Some Tauranga schools were "pretty happy" with attendance rates as students returned to the classroom, but one school leader said there was "a reluctance" to wear face masks.
Face masks are recommended in classrooms under alert level 2, but they are not mandatory for teachers or students.
Tauranga Boys' College principal Robert Mangan said it had been a "very settled" first day back at school, despite attendance numbers being "lighter" than they would normally expect for this time of year.
And he said there seemed to be "reluctance from the majority" of students to wear masks while on-site.
He believed most students would be carrying them because they were needed to catch public transport and enter stores.
"I have talked to them about being understanding and accepting of individual choice around wearing masks," he said.
"Currently there is a reluctance [to wear one]."
The day started with a "virtual" message from Mangan welcoming each form class and reminding them of alert level 2 protocols.
He said it was important student education "got back on track" quickly, which would be made easier with face-to-face learning.
"It is way better in terms of teachers being able to respond immediately."
Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said about 25 per cent of students were wearing masks on Thursday.
"The significant message at our school around masks was while it's not mandated, we highly recommend it, but it comes down to your decision as to whether or not you want to wear a mask.
"We're supportive of whatever choice they make," he said.
Russell said he was "really proud" of the senior leaders who took initiative to be role models and wear masks.
Otumoetai College senior leader Rosie Gordon, 18, said the first day back had gone "really well" and leaders had a meeting on Wednesday where they discussed how to promote wearing masks and keeping everyone safe at school.
"We put together a promotional video and did stuff for the school Instagram," she said.
"Showing up today, it was cool seeing quite a few people wearing masks. Not everyone of course, but more than what I would have expected."
Rosie said everyone was "easing back into it" and there had not been too much work.
"I think teachers understand it's a gradual thing to get back into it so they're taking it slow and not dumping too much stuff on us."
Katikati College acting principal Louise Buckley said the number of students and staff wearing masks was "lower than I would have expected", but the attendance rate was "better than I thought it would be".
"We've been very clear with our community that whilst it's not mandatory, [mask-wearing] is strongly recommended. We've made it very much that it is a personal choice for students and staff."
She said there had been "a real positive feel" at school.
"I think students and staff were pleased to be able to be back, to have that sense of normality and an opportunity to connect with their friends.
Te Puke High School principal Alan Liddle said the day had been a "good reconnection" with the students.
Liddle said some were "a little apprehensive" about being back at school, but in general, kids were "really happy to be back with their friends".
"Particularly the senior kids - they're very keen to connect up back with their teachers [to] make sure they're on track with their learning.
"I think schools in general struggle to get kids back after lockdown but we've been pretty happy. We've focused on the senior students and [the vast majority had] certainly taken up that opportunity."
Only senior students went back to school on Thursday, and juniors would be going back today, he said.
Tauriko Primary School principal Suzanne Billington said day one had gone "really smoothly" and attendance numbers were "pretty good".
"Kids are absolutely excited and happy to be back and I think many teachers."
Billington said it was "a little bit of a challenge" doing "staggered exits" out of school at the end of the day so kids did not come out "too closely together".
A Ministry of Education Covid-19 bulletin issued on Tuesday said wearing a face covering at school remained a decision for the individuals and whānau.
"Whatever decisions students and teachers make, it is their own to make and needs to be respected," it said.
"There will be differences of view about the use of face coverings, and it is important to show tolerance towards individual choice in this matter."
It reiterated that wearing a face-covering was not a requirement for anyone in a school setting.