(WIVB) — Starting next week, unvaccinated students in Erie County exposed to COVID-19 can stay in school, as long as they test negative.

On Friday, Erie County Health Department officials met virtually with more than 150 school leaders to present their Test to Stay protocols.

Through this program, unvaccinated students, who would normally have to quarantine for 10 days after exposure, can now test every morning before school for five days. If they remain symptom-free and test negative, they will not need to isolate and can remain inside the classroom.

Vaccinated students do not need to quarantine if they are identified as close contacts to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 unless they become symptomatic.

“What’s most important to us as school leaders, and I think parents would echo this, is we want kids in school,” said Hamburg Superintendent Michael Cornell. “If they’re healthy and well, school-aged children should be in school.”

In a statement, county health officials say the goal of Test to Stay is to “maximize the time that students spend learning in classrooms, while minimizing the risks associated with COVID-19 transmission following a known exposure.”

Districts must submit their plans for this program to the Erie County Health Department for approval before they can roll out the program.

In a video message, Williamsville Superintendent Dr. Darren Brown-Hall said the district is still finalizing their plan.

“It’s also important to note that in order for students to be able to participate in the test to stay program, parents or guardians are required to consent,” Brown-Hall said.

The county also unveiled new isolation guidelines in schools. If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they must quarantine for five days. If at that point they no longer have symptoms, they can return from isolation.

Marlee Tuskes is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.