Auckland school decision prompts worry and delight for teachers, students and parents

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The government’s decision to let 200,000 Auckland children return to school next week for the first time in three months has prompted a mixture of delight, relief, and worry.

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Delight from children in Years 0-10 who can’t wait to return to class, relief from parents worn down by weeks of home learning, and a degree of worry from both groups about the change.

Meanwhile, teachers and principals in alert level 3 areas now have to figure out how they can reopen within parameters set by the Education Ministry.

The rules include keeping children in separate, stable groups that don’t mingle, using physical distancing where practical, and requiring faces masks inside for children in Year 4 and above.

The rules apply to all schools in level 3 regions, which currently includes parts of Waikato, and are expected to result in most schools rostering children home on some days or allowing staggered attendance.

Those details are not something that concern children like 11-year-old Emily Rope who could barely contain her excitement at the prospect of returning to class next week.

“I really enjoy school and I like it much more than lockdown, I really don’t like lockdown. I know the teachers are working hard to do the work but it’s just not quite the same so I’m really excited about it,” she said.

Emily’s mother Julie said the decision to reopen schools from Wednesday was a relief.

“There’s a fair amount of elation, very happy for them. I think a lot of them want to say goodbye to each other that are transitioning from Year 6 or Year 8. There is a little bit of apprehension, but also we’re tired of being stuck in a bubble at home with each other’s company,” she said.

She said she trusted her school to meet health requirements and keep children safe.

Emma Webster, 13, said it had been 84 days since she had been at school and she was more than ready to return.

“I’m quite excited. I do like school and have been waiting quite a long time to go back,” she said.

“Lots of my friends wanted to go back but lots of their parents later now have said they can’t. Their parents think that it’s too early.”

Her father Simon Webster said children needed to get back to school.

“I am pleased, I think they’re really missing out on particulary the social interaction side of school. Online’s been fine, I guess it holds them with a pattern, it’s given them something to fill in the days, but I think they’re missing the social interaction and the other learning they get in school.”

Auckland father of two Marcus Reynolds said his boys were delighted at the prospect of returning to the classroom but he had mixed feelings.

“A mixture of relief and anxiety. I think as a parent I still want a bit more information, where when they talk about going part-time how does that look, what does that mean. When they say that it’s down to individual schools to make their own decisions based on their communities that feels like abdicating responsibility a little bit,” he said.

Libby Slaughter has three children, one under five and two at primary school.

“I have a son who is really excited about seeing his friends and his classroom teacher but I think he’s definitely nervous about going back because it’s been so long. And I have a five-year-old who is really not wanting to go back, she’s got used to having mum at home,” she said.

Slaughter received the government’s annoucement as a parent but also as a teacher – she is assistant principal at Randwick Park School in Manurewa.

She said the return to school next week would be difficult to manage because she would have to go back to work, but Covid-related rules meant her four-year-old’s early learning centre could not take any more children, and she would also have to balance whatever rostering or attendance her children’s school decided.

Slaughter warned that organising staggered or rostered attendance would be a logistical nightmare for schools but also for many families.

“It is a logistical nightmare, but having said that, it is going to be great to see the kids, it’s going to be great to see the students back on site and for their social and emotional wellbeing. If they can return it’s going to be great for them. My concern is around the large number of students in our school that won’t be able to return and as a parent how I’m going to make that work with me working as well,” she said.

“I don’t know if it is going to be worth it for a lot of our families. For some families it will.”

Jean Batten School principal Nardi Leonard said it was time for schools to reopen.

“Giving that option of flexibility to be able to open and allow some form of normality, whatever that is really nowadays, it’s just really important for the community,” she said.

“It’s scary though, it’s really scary. I’m not saying it’s going to be a stroll in the park, there’s a new challenge now – how do we do this to make everyone feel safe.”

Weymouth Primary School principal Saane Faaofo-Oldehaver said she was excited by the prospect of welcoming children back next week.

“It’s been a really long time since we’ve seen our children,” she said.

Faaofo-Oldehaver said the first challenge would be to find out how many students to expect next week.

“I’ve got a roll of 500 so realistically I’m not sure how I would do it if all 550 came back so for us as a school it’s about really making sure we can contact our families first and see who is actually coming back and then working with my teachers next week to determine how we do it and mitigate risks,” she said.

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