21 Sep 2021

Auckland schools prepare for small classes during alert level 3

8:05 am on 21 September 2021

Auckland school principals are expecting only small numbers of children will return to school when the city shifts to alert level 3.

Students at Pacific Advance Secondary School. Note only use identifying pictures for stories about PASS - only non-identifiying pictures may be reused.

File image. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

From Wednesday morning, the schools have to reopen for children under the age of 14 whose caregivers need to return to work and secondary schools can also seek permission to bring in small groups of older students.

Orewa College Year 13 student Dylan Blomquist was likely to be among the latter group because the school was planning to seek an exemption so some music students could attend lessons.

"It's definitely exciting, you know getting back, see some familiar faces even if they are going to be covered in masks," he said.

But principals spoken to by RNZ said they would not be seeking exemptions for many students.

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves said his school would only seek an exemption for one group of art students.

"Part of the issue is around equity," he said.

"We do have subjects like textiles but that's quite big numbers and the teachers have decided choosing who to come in is a difficult task and only one teacher involved, so once that teacher has interacted with one group of 10 students, they can't interact with any others."

Hargreaves said alert level 3 would make no difference for the vast majority of students but he understood the need for tight rules.

"The conditions are quite restrictive, but I think they need to be. I think it's wise that there are some pretty clear and firm boundaries in place about how schools can manage this. The last thing we want is big groups congregating in schools and then having to shut the school down for 14 days because of an outbreak," he said.

Heath McNeil from the Auckland Primary Principals' Association said survey responses from more than 300 of the city's schools showed most would have just one or two bubbles of up to 10 children.

"It sort of ranged from one child coming back to the upper end was in the early 60s," he said.

That would total about 4500 children across the schools that responded to the survey or roughly 3 percent, comparable to the last time the city's schools were in alert level 3, McNeil said.

Manurewa High School principal Pete Jones said his school of more than 2100 students was expecting just four students under the age of 14 and he was sure anxiety about the Delta variant contributed to the relatively low number.

"With the additional anxiety that's out there in the community at the moment even some people who may have sent their kids back last year in level three won't be doing it this time," he said.

The school was still considering what to do about seeking exemptions to bring senior students back for some classes.

"For schools logistically and planning-wise it's a lot of work for a very small number of people and it's quite challenging but it's part of the wider team of 5 million, we're all doing our best to support in any way we can," he said.

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