Comment by Kaye Brunton, principal of Ngāti Toa School
I think that one of the things that has made New Zealand's Covid-19 response so successful thus far has been our trust that the Government, and particularly Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has had our backs.
Until now we have had the sense that we have been doing this for the greater good and that we are all in this together. That has been at the heart of the Prime Minister's moral authority to lead us.
As an educator in a tightly-knit low-decile community, I'm immensely concerned about the contradictory and shifting advice on alert level 3. I worry that it puts this goodwill, and the successful Covid-19 response it has driven, at risk.
My school is a decile 3 medium-sized urban school. Our parents include tradies, cleaners, caregivers, solo parents, and families with three or four generations living under one roof.
Our school is intimately linked with our local people. We strive to be a hub for our families; community and kindness are central to our school kaupapa.
Like nearly every other educator in New Zealand, the initial advice that alert level 3 would mean a voluntary return to school concerned me.
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Not only in that it makes no sense to allow dozens of bubbles to mix at a school — while police will break up groups of adults if they congregate — but also that the cut-off point for this policy is conveniently matched to the age at which children can legally stay home alone. This clearly suggests it is not an education-related or a public health measure, but a plan to get parents back to work.
At least half of our teaching staff are immuno-compromised. Many of our students come from families with immuno-compromised family members (including me, the principal). It simply feels incredibly risky, and the latest "class bubble" approach doesn't seem much more satisfactory.
At the same time as teachers are having numerous others' bubbles imposed upon them, they cannot extend their own bubbles to be able to see their own families. One has to wonder what has been the point of the past four weeks' isolation for teachers and principals?
There is another "class bubble" issue here, though, and that is the social class that is going to be put most at risk by these policies in communities like ours.
I have no doubt that many of our parents' financial situations will mean they won't have any choice but to send their kids to us so they can return to work.
I'm sure that won't be the case for many high-decile schools. In these schools, more parents will have jobs that can be done from home, or can afford for one parent to stay home to care for and teach their children.
On Friday it was reported that Māori are more than twice as likely to die from coronavirus than other New Zealanders. Seventy-nine per cent of the children on our roll are Māori.
Later this month our board will have to meet to try to figure out how to deal with alert level 3. We have been put in the invidious position of having to make decisions potentially affecting the health of our staff, our children and their families, and the incomes of those families.
If the Government's advice doesn't change, our board will have to make this decision knowing that the rules they are following are no longer equitable for everyone.
So much of our public health success is due to goodwill and making sure we all pull our weight together.
Alert level 3 rules that force some families to put their lives on the line, while others are able to stay spectators from the safety of their bubble, are not equitable.
Creating an "us" and "them" will hurt many communities, and it also risks eroding the goodwill that has helped keep so many New Zealanders safe so far.
• Kaye Brunton is the principal of Ngāti Toa School in Porirua. She has worked in education in New Zealand for 40 years.