Primary principals discuss return to school with Govt

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

Auckland principals have met with Ministry of Education staff to discuss how a return to school for primary and intermediate students could work.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced an “indicative” return date of November 15, asking officials and schools to work together to decide if that’s appropriate during the Delta Covid-19 outbreak.

Auckland Primary Principals’ Association president and Point Chevalier School principal Stephen Lethbridge said no decisions have been made following the meeting.

Another meeting being held early next week is a possibility before the Education Minister receives the recommendations.

Around 25 principals representing all areas of Auckland and composite schools, as well as a leadership advisor speaking on behalf of new principals, took part in the two-hour meeting.

Before the meeting, Lethbridge said the issues schools are dealing with vary greatly across the city, with some schools trying to organise food parcels for their community while other schools are getting feedback from families that students are struggling with learning from home.

“We have to tread carefully, local context is really important and we know our communities,” he said.

He added that principals didn’t want the approach to perpetuate inequities in education. 

Lethbridge said it was “heartening” that the Education Minister said the November return date was indicative rather than set in stone as schools need to ensure public health requirements set by the Ministry of Health can be met with “a largely unvaccinated community.”

“We have an open approach to what the end result will be… from an organisation point of view, at least we are around the table.”

“What would it need to take in order to work for the 15th… the outcome may be it’s not viable,” he said.

Opening school to certain year groups across different parts of the day or different days is being considered.

Lethbridge said it’s a complex situation for schools to make a decision on, especially as not all suggestions for what learning should look like at Alert Level 3 feasible for all schools.

He said some rural schools do not have the space to learn outside where possible, while large schools with students aged five to 18 on sites in the same area also have challenges with keeping students spaced out.  

Lethbridge said student mental wellbeing is being judged alongside health, but the health and safety of students and the wider community remains the priority. 

Term 4 will end for students no later than December 20.

Ministry of Education northern leader Isabel Evans said in a statement earlier on Thursday the purpose of the meeting was not about making decisions but instead to hear what principals “need to know and have in place to be able to welcome back their children safely”.

Auckland and Waikato secondary schools were asked by the ministry about their attendance this morning with a response yet to be shared with 1News.

The organisation said it’s working with secondary schools that have raised issues.

“The key support requests we’ve received from Auckland secondary schools and kura this week is for clarification on supporting students who won’t or can’t wear face coverings, balancing staffing levels to maintain onsite and online learning, support for students who are balancing working and meeting their exam and course requirements and supporting students with particular health needs to access onsite learning,” Evans said in a statement.