High school students and teachers outside Auckland fear they'll be left "high and dry" after missing out on the NCEA bonus credits scheme by four days.
Last week Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced students who had spent 20 school days in levels 3 or 4 this year would be entitled to bonus NCEA credits in recognition of the difficulty they had faced.
But with the move to level 2 outside Auckland, most students are returning to school today. They've had 16 days learning from home - just short of the threshold.
Education authorities say they are aware of the issue but have not yet explained how they plan to make things fair.
• NZQA delays end-of-year exams, portfolio due dates by two weeks
• Schools prepare for voluntary student mask rules
• Schools, UCOL reopen under alert level 2
• 'Emotional hellscape': The masked professor vs the unmasked student
Hipkins' announcement means students who meet the threshold will get an extra "learning recognition credit" for every five credits earned. Other changes include lower thresholds for merit or excellence certificate endorsements and University Entrance.
Almost 7000 people have signed a petition calling for the more generous scheme to apply to the whole country, whether or not they have reached the 20-day threshold.
"We are struggling and we are drowning. NCEA is difficult enough as it is with balancing home-life and work, but when you throw in the mix of lockdown - well you simply have no idea how much harder that makes things," the petition says.
It says students need face-to-face learning, and lockdowns take their toll whether they are a month or a fortnight long.
"You stated that if we were doing school from home for 20 days or more then we would receive a lowered credit count. Well, for Aucklanders that's great. But you've left the rest of us high and dry," it says.
Horowhenua College head of physical education and health Hanchen Johnson told the Herald her students were affected just as much by lockdown as those in Auckland but now were not entitled to extra credits.
"Even the very good students struggle to maintain the same amount of work that they produce at school at home," she said.
Johnson works in a lower socio-economic community, with many families either not having access to learning devices, sharing a device or lacking Wi-Fi.
"Some of my students have had three weeks of no learning at all," she said.
"This is not fair as it is placing a lot of stress on the students and their wellbeing. The NCEA announcement is not making learning and life experiences equitable."
In the South Island, there were students that couldn't go to school in term 1 due to flooding.
"These poor students have had it worse than mine but no one has considered them and how tough the last two years have been. These few credits could be the decision between whether a student can go to university and become a nurse or a teacher."
Ethan Reille, a Year 12 student from Waitaki Boys High in Ōamaru, said he was "angry, upset and bloody anxious" and many other students were stressed out.
Reille - who is chair of the Waitaki District Youth Council - said in an email to supporters that many students were unsure if they would pass.
"The Government needs to set out new rules for eligibility of these support conditions, otherwise our education system will continue to crumble."
Following Cabinet's decision on Tuesday to move the country to level 2, secretary for education Iona Holsted told school leaders the ministry would be considering how to "make sure all students receive appropriate support" even if they did not meet the 20 school day threshold.
All schools and kura had faced disruption from the lockdown and ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, she said.
"We are working closely with the sector to consider how we make sure all students receive appropriate support, even if they do not meet the 20 school days in alert level 3 or 4 four-week threshold."
Further support could also be offered to help Auckland students who were in extended lockdown.
"As always, our goal is to ensure all students have a fair opportunity to achieve NCEA, regardless of location or alert level status."
Updates would be provided in future bulletins to school leaders.
The bonus credits decision came a week after NZQA announced it was moving exams and portfolio due dates back a fortnight.
Almost 25,000 people signed a petition calling for the two-week extension to be reversed, saying it would cut into holidays and reduce their ability to earn money over summer.
However other students have supported the move. Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate head girl Ledwina Katuke told RNZ the decision was "a great thing for our students" as it gave them more time to prepare.