More than half of Bay schools have Covid cases, leaving hundreds of students to learn from home isolation and some parents to keep kids away from school out of fear and anxiety.
As schools adapt to dwindling classroom numbers, Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank says it is likely the Bay will reach peak case numbers in the "next week or two".
Ministry of Education figures released yesterday show 53 per cent of schools in the Bay of Plenty and Waiariki region had been impacted by positive cases in the last 10 days.
This figure stood at only 19 per cent a week ago.
The Ministry of Health reported 1174 new cases in the Bay of Plenty District Health Board area yesterday
Toi Te Ora-Public Health reported 780 new cases in Tauranga City and 215 in Western Bay of Plenty.
Oropi School principal Andrew King said 50 pupils had either tested positive for Covid-19 or were home isolating.
Six staff, including himself, were also at home isolating, he said.
Sixty per cent of students were at school on Friday and 70 children away who did not "officially" need to be. The school had a roll of about 350.
King said most classes had about 10 to 15 students present and online learning was available for those at home.
"It is quite a juggle for us stuff trying to offer both. We have staff dedicated to providing online learning and teachers who are dedicated to face-to-face."
However, King said some families had "genuine reasons" for keeping their children home from school and caring for pupils and staff was a priority.
Daily staff meetings and Board of Trustees meetings had been cancelled.
"We are trying to keep as much normality as possible at school, but we don't have time for anything else.
Paengaroa School principal Bruce Lendrem said "a lot" of students were away.
Lendrem said two weeks ago 75 per cent of pupils were at school but numbers plummeted to 45 per cent last week after rapid antigen tests were made available to the public.
"The roll suddenly diminished considerably."
He said online learning had been set up for children at home but classrooms were open as normal.
"We have a few that are staying away because they are anxious, a few that are household contacts and then we have some actual cases."
Western Bay of Plenty teacher Chelsea Old said every class at her school of about 200 pupils had less than 10 children present.
Old said this was due to students being infected with Covid or living with a positive case and many "afraid" parents were keeping children home to protect at-risk family members.
She said while the low numbers meant "a lot less culpability" in an outbreak of cases it was crucial to consider the learning needs of children at home.
"This is going to be an issue that will be pervasive all year."
Western Bay of Plenty Principals Association president Suzanne Billington said the last couple of weeks had been challenging as cases in primary, intermediate and secondary schools grew quickly.
"Schools across our region have large numbers of students away, mainly due to being positive cases or household contacts."
Billington said some whānau chose to keep their children home due to concern about possibly catching Covid in the classroom but she encouraged parents to keep children at school.
"While school is one place of risk, it is clear that we cannot pinpoint exactly where students contract Covid-19.
"Schools remain open and all have sound management practices in place to keep students as safe and healthy as possible on site.
Billington said principals were finding innovative ways to keep kids at school with low teacher numbers, including rostering, staggering start and finish times, breaking school staff into teams for learning and break times.
Senior students at Otūmoetai College and Tauranga Boys' College were learning from this week due to "a number of staff" isolating at home.
Tauranga Boys' College principal Robert Mangan said the decision on when senior students would return to school was dependent on the number of teachers available.
Junior students would continue with face-to-face learning, but Mangan said there were "high levels of absenteeism" last week, with 20 to 30 per cent of students away.
University of Canterbury Professor and Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank said case numbers had been "erratic" since rapid antigen testing was introduced and there was concern that some were not uploading test results.
Plank said it was possible Auckland's case numbers were "very close" to peaking and the Bay would likely reach peak numbers in the "next week or two", however it was difficult to be certain.
Ministry of Education Operations and Integration/Te Pae Aronui leader Sean Teddy said all schools and kura were kept updated through the school bulletins.
Regional office staff were also in regular contact with school leaders to answer any questions and identify what support was needed to implement required changes, he said.
Isolating families endure learning from home
Kate Jones' daughters couldn't wait to go back to school today after spending the last 11 days in isolation.
The Jones family had to self-isolate after a household member tested positive.
Sylvie, 9, said learning from home had been positive but she was "so excited" to be heading back to school and seeing her friends.
Ruby, 13, said she was also looking forward to going back to school as some classes like art and science were tricky to learn from home.
Their mother, Kate Jones, said she was impressed by the school's communication during their isolation period and how "tech-savvy" the learning had been.
"They know what to do now, we've been through a long journey."
Tauranga mum Theresa Richards and her two sons - aged seven and 13, tested positive for Covid this week.
Richards said she wasn't putting too much pressure on her boys to learn remotely this week as she was continuing to work from home.
Instead, her youngest son had been "running around playing" and spending time baking and gardening while her 13-year-old was completing a "couple of hours" of schoolwork each day.
She said her sons had become confident learning from home after multiple lockdowns.
"We all know how to do it. The kids came out of last lockdown really strong and they didn't miss anything."
Jones and Richards are both employees at NZME, which owns the Bay of Plenty Times, in Tauranga.