30 Jan 2023

Auckland weather: All schools, early childhood centres and tertiaries to shut for a week

10:36 pm on 30 January 2023
An access path to Charcoal Bay via the Rosecamp Road Foreshore Reserve in Auckland is blocked off due to slips.

The National Emergency Management Agency asked the ministry to help minimise traffic on Auckland roads while vital infrastructure is repaired Photo: RNZ / Eveline Harvey

The Ministry of Education has directed that all of the Auckland region's schools, early childhood centres and tertiary institutions stay closed until 7 February.

Principals were told the shut-down instruction was issued after the National Emergency Management Agency asked the ministry to help minimise traffic on Auckland roads while vital infrastructure is repaired.

30 January - Red level weather warnings (the most severe warnings) are currently in place for Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula. Because of this the National Emergency Management Agency has issued a safety warning that the forecast heavy rain could cause flooding, slips and damage. Scroll down to find the full list of their advice for keeping safe.

Secretary for Education Iona Holsted has directed all Auckland schools, early childhood services and tertiary institutes to remain shut for physical instruction until 7 February.

"Early Learning Services may allow the physical attendance of any child whose parent needs them to do so but must otherwise be closed. Early learning services will continue to be funded.

"Principals and education leaders have done a fantastic job of readying their schools for opening, and I know that this decision will be upsetting for some of them and for some parents.

"I know this is a late announcement that will cause disruption and I thank the sector in advance. We need to get Tamaki Makaurau back up and running as quickly as possible."

About 20 schools in the regions have been badly damaged, while others have slips or contamination from floodwaters in their grounds.

The order covers the area from Wellsford in the north to Pukekohe in the South.

Auckland Grammar principal now says school closed until further notice

Auckland Grammar School had announced they intended to open tomorrow despite the Ministry of Education's directive, but the principal then reversed that emailing parents to say the school would be closed until further notice.

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor had told Checkpoint the ministry's statement left room for the school to make their own call.

"There is a line in the media release that says school and kura can open on their own instruction," he said.

The school started teaching 60 students last week and another 60 are on the way.

"It was still our decision to remain open unless we were directed to close."

"At this point we haven't been told it is a directive to close, and if it is," the school will close, he said.

However, later on Monday evening the principal emailed parents to advise that Auckland Grammar would now close until further notice.

Businesses 'angry, bemused, frustrated'

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Brett O'Riley told Checkpoint he believed the decision did not take into consideration the impact on businesses.

"Our concern is that right at the time when we need to have as many people working on the recovery, we're going to have a lot of families and communities impacted by schools and other education facilities not being open.

"This feels like a de facto lockdown for Auckland right at the time when we need people working on that recovery and very disappointed that there was no discussion with the business community before this decision was taken."

O'Riley said some businesses would be short-staffed because they would need to stay home and look after their children.

"Literally, we were on this call and getting emails and text messages from members and people saying 'what do we do? What's our position here? How does this impact annual leave if people can't come to work?'"

While at an Auckland business roundtable meeting, businesses found out about the news and were "angry, bemused, frustrated", he said.

"If it is a safety issue, then that's fine. But are suggesting people aren't going to work because of the conditions of the road? Are we suggesting that we're closing down transport companies from delivering essential products? Just what is going on here."

He said he had talked to Mayor Wayne Brown on Monday afternoon, and he had told him it was not council's suggestion that people don't go to work.

"His definitive position is that it's up to businesses to decide but now we have some of that decision taken out of businesses' hands by the Ministry of Education."

Primary principals group expresses relief at order

Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Wendy Kofoed is the principal at Newmarket School and said that while her organisation had not lobbied for the call she was relieved it had been made.

"It's been a good call. We have no idea what tomorrow's weather bomb or Wednesday's is going to bring. And while my school might be fine at the moment, I would not like to submit children and staff to the sorts of features that we had ... on Friday - health and safety is paramount.

"It will give people a chance to catch their breath, the infrastructure a chance to be repaired ... that's going to take some time. And also we have some of our staff affected with their own homes."

Kofoed said some schools were still being used to house families displaced by the storms and floods.

And schools were also still being affected by Covid-19, which was making it difficult to maintain good staffing levels. Kofoed said a colleague and three of her staff were currently sick with it.

While some parents may be concerned about students missing more school time, Kofoed said the safety and well-being of staff and students must come first.

"Auckland is facing some huge challenges in getting back to normal and we want to give the people trying to repair our roads the best chance to do that.

"Thousands and thousands of students cross Auckland every day, you're looking at 20,000 to 30,000 cars back and forth to various schools ... that's certainly not ... desirable at this stage."

She said many families would have lost school uniforms and stationery they had ready for the start of the year and some families could now be displaced, staying in different districts to the schools the children were enrolled in.

"Schools are going all out to support these families, and will be going all out to mitigate [those problems]. We want these children back at school when they can, we're looking after our communities again - we've shown that we were good at that through the Covid years, and we will continue to do that."

Before the shut-down order, schools had been scheduled to reopen between 31 January and 7 February.

Because of the red level weather warnings issued for Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula, the National Emergency Management Agency has posted advice on how to keep safe:

  • Red weather warnings are the most severe warnings. The forecast weather could cause further flooding, slips and damage
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of civil defence and emergency services
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • Stay away from floodwater. Always assume that all flood water is potentially contaminated and ensure hands, clothes and property are thoroughly cleaned after contact with flood waters
  • It is important to clean and dry your house and everything in it. Do not eat garden produce if the soil has been flooded
  • Throw away all food and drinking water that has come in contact with floodwater, including things stored in containers
  • Information about where to get help can be found on the Civil Defence website and from Auckland Emergency Management

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