Covid-19: Auckland principals worried but prepared for the reopening of high schools

Auckland principals are set to open the doors of their school for graduate students after weeks of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and home learning.

Last week, Education and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that students in grades 11-13 can return to school on Tuesday to prepare for their upcoming NCEA exams.

James Cook High School in Manurewa, South Auckland, has more than 600 students eligible to return on Tuesday.

Principa Grant McMillan said he expected this to happen in stages, starting with “slightly lower numbers” and slowly picking up over the days.

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“We understand that some students will have families who do not yet think it is safe for them to come back, and others who have other full-time responsibilities, such as working or looking after siblings.” , did he declare.

Many students in grades 11-13 will return to class on Tuesday, but some schools have chosen to remain closed.  (File photo)

Stacy Squires / Stuff

Many students in grades 11-13 will return to class on Tuesday, but some schools have chosen to remain closed. (File photo)

“And that’s okay, because we can live with it. We don’t want to force a choice.

McMillan said those who did return would face safety rules and social distancing requirements, which in some cases will see them spread to adjacent classrooms or outside.

But the school timetable would be no different, to “try to keep the routine”.

James Cook High School Principal Grant McMillan.  (File photo)

Kymberlee Fernandes / Stuff

James Cook High School Principal Grant McMillan. (File photo)

It will also be a slow comeback for Hobsonville Point High School. Principal Maurie Abraham has asked all 11th graders to continue distance learning so teachers can focus on 12th and 13th graders taking their exams.

For the first five days, the school will operate on a single schedule that will one day be allocated to one teacher and one subject, rather than mixed periods, staff and students.

Abraham said he was grateful that schools could open and that he would apply all appropriate safety measures.

However, he feared that the reopening just a few weeks before the exams were held at the end of November would not be useful for the students.

“The children are back on Tuesday, but the teachers don’t have time to rediscover them, get to know them and reconnect with them,” he said.

“As soon as the students come in, we actually need to increase the stress and anxiety right away. In my mind, this is really bad decision making.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced last week that high schools would reopen to 12th graders on Tuesday.  (File photo)

ROBERT KITCHIN / Tips

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced last week that high schools would reopen to 12th graders on Tuesday. (File photo)

Elsewhere, other schools will keep their doors closed, despite Hipkins’ announcement.

Haley Milne, principal of Kia Aroha College in Ōtara, said there were concerns that the school could not meet the restrictions imposed by the government.

“We don’t have very high vaccination rates among our students, and we’re also on a flight path, so we can’t open our windows for ventilation,” she said.

“We have taken into account all of our parents’ concerns but, in the end, we have decided not to reopen and will continue to work online.”

Milne said that while home learning was not “an ideal situation”, the school believed the safety of its young people to be “more important than a few extra NCEA credits this year”.

New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association president Melanie Webber echoed her concerns.

South Auckland's Kia Aroha College will remain closed, although it may open from Tuesday.  (File photo)

Chris McKeen / Stuff

South Auckland’s Kia Aroha College will remain closed, although it may open from Tuesday. (File photo)

People were “desperate to go back to school,” she said, but the timing was not right.

“When did we move from the priority of health to the priority of examinations?

“We suggested that the exams could be canceled and that only 13th graders could take exams, but instead what we have now are schools scrambling, with minimal guidance, to develop their own plan on how to make it safe. “


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