Around 70 students did not return to a Whangārei school after last year's Covid-19 lockdown and Northland principals worry this year is going to be worse.
After a short-lived orange life, Northland is back in the red light setting, just a couple of weeks ahead of students returning to schools for term 1. Schools reopen for students between January 31 (at the earliest); and February 8 (at the latest).
The move to red has stirred some anxiety among Northland school principals, particularly around student absenteeism and face coverings at school.
All students Years 4 and up are required to wear face coverings indoors and when in close contact with others on school premises.
Kaitaia School principal Brendon Morrissey says mask-wearing is a huge issue simply because there are a lot of kids.
"At my school alone, we've got 250 kids from Year 3 upwards. I have Year 3 and 4 composite classrooms and you can't have half the kids wearing a mask and half not - that's just stupid, so of course, all those classrooms have to be masked.
"My question to the ministry was: who's paying for the masks, who's washing those masks and who's replacing those masks – we are talking every day here."
The principal was very concerned about the possibility of high student absenteeism this year.
"We had many families who kept their kids home last year worried about Delta variant. I can see a lot of kids not coming back to school.
"We are going to have a number of parents not wanting their kids to wear masks all day, and conversely, we will have parents who do not want their kids to be in classrooms with kids that aren't wearing the masks.
"We will have the full range, a full spectrum of the perspectives in the mix.
"Ultimately, schools will follow the rules provided for us and try to exercise a little bit of commonsense. We will talk to our families in our communities as we go."
Morrissey said principals and board members were constantly walking in a minefield because of a wide range of opinions and viewpoints on everything related to Covid-19.
"It is all well and good for the Ministry to put out all the rules and regulations, but we have to contextualise it for our community, our families, and our kids.
"And that is a very big thing to ask. It takes considerable time to implement."
Under new Covid-19 rules and regulations, if a positive Covid-19 case is detected in a school, closing the school may not be required, and should only occur in consultation with, and direction from the Ministry of Health or in discussion with the Director of Education.
According to Morrissey, it would not help with stopping transmission.
"Over 90 per cent of our children travel to school by bus with kids from other classrooms, when they go out for morning tea, so narrowing it down to just one classroom and keeping them home, while everyone else comes back, I don't think it is going to stop it."
Tai Tokerau Principal's Association president Pat Newman urged parents to send their children to school.
"They have missed enough last year. We are not going to grab them and shove a big needle into them. No child in any school will be vaccinated unless parents give permission."
Newman, the principal at Whangārei's Hora Hora Primary School, said student absenteeism could be a major issue this year.
"Last year, 70 kids did not return after the first Covid lockdown. A lot of schools in Northland faced a similar problem.
"The parents are scared and confused, but it is important that they send their kids to school."
With regards to education at red, Newman said it was not going to make a lot of difference.
"I think we have got to learn to adapt to different situations. For instance, if we get mumps or measles, we do not shut the school down for a couple of cases, if we get 20 or 30, we do.
"If parents and teachers use commonsense, then we'll get through it."