About 82 per cent of children have returned to school today, but a rumour about forced medication appears to have scared many parents away at some Northland schools.
Parents were as excited as their children as they arrived at one Auckland school, decile-5 Flanshaw Road School in Te Atatū, even though it is close to one of the deadliest Covid-19 clusters at St Margaret's rest home.
Principal Cherie Taylor-Patel reported a turnout of 73 per cent.
Principals' Federation president Perry Rush said an informal Facebook poll of about 350 schools showed an average turnout across the country of 82 per cent.
But there was a wide range from near 100 per cent in some schools down to just 28 per cent at Ōtangarei School in Whangārei, where principal Myles Ferris said many families had been scared by a rumour circulating on social media.
"Apparently there's a message going around that Oranga Tamariki and police are going to come in and take children away without the parents' knowledge and have them medicated, all without informing the parents," he said.
"I saw a bit of it late last night and didn't think much of it, it seemed to be just conspiracy theories, but it's gone through my community."
He has posted a message on his school's Facebook page this morning saying he would never let a child be taken by Oranga Tamariki or be medicated without talking to the parents first.
Leanne Otene, principal of another Whangārei school, Manaia View, said 50 per cent of her students turned up, but that was partly because about 25 per cent had asthma and other conditions that made them vulnerable to any Covid-19 outbreak.
Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman said 70 per cent of his students at Hora Hora School turned up, but he had also been asked on Facebook about the Oranga Tamariki rumour.
"I nearly fell off my seat in laughter," he said.
"It's just that usual feeling of the unknown. It's an unusual Te Tai Tokerau belief."
In South Auckland, Ormiston Primary School also reported a low turnout of 62 per cent. Principal Heath McNeil said many parents came from countries where the pandemic is still raging and much tighter controls are still in place.
However, Red Beach School on the Whangaparāoa Peninsula, where teachers dressed in wigs and decked the school in balloons to welcome children back, reported 95 per cent attendance and "lots of happy faces".
"Lots of kids were coming through the gate with projects and things that they made in the lockdown," said principal Julie Hepburn.
At Flanshaw Road School, Italian-born dad Franco Cardinali said he was happy to bring his two boys back to school because the epidemic seemed to be "under control" in New Zealand - unlike Italy, where schools are still closed.
"There's still a little bit of concern, but they need their friends," he said.
Parents Marcel and Rebecca Fletcher said their two children aged 7 and 5 had loved being at home with their parents, but both parents were working at home so schoolwork had "kind of been on the backburner to be honest".
Their son Ante, 7, said he was "a little bit scared about going back to school".
But both Emily Knight, 8, and her mother Fiona Knight said they were "excited" to be back.
"I get to see my friends again," Emily said.
Fiona said the family had spent time together playing games and "doing stuff together" in the lockdown.
"We have not had that time together as a family," she said.
"But I work for an organisation that is quite aware of the risks, so I'm not bothered [with school resuming]."
Principal Cherie Taylor-Patel said hand sanitiser had been placed at all doors for children to wash their hands going into or out of their rooms, and local cleaning company WashRite had done a free "deep clean" of the whole school.
Two teachers stayed away because of health concerns, and she has asked one of them and another staff member to ring all the families whose children didn't turn up to arrange things for those children to learn at home.
However, the school has not yet received the promised free computers from the Ministry of Education for any of the 77 students who needed them out of the school roll of 400.
"That is why we made extra home packs [of written materials] apart from what the ministry provided," she said.
Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Stephen Lethbridge said 90 per cent of children turned up at his Pt Chevalier School and attendance for most schools across Auckland was between 80 per cent and 100 per cent.
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Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association president Steve Hargreaves said his attendance rate at Macleans College was 96.3 per cent.
Rangitoto College reported 98 per cent, St Peter's College 96 per cent, and several other secondary schools were in the mid-nineties.
Hargreaves said fears of hundreds being left on the roadside because of reduced capacity on buses did not materialise.
"We picked up a couple, and I just had an angry email from one dad whose son missed out," he said.
"But we had huge numbers of parents driving their kids to school. There was a bit of a traffic jam outside this morning."
Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said AT had no reports of children being left behind, even though bus capacity has been reduced to 43 per cent of normal because of rules requiring only one passenger in each pair of seats, no one sitting close to the driver and no one standing in the aisle.
"We estimate buses, trains and ferries in Auckland were about a third full," he said.
"We had one route in West Auckland with capacity issues but people were picked up by a following bus."