Teachers say they’re in for a "frustrating" time come Alert Level 2 as they try to help students who've been out earning money instead of credits during school hours catch up.
All 13 high schools around the top of the South Island have cases of pupils working and missing out on online lessons.
Buller High School Principal Andrew Basher says students were emailing teachers “and saying they weren't available to be at that lesson or they weren't available to complete an assignment because they were working, they were essential workers”.
Mr Basher and the board wrote to three employers about their obligations under Section 30 of the Education Act, which restricts students under the age of 16 from being employed during school hours.
He says the response from employers was that “they needed these students because of the unprecedented demand on their services and they didn't have enough staff to cover that demand and so they needed these students during the work day”.
Top of the South Secondary Principals' Association’s John Maguire says there may be situations where “parents, mum or dad or uncle, have lost a job and an income source via a child, maybe, who have been very beneficial to the family”.
He says principals don’t want to second-guess that.
“What we want to do is to encourage our students to be at school or also signal, and also just to signal to employers to make them available to be at school."
The Education Ministry says it's received no complaints about specific employers, but during term time, students are not to be employed in school hours. That includes right now, where distance learning is taking place.
It pointed out that if a student aged 16 years or over makes an informed decision to leave school and pursue full-time employment, then they are entitled to do so but should formally advise their school of that decision.
“We would expect employers to do the right thing if a student over the age of 16 is still in school and wants to do some part-time work by making shifts available outside of normal school hours," the ministry said.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins says it’s important that people exercise good judgment.
“The unusual circumstances we’ve been in should not be seen as a signal that education is optional. It’s not. If families believe there is a need for some flexibility in exceptional circumstances, they must seek agreement with their schools," Mr Hipkins said.
1 NEWS reached out to a number of essential services, including petrol stations, supermarkets and orchards. None were aware of any students working during school hours and say the rules have been made clear to individual businesses.
Mr Basher says the impact of students working will be realised when they return to the classroom.
“They’re going to be behind, they're going to be asking the teacher for catch-up, which is going to create even bigger frustrations for teachers when already the whole class in general is going to be behind where they should be at this time of year," Mr Basher said.
He says schools want “every kid to reach their pinnacle and we don't want them lowering their sights because of a bit of money”.