Tai Tokerau educators on the frontline of the Omicron outbreak are frustrated they have to fight for the "safety tools" to keep their doors open - because they lack the critical worker label.
They are calling for teachers to be included in an exemption scheme that lets certain critical workers avoid close contact isolation requirements if they return a negative rapid antigen test (RATs).
The situation shows a lack of "commonsense", says Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association chairman Pat Newman, made worse because staff for school lunch programmes, who sometimes work in the same place as teachers, are included in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) exemption scheme.
They will get RATs tests, but schools face a tougher path to securing them.
Schools and kura were told they would be part of the scheme if they meet criteria such as a lack of staff on-site to look after students unable to learn from home.
And some boarding school hostel staff are included in the scheme.
Newman found it strange that although schools have to remain open teachers aren't designated frontline workers and do not get "safety tools".
"If schools are to remain open then it's not just a matter of physical safety, but schools have to have their mental safety. The staff have to feel confident that they are safe. One of the things that could help is the RAT kit," Newman said.
He said the commonsense around kitchen staff "obviously" needing RATs fell short of applying to teachers.
"I don't think commonsense has been used this time if we are being honest, the approach is not balanced.
"If they expect us to be on the frontline, keep our doors open and continue teaching children in the middle of the biggest pandemic we have ever had and going to have, then they need to provide teachers with the safety tools."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced last Friday that close to 700,000 tests were available for schools and early learning services across the country.
However, RATs will be provided when needed to schools that are registered with MBIE.
Isabel Evans, hautū (leader) Te Tai Raro (North), said schools and early learning facilities across Northland were registering with MBIE's Critical Services Register and ordering RATs from the Ministry of Education (MoE) for staff.
Evans said schools and early learning facilities began to receive RATs on Monday.
Ruakākā School principal Marilyn Dunn said even though they were not seen as critical workers they were as prepared as they could be.
"We are all set up with our online studies like I am sure many other schools would be, and we have done it for the past two years. We are okay to proceed with it if we have to."
Sean Teddy, hautū (leader) operations and integration, said each school/kura would need to decide if RATs were right for their circumstances.
"RAT testing is approximately 80 per cent effective, which raises the possibility of false negatives and the attached risk involved in a close contact returning to work with children.
"We would encourage schools to look at a range of options, including online learning, Limited Authority to Teach solutions or using other vaccinated and police vetted adults to support their students."
School lunch providers registered directly with MBIE and would receive their supply from the Ministry of Health distribution points, said Teddy.
"As has happened throughout the pandemic response, policies will be reviewed as the situation changes to make sure they are responding to the needs of the education sector."
Edith Davis-Sigley, who leads the school lunch programme at Hora Hora Primary School, said kitchen staff welcomed being part of the close contact exemption scheme.
"It also means we can still operate under phases 2 and 3," she said. "This will make it easier for our staff to access RATs and gives them a fair bit of confidence."
The education ministry confirmed the close contact exemption scheme does not apply to students.