Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Level 3 in Auckland – What it means for schools

Schools and kura in Tāmaki Makaurau can reopen from tomorrow as the city steps down to alert level 3 – but it’s expected very few children will return.

And for those who do it will be under strict conditions, with masks made mandatory at high school for the first time as the city continues to battle with the Delta outbreak.

The Ministry of Education says distance learning should continue for those students who are staying home.

Albany Senior School has chosen not to reopen at all in level 3, principal Claire Amos said. The north Auckland school serves Years 11-13, so even if their parents were essential workers they would not require supervision.

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They had also decided not to apply for any exemptions to run classes for students in Years 12 and 13.

Students had high online engagement rates and were mostly doing well with online learning and assessment. Amos said the school had weighed up the pros and cons and decided in the interests of being “fair and equitable” it was best that the school remain closed.

Those students who were doing more hands-on practical subjects would be able to catch up on that work in term 4, when it’s hoped the city will be back to level 2.

Previously in level 2 the school had had some of its highest-ever rates of attendance as students were so excited to be back, Amos said.

Papakura High School principal Simon Craggs expected only “a couple” students to return tomorrow. Most of the school’s Year 9s had turned 14 so did not need supervision – or they would have older siblings at home to look after them.

But whether there were two or 20 students at school tomorrow, all the health and safety plans would still have to be in place.

The school had also requested some exemptions for seniors who were doing visual arts and music subjects to be able to attend classes in person.

“For a lot of our students, because they don’t have musical instruments or art materials we did do deliveries of some art materials but it was not enough to carry on with the depth of work that’s required for our Year 12 and 13 students.”

Previously in level 2 Papakura did not have full attendance, Craggs said. Students would fall into two camps – “There’ll be those that are quite anxious and fearful about Delta and the infectiousness of it, and there will be those that are hanging out to get back and get the kids out of the house.”

Heath McNeil from the Auckland Primary Principals’ Association told RNZ survey responses from about 300 schools had found most would have just one or two bubbles, each with 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 those 300 schools – roughly 3 per cent. That was similar to the city’s last level 3 lockdown.

Sandra Bosman, principal of Jireh Christian School in Avondale, was not sure yet how many of her 250 students would be attending but previously around six students had attended in level 3.

The state-integrated primary wouldn’t reopen until Thursday, Bosman said – it plans to use the extra day to get things ready.

She expected only a skeleton staff would be needed until the school term ended at the end of next week.

School rules strict in level 3

With businesses reopening and parents heading back to work in level 3 tomorrow, some students won’t be able to stay home. Schools, kura and early childcare facilities can open for those children who cannot be supervised at home, as long as there are no other options.

But students in Years 11-13 must keep learning from home, the Ministry of Education told schools in its latest bulletin.

There is a possible exemption for a few Year 12 and 13 students but the school must apply to the Ministry to get this approved.

High schools will be subject to strict rules – most notably, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday that all students and staff must wear masks. That’s a step up from previous alert level 3 rules.

It’s also recommended that area or middle schools follow the same rules, with Years 9-13 grouped into bubbles.

Children below Year 9 don’t have to wear masks but can if they want to, including at early childhood centres. The Ministry of Education says the focus for kids under 6 is to follow good hygiene practices – coughing and sneezing into their elbow, and washing and drying hands.

Across all school levels, students must be put in bubbles of no more than 10, with at least 2 metres between bubbles. Staff should also stick to the same bubble if possible.

All schools and ECES must also display QR codes, have a contact tracing system in place, follow good hygiene practices and have regular cleaning of surfaces that are frequently touched.

Schools are not classed as gatherings, so students and staff are exempted from physical distancing requirements. However, everyone should try to keep a 1mdistance when indoors, and everyone should stay 2m apart outside.

Rooms should also be well ventilated and no singing should take place inside.

Some staff and contractors will be able to access the school to get it ready – such as cleaning and moving furniture around for distancing requirements.

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