Principals are now being given the option of allowing Year 12 and 13 students back to school early for face-to-face learning during alert level 3.
Ministry of Education head Iona Holsted told schools in a bulletin last night that she will confirm today the date students can return.
"It is likely to be either Wednesday, August 19 or Thursday, August 20. Our objective is Wednesday," she said.
The health requirements are as follows:
• Physical distancing must be observed at all times – 1m inside and 2m outside.
• Students must be organised into bubbles of no more that 20 with one teacher.
• The student make-up of each bubble cannot change throughout alert level 3.
• Bubbles must not mix with each other inside or outside in the school grounds.
• A teacher cannot be associated with more than one bubble of students but a bubble of students can have more than one teacher throughout alert level 3.
• Rigorous hand washing and drying must be adhered to and hand sanitiser available at the entrance to classrooms.
• Coughing and sneezing must be into the elbow.
• Students and teachers must stay home or be asked to go home if they are unwell.
"Principals can determine the configuration of bubbles – principals and teachers are in the best position to know what is needed for their students, and which of their students may be more vulnerable, learn better in a structured environment or whose learning is dependent on portfolio or laboratory work," Holsted said.
She said examples of situations principals might consider are supervision of online learning,
tutorial groups and subject groups (e.g. chemistry).
"Different students may attend for different times of the day, or different days of the week," she said.
Principals will need to provide "a very brief description of their proposal" and sign an attestation that they will meet the public health requirements and email the online form to Holsted for approval.
Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor has been imploring authorities to allow flexibility, especially for students so close to crucial assessments.
On Friday he said 11 more full school days out of the classroom would be expensive, especially for students sitting Cambridge examinations. He didn't want 2020 to be a wasted year for students.
"I'm ecstatic. It's great news," he told Checkpoint about yesterday's announcement.
"Our young men will be ecstatic about this ... it gives them the opportunity to get prompt responses from teachers. Anything we can give them they'll be grateful for."
He said the decision was complicated because the Government would have to work through the Health Order to give students a dispensation to return and he expected this to happen tomorrow.
It would mean a lot of organisation to ensure physical distancing of one metre inside and two metres outside, classes of 20 or fewer and teachers only being associated with one group of students although the bubble of students could have more than one teacher.
"It might mean students aren't with us for the entire day ...
"Any form of face-to-face contact is great for our young people."
Asked if the decision favoured high-decile schools and unfairly disadvantaged schools with fewer resources, he disagreed, saying it offered schools greater flexibility to be able to make decisions for themselves and their community.
He said one of the critical groups schools needed to be helping were students on vocational pathways who did a lot of practical work as part of their courses.
"They will fall behind very quickly indeed."
The decision does not mean that Year 12 and 13 students have to come to school every day.
"Any face-to-face contact is better than none."
He urged all other Auckland schools to consider returning at least some of the students so they received some contact.
He said he wanted to congratulate the Ministry of Education for its decision.
He said he would be awaiting final arrangements from the ministry today but his leadership team had been working huge hours to prepare for several scenarios, including the one of having senior students return.
He has already seen some general guidelines which were "restrictive but manageable".
"We'll be good to go from Wednesday."