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Schools given potential return date for students, should Level 4 lockdown be lifted after 28 days

Some students could start returning to school for face-to-face lessons on Wednesday April 29, should the Level 4 lockdown be lifted after four weeks. 

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Some students could start returning to school for face-to-face lessons on Wednesday April 29, should Level 4 lockdown be lifted after four weeks. Source: Q+A

However, Education Minister Chris Hipkins told TVNZ1's Q+A with Jack Tame that parents should be prepared for a "significant amount of young people" to be kept at home for longer, even after the lockdown ends. 

If New Zealand comes out of lockdown on the scheduled date of April 22, some schools have been told they could open for learning a week later - the Wednesday after Anzac weekend. 

Source: Seven Sharp

 

"I do want to keep expectations quite reasonable here," Mr Hipkins said. "When we move from Level 4 to Level 3 it doesn't mean everything goes back to normal, even if we have schools and early learning centres open they won't necessarily be fully open or open for everybody."

"There's still a lot of work going on to make sure we've got the public health risk of schools and early childhood services fully understood."

"We do need a bit of time for teachers to come back into their classrooms. It may be in the first instances they may be able to go back into their classrooms and deliver remote learning from that school environment where the broadband connection is better and they have more access to resources."

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Mr Hipkins said there may be changes at schools such as some would not be able to have assemblies "for a while", students would be asked to limit contact as much as possible and some students may continue learning from home. 

He said the workforces that created "the most anxiety when we think about reopening" were those with a high percentage in the 'at risk' Covid-19 demographic, including bus drivers, and relief teachers. 

President of the New Zealand Principals' Federation Perry Rush told Q+A called the date "a pretty realistic timeframe". 

He said schools were keen to be back as soon as possible, but that would rely on the Government's decision about when the lockdown ends and if classes could be held remotely for a period of time.

"We know that schools are vulnerable and we just have to be open about that. Managing close contacts in any school community is a tough challenge, it will be interesting to see what that hybrid looks like."

Mr Rush said there were "a couple of first cabs off the rank" of which students would return first, which were the children of essential workers and senior secondary students completing NCEA.

He said there were questions about students with special and identified needs and needing to get those students back to school "as quickly as possible". 

Last week, Mr Hipkins presented to the Covid-19 select committee, warning parents to prepare for a variety of different scenarios and for potentially keeping children at home for longer than the end of the lockdown. 

"It would be wrong to assume all schools and early learning services would simply reopen as we move out of Level 4 lockdown. That's not going to happen frankly. 

"I'm not saying they won't reopen at all, but simply saying they'll all be open from day one isn't a realistic option."

When the country moved to alert Level 3, only children of essential workers were able to attend school. 

Mr Hipkins said it was likely the "stepping down" criteria of moving back to Level 3 would be different from when the country moved up to Level 4. 

"Don't assume when we move from 4 to 3, whenever that may be, that everything will go back at once."

This week, an $87.7 million emergency funding boost was announced including 17,000 laptops, 10,000 internet connections and two new television channels for education-related content.

One of the channels will be provided by TVNZ, taking the place of TVNZ2 +1 on Freeview 7 and Sky 502, with beloved children's TV star Suzy Cato involved.