Some NI students will return to school in late August with gradual return for the rest, said Education Minister Peter Weir.
Weir was speaking at a Stormont committee meeting on Thursday.
“Subject to medical advice and safety, my goal would be to see a gradual reopening of the schools,” he said.
Schools in Northern Ireland have been closed since March during the coronavirus crisis.
Weir said the schools’ reopening would begin with “a limited supply for key cohort years in August, followed by a phased provision for all students in early September”.
“Key cohorts” included students preparing for exams, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, and students moving from elementary to post-elementary schools, said Weir.
“It will not be a return to school as it was before Covid, but rather a new normal reflecting social distancing and a medically safe diet,” said Weir.
“For all students, this will involve a mixture of scheduled school attendance and home learning.
“In line with the executive’s strategy of relying on medically reliable advice and sensitivity to the transmission of the virus, it may be considered to return to younger cohorts.
Speaking at Thursday’s executive press conference, Weir announced a new Education Authority program to provide laptops to disadvantaged students to support their distance learning.
The education ministry would buy more laptops if necessary, he added.
Weir said as many as 400 vulnerable children attended open schools just to provide care – a figure Mr. Weir called “small but increasing”.
Analysis: a huge undertaking for schools now
By Robbie Meredith, Education Correspondent at BBC News NI
There will still be a lot of questions for parents, students and teachers with this announcement.
I spoke to a school principal who asked him how he would stagger classes and maintain social distance, especially among younger students – and this is just a school.
Although mid-August seems far away, it is a huge undertaking to allow students to return and learn full-time in September, even if they are not in school full-time.
What about childcare, when students are only in school for part of the week and at home for the rest?
The only advantage we have is that our schools will not open for the rest of this school year, so we will be able to see how it is run in other countries and what problems they have encountered and overcome.
But it’s only in three months – it will take every day of those three months to resolve some of these problems.
The minister said some students are more at risk of falling behind than others.
Kevin McAreavey, principal of Holy Cross Boys Primary School in Belfast, said the schools were entering “unknown waters”.
Getting to a point where grandparents could take care of the children again was important because many were “the primary caregivers and also the caregivers,” he said.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said McAreavey to the BBC’s Evening Extra program. “There is a lot of planning (necessary) around the detail. “
Barry Corrigan, principal of the Millennium Integrated Primary School in Saintfield, said the priority would be to teach students good hygiene and work with parents to identify symptoms and limit the potential spread of the coronavirus.