23 Mar 2020

Teachers at odds over urgent closure of schools, early childhood centres

2:36 pm on 23 March 2020

Teaching Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin is imploring the government to close all schools and early childhood centres to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Happy kids at elementary school

Some teachers want to carry on with students' being educated in the classroom. Photo: 123RF

But the call in an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern does not have the backing of some of the major teacher groups.

The letter said the council had been communicating with teachers over the weekend.

"They want to support you and Aotearoa to flatten the curve. However, they want you to know, if you do not move now, they cannot see how they can protect their learners, themselves nor their loved ones at home," Hoskin wrote.

"As the voice of teachers, the council, on behalf of all teachers, implores you to act now and to move to Alert Level-4, closing early childhood centres and schools."

In the wake of the council's letter, the Principals Federation - which represents primary and intermediate school principals - called for composure.

"We have been successfully following the very clear nationally and internationally sourced expert advice from government and the Ministry of Education and will continue to do so," federation president Perry Rush said.

"We have the appropriate guidelines and are managing Covid-19 cases in our schools competently and confidently as they arise, whilst allowing students to continue their studies with minimal interruption," he said.

"The government and the Ministry of Education will only make the call to close schools should the Covid-19 level be raised to 4, and that will be a decision of Cabinet based on the very best evidence and scientific advice available," said Rush.

Liam Rutherford, president of the Educational Institute, the union for primary and intermediate school and early childhood staff, said the union would be meeting with Education Ministry staff later today to talk about school closures and protecting their members from Covid-19.

"We think it's important that it's the health experts making these decisions, but we are actively monitoring the situation and talking constantly with the ministry," he said.

"The health and wellbeing of those working in schools, early childhood and learning support services is first and foremost for us."

Parents meanwhile are taking things into their own hands and beginning to pull their children from school over fears about the Covid-19 virus.

In New Plymouth, Vogeltown Primary School principal Jeremy Ogle said attendance had already dropped dramatically.

"Friday last week we dropped to 85 and I think that's a pattern we're gonna see from now on especially with two more cases in New Plymouth this weekend.

"Already this morning just looking round the playground here I can see there's been quite a drop."

New Plymouth Principals Association co-chair Mike Dowd said attendance levels were dropping dramatically around the city.

He said at St Joseph's Primary where he teaches, only 101 children turned up this morning out of a roll of 285.

He said teachers and support staff over 65 were not being required to come to work.

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