There is no good reason to keep children away from school despite the Covid-19 outbreak, Education Minister Chris Hipkins says.
Around 250,000 children were expected to return yesterday as Auckland moved to alert level 2.5. but many stayed away. Principals say parents are more fearful following Auckland's second outbreak and they would rather not take the risk of sending their children back to school.
Hipkins told Morning Report he wouldn't be asking students to go back if he thought it would put them at risk.
"All of the new cases that we're seeing of Covid-19 in the Auckland community are coming from known contacts so these were people who were already isolating so they wouldn't be in school and they wouldn't be in the workplace.
"That should give people reassurance that this cluster is being contained and therefore our decision to move down to alert level 2 is a justified one."
Hipkins said cases where there was a connection with a school were identified some time ago, the students and those around them had been tested, and the incubation period had long passed.
"We wouldn't be asking schools to reopen if we thought that was going to place students at risk.
"There is no good reason not to be sending your kids back to school at the moment."
While schools can use masks there was no plan to make them mandatory.
"One of the challenges with young people is that it's difficult to make sure that they keep them on and sometimes if you've got kids taking masks on and off the value of those masks quickly disappears and you potentially increase risk.
"The current health advice is that in a school setting masks wouldn't necessarily increase protection and in fact could do the opposite.
Green School funding controversy
The Taranaki Secondary Schools Principals' Association is demanding answers from the Education Minister about the private Green School receiving almost $12 million in government funding.
They've written an open leader to Hipkins about the school receiving funding as a "shovel ready" project.
In the letter, association chair Martin Chamberlain said members were united in their opposition to the Green School funding.
"While we see environmentally-based education as laudable, and 'shovel- ready' funding to assist our present economic situation as sensible, we cannot accept taxpayer funding being directed to individuals who will privately own the expanded asset and profit from the venture," Chamberlain wrote.
"There is dire need for this funding in our state and state integrated schools."
He asked the minister to explain himself.
"Were you aware of all the ramifications when you signed off on this particular project, if not why not?
"If you were not fully aware of these issues, what do you propose to do by way of remedy?"
Hipkins told Morning Report the money was coming out of economic development funding for shovel-ready projects, not education funding, and he was not one of the authorising ministers.
He said the Government was spending nearly $3 billion on new schools, expansions, refurbishments, redevelopments and deferred maintenance projects in state schools.
"That's a lot of investment in our state school system."