the result of an appeal, you will be placed in a non-school DOE building as of Sept. 28. At this point, you will be tested twice weekly until such time as you are vaccinated and can return to a school building.
Will there still be health screenings required for students and staff this school year?
Yes. Every student and staff member must complete the DOE Health Screening Form prior to entering the school building each day to confirm that they are not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, have not recently tested positive and are not currently required to quarantine based on close contact with an infected person. If a student or staff member is feeling ill, they must stay home and get tested for COVID-19.
Will masks be required for students and staff in New York City public schools this school year?
Yes. All students and staff must wear a face covering while riding on school buses and anywhere on school property—both indoors and outdoors—regardless of vaccination status, unless they have a medical exemption.
What should I do if I have a student who refuses to wear a mask at school?
If a student refuses to wear a mask, here is how staff should respond:
The school must document the incident in OORS
Teacher speaks with student
Student is sent to school counselor
Student is sent to the administration
Parent is called to pick up the student
What will happen if a student continues to not wear a mask? Will there be consequences if students do not comply with the DOE mask policy?
If the student continues to refuse to wear a mask at school, the student will receive up to a five-day principal suspension. Continued noncompliance or a second infraction will result in a 10-day superintendent suspension. During these suspensions, the student will receive remote instruction.
Students with significant documented disabilities will be given supports to help with mask wearing and may be allowed a mask break in a well-ventilated area that allows for six feet of distancing.
If a student continues to refuse to wear a mask, the superintendent suspension will be extended and a school may apply to exclude the student from school. If your school is not following proper masking or safety protocols, reach out to your school’s COVID-19 building response team and your chapter leader or call the UFT safety hotline at 212-331-6317.
How much personal protective equipment must schools have on hand?
Like last year, schools must have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks for adults and children, KN95 respirators, face shields for adults and non-contact thermometers for temperature screening. Schools must also have an electrostatic sprayer, cleaning supplies for daily and nightly cleaning, gloves, disinfecting sprays or wipes, and hand sanitizers in every room. If your school lacks appropriate supplies, please report it to your UFT chapter leader as soon as possible.
Will personal protective equipment be provided to all schools for students and staff?
Yes, schools will have at least a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment, such as masks, disinfectant and gloves, on hand at all times. Hand sanitizer will also be available in every classroom and throughout school buildings.
Will there still be COVID-19 testing at schools this year?
This year, every school will have 10 percent of unvaccinated individuals who have submitted consent for testing in their school population tested biweekly. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated and students in 3K, pre-K and kindergarten are not required to be tested. The testing group will include only unvaccinated students later this fall once the vaccine mandate has been fully implemented for staff.
What will happen if positive cases of COVID-19 are discovered within a classroom?
The DOE has provided different protocols for elementary, middle and high schools:
Elementary schools: If there is a positive case in a classroom, all students in the class will be instructed to quarantine for 10 calendar days.
Middle and high schools:
In the event there is a positive case in a classroom, students who are:
at least 12 years old, vaccinated and not showing symptoms will continue to attend school in-person and should take a COVID-19 test five to seven days after exposure.
at least 12 years old, vaccinated, and showing symptoms will be directed to quarantine for 10 calendar days.
unvaccinated will be directed to quarantine for 10 calendar days. On Day 5 of their quarantine, students may take a COVID-19 test and with a negative result, they may return to school on Day 7.
School buildings will close for 10 days if there is evidence of widespread transmission as determined by city public health officials.
Will students who are 12 or older be asked to submit proof of vaccination?
Yes, the DOE is asking parents to upload proof of vaccination of their children since vaccination status will determine whether older students without symptoms will be required to quarantine if another student in their classroom tests positive.
Will social distancing be practiced in school buildings?
The DOE will follow the CDC recommendation to maintain 3 feet between students within classrooms where possible. When it is not possible to maintain 3 feet in a given school, the DOE advises layering multiple other prevention strategies, including encouraging vaccination and improved ventilation. Classrooms in which physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained will have an additional air purifier installed for a total of three units. During meal times, schools will use outdoor spaces and additional spaces in school buildings where possible.
Will there be building response teams in school buildings this year? What should I do if my school does not have a team?
The UFT trained a large majority of COVID-19 building response teams to ensure all safety and health protocols and procedures are followed correctly in every school. If your school does not have a functioning COVID-19 building response team, please call your UFT borough office or UFT headquarters immediately. Report any safety issues at your school promptly to your chapter leader or your UFT district representative or call the UFT safety hotline at 212-331-6317.
How is the DOE maintaining adequate ventilation in schools?
The DOE has bolstered ventilation in all schools this year. Two air purifiers have been placed in each classroom. Cafeterias in larger schools have large air purifier units and window-based exhaust fans. Classrooms in which physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained have been given an additional third air purifier. You can check the ventilation status of your school by finding your school’s information page at nycenet.edu/schoolsearch, which includes a section on building ventilation.
What safety protocols will be used during student lunch periods?
Schools will use outdoor spaces and additional spaces in school buildings where possible to support physical distancing and maintain adequate ventilation. During lunchtime, masks may be removed so students can eat comfortably at a safe distance from one another. When eating, students must maintain three feet of physical distance and should be seated in such a way that they are facing away from one another. Meals may be served during multiple time periods to provide as much physical distancing as possible.
Will instructional lunches be an option for students this year?
Instructional lunches—a period where students are programmed to eat lunch while receiving instruction—will remain an option this year in schools where space constraints make it impossible for students to otherwise eat lunch safely. Your school’s COVID-19 building response team needs to be part of the conversation with your principal if your school believes it needs to use this option.
These instructional lunches may be programmed only if other strategies—such as using the cafeteria or other common areas or eating lunch outdoors—are not able to meet the safety needs. A teacher’s classroom can only be used for an instructional lunch if it can accommodate three feet of physical distance between people.
How will teachers who are assigned an instructional lunch period be compensated? How will it affect their schedule?
Instructional lunches are a scheduled teaching period and must be considered one of the teaching periods in the assigned teacher’s regular program except as part of a shortage-area assignment. Teachers programmed for instructional lunch will be compensated at the rate of one coverage per day. Principals are strongly encouraged to seek volunteers first but have the discretion to make assignments based on availability and qualifications.
Will there be deep cleanings of schools this year?
High-touch areas such as doorknobs and water fountains will be cleaned multiple times throughout the day, and each classroom will be deep cleaned and disinfected daily using electrostatic technology. In addition, all classrooms and common areas, such as auditoriums and gyms, will have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available.
Do teachers and related service providers need to create digital classrooms this year?
Yes, for times when classrooms may be closed due to positive COVID-19 cases, and all or some of your students may be required to quarantine.
Teachers and related service providers will be provided a window from Sept. 9 to Oct. 1 to create and set up a digital classroom and will be paid $225 for this initial set up time. A supplemental check will be issued on Oct. 31 to compensate you. The initial set up should include materials required for the first day of an emergency closure.
Going forward, when more than half of your students are reprogrammed, teachers and related service providers will be paid an additional four hours at the per-session rate to recreate your digital classroom.
When would teachers and related service providers be required to use their digital classrooms?
Digital classrooms will be in use when:
Conducting remote Parent Teacher Conferences
Conducting synchronous instruction on snow days or during whole class or whole school closures (either health or emergency related)
Conducting asynchronous instruction on Election Day
Conducting asynchronous instruction for partial class closures due to quarantining students
Conducting synchronous instruction if the teacher/provider has to quarantine and is able to work remotely
You are not required to upload any additional content to your digital classroom more than 24 hours prior to an emergency closure.
When are we not required to use our digital classrooms?
Digital classrooms cannot be mandated for:
Regular instruction for absent students not related to a quarantine
Newsletter or ongoing family communications
Uploading or collecting lesson plans
If my entire class is quarantined and goes remote, will instruction happen synchronously or asynchronously?
In the case of a full class or whole school closure, the teacher/provider will conduct synchronous online instruction.
What if some of my students are quarantined but others are not required to?
Teachers and related service providers who are not directed to quarantine themselves will engage quarantined students via remote asynchronous instruction and be available for office hours. Students not required to quarantine will be taught in person.
What work and communication will I need to provide to students during office hours?
Office Hours may consist of:
Posting asynchronous assignments
Individual or small group synchronous instruction, support or tutoring to students who are quarantining
Emailing or checking in on assignments with quarantining students
A minimum of one to two office hours must be provided per week of a partial class closure to quarantining students and will be compensated at the per-session rate. Middle and high school staff will also receive one additional hour of per-session pay per additional course taught (not section). You may request additional hours based on your workload.
When will office hours occur and how will I keep records of this time?
Office hours will be conducted at the teacher/service provider’s discretion and can occur:
During the school day as paid preparation or lunch periods
After school hours paid at the per session rate at a time decided by the teacher/provider and subject to supervisory approval
Time keeping procedures must be followed to record the time worked
Since Election Day is an asynchronous learning day this year, how will that be structured?
Each school will provide per-session postings for teachers who wish to create content to use that day. There will be four hours of available per-session work per grade and subject.
If all of my students are quarantined and working remotely from home, must I report to my school building?
If all students on your caseload are remote and your building has not been closed, you may provide synchronous digital instruction to students remotely as well, unless your supervisor tells you with reasonable advance notice that you must remain on site.
Can my supervisor observe me while teaching in a digital classroom format?
Any supervisor may observe your teaching at any time, whether in person or online. However, no evaluative observations may be conducted on the first day of an emergency closure and 24-hour notice must be given for any observation in a digital classroom that will be used for evaluation purposes.
What recourse do I have if my supervisor does not follow the guidelines in this agreement?
Any issue related to pay for remote work can be settled through the DOE-UFT regular grievance process. Other issues should follow the operational issues process.