Students are returning to Auckland classrooms on Monday, but principals say anxiety is high and they expect some families will keep children away.
As Auckland moves to level 2, students are back at school after more than two weeks of remote learning.
Secondary Principals Association president and Onehunga High School principal Deirdre Shea said level 2 this time brings “added anxiety”.
“We have been here before, the recent cluster is local and we are at the end of August, with students, especially seniors, that much closer to the end of their academic year.”
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However, she said schools wanted to reassure students and families that health advice is being followed, and schools are safe places for students and staff.
Haare Popata teaches years 6 and 7 and runs the traffic patrol outside Finlayson Park School in south Auckland’s Manurewa.
He said the number of children arriving was “way down” on normal.
Children were still unsure about coming back because families were too: “What does [level] 2.5 look like?”
“All we can do is make sure they feel safe.”
A hand sanitising station had been set up just inside the school gates and there were also trays to sanitise shoes.
Stephanie Bidois was dropping off her children, aged 5, 6 and 10.
She said while they were keen to come back, she was “frightened” about the health risks.
Teena Tuimauga echoed that, saying her eldest son, who is 10, “loves school” and wanted to come back.
She had been hesitant about the return to school but said she did not have the tools to continue homeschooling.
Manurewa High School principal Pete Jones said coming out of level 3 last time, only about 60 per cent of students were back in the first week. He expected numbers to be about the same this week.
“The feeling is that whānau in our community are anxious, Covid feels closer this time and there are still cases coming up.”
He said feedback from students had been that many missed coming to school and were worried about gaining their qualifications and what awaited them when they finished school.
Expecting students to maintain physical distancing wasn’t possible without creating a very regimented, controlled regime, he said – which would just raise stress and anxiety levels and wouldn’t be conducive to a positive learning environment.
At Monday’s 1pm press conference, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said while he understood parents’ apprehension, it is important children return to school.
“Their futures depend on this.”
At Rowandale School in Manurewa, just over half of the school’s roll was there for the first day back after lockdown.
As with other schools, principal Karl Vasau said the main reason for parents keeping children away was anxiety about Covid-19 in the community.
But he said the students who returned did so with “smiles on their faces”, excited to see friends and teachers.
Staff at Hobsonville Point School had been busy making masks, principal Maurie Abraham said, which they would be wearing on Monday.
“We will be strongly encouraging our students to wear masks and the best way to do that is to role model it ourselves.”
It is not mandatory for staff or students to wear masks at school, and children on school buses are also exempt from wearing masks.
However, experts have advocated for mask-wearing for over-10s, and a Dunedin school has introduced “Mask Monday” to normalise face mask use among students.
At James Cook High School, students are also being strongly encouraged to wear face masks while on-site, and principal Grant McMillan said 80-90 per cent of students were wearing them in class.
Staff gave out about 350 masks at the school gates on the first day back, and McMillan said they would carry on distributing them to students who needed them.
He said if the school had not clearly communicated its policy on face masks, he doubted families would have felt comfortable sending their children back.
On the first day, attendance was just over 50 per cent, and he hoped to have three-quarters of the school back by the end of the first week.
At Newton Central School, principal Riki Teteina said he anticipated a number of families being anxious about the return to school.
The school was making sure students sanitised their hands at the school gate, and hand-washing and physical distancing…