Education Secretary Michelle McIlvin said schools can expect to drop out due to the launch of the Omicron option in the coming weeks.
In a letter to parents in Northern Ireland informing them of the impact of the Covid pandemic, the DUP minister said the executive had a common goal of keeping schools “open and safe”.
He also told parents that opening windows was the most effective way to help ventilate classrooms, adding that he called on schools to be “flexible” in their uniform policy.
He also said that special measures have been taken to qualify teachers for assessment if exams are canceled this summer.
McElwain’s letter reads: “We are now in the midst of another phase of the pandemic, in which the new Omicron variant is causing severe setbacks in our communities.
The number of cases among children and staff will likely continue to reflect on the community and we can expect some delay in the coming weeks.
“My goal was and remains to provide continuing education for all of our children in our schools.
“I want to assure you that the CEO of NI has a common goal of keeping schools safe and open, because the best place for children and young people is school.”
Ms Elvin said there had been a lot of discussion about the importance of ventilation in reducing the risk of Covid.
He added: “My healthcare colleagues have advised me that natural ventilation, by opening windows, is the most effective measure.
“Installing air filters, for example, will not allow schools to close windows, because natural ventilation is essential.
“The regular opening of the windows can lead to cooler classrooms at this time of year.
“Schools will do their best to keep classes at the right temperature and I urge them to be flexible in their shared policy to ensure students have a comfortable stay.”
His letter stated that schools may not be able to continue operating normally for the next few weeks.
He said: “There may be staff shortages due to illness or self-isolation and there may be a large number of students.
Schools have plans to address these issues and this means that your child may experience some changes in a normal school day.
“This may include the need to use multiple substitute teachers, prioritizing teaching for students taking core exams, or, in some cases, moving students to distance learning for short periods of time so the stress does not diminish.
“I also asked the students and teachers to provide more help in the coming weeks.”
The minister said the intention is to extend GCSE and A-levels this summer, but that students will have to pass “fewer exams”.
He continued: “If you want to cancel the state of public health and public examinations, you have agreed to issue emergency qualifications based on the teacher’s judgment, as in 2021.
“All of our youth will be given the opportunity to complete their qualifications and move on to the next stage of education, work or training.