A quarter of Northland parents are still keeping their children at home, despite a marginal increase in school attendance nationally since schools reopened for all students on Monday.
The Ministry of Education says data from 1833 of the country's 2517 schools shows that average attendance has risen from 79 per cent on Monday to 81 per cent on Tuesday and 82 per cent on Wednesday.
However there is a clear north/south pattern, ranging from only 75 per cent attendance in Tai Tokerau (Northland) up to 91 per cent in Otago/Southland.
Auckland, Waikato and Hawke's Bay/Tairāwhiti are also still under 80 per cent, apparently reflecting continued nervousness about Covid-19 risks especially in the Māori and Pasifika communities.
Ōtangarei School in Whangārei, where only 28 per cent of students turned up on Monday after a rumour that Oranga Tamariki was going to uplift children and force them to take medications, lifted its attendance rate to 50 per cent on Wednesday, with a further 7 per cent absent for valid reasons such as sickness.
Principal Myles Ferris, who also chairs the national Māori Principals' Association Te Akatea, said some families were attending tangi and some had gone to other parts of the country for the lockdown and had not yet returned.
"So I think there's a range of different reasons, but I still think there's a group who are still very concerned about the potential for the disease to get into their homes," he said.
Māori communities in Northland and some other regions put up roadblocks to keep visitors out during the lockdown, remembering high Māori death rates when European settlers introduced new diseases in the nineteenth century and again in the 1918 influenza epidemic.
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Ferris said all roadblocks had been removed now but added: "It was all part of quite a strong Māori response to the risks that the pandemic would bring to our whānau".
"We are actually very responsible for looking after the welfare of our own people," he said.
"When it came to people going on to the marae, when it came to manning the checkpoints, we were very proactive, so I think Māori have taken the whole distancing requirement in levels 3 and 4 very seriously, and as a result of that many are still concerned."
He expects concerns to diminish gradually if there are no further Covid-19 outbreaks.
"I'm hoping that by the end of next week we'll have most of our students back," he said.
Pasifika Principals' Association president Jason Swann also pointed to historical reasons for concerns, including the recent measles epidemic which killed 83 people in Samoa late last year.
"Samoa was tragically hit with that and people are just a little bit cautious," he said.
Attendance at his school, Ōtāhuhu Primary, has risen from 55 per cent on Monday to 67 per cent on Wednesday.
"We are trying to take a patient and gentle approach," he said.
"Parents and families will have different needs. Some of that might be going round and showing relevant and appropriate information to try and allay some of the anxiety in the community."
• Level 2 rules: covid19.govt.nz.
Per cent of school students at school, May 20
90% Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast
87% Canterbury/Chatham Islands
83% Bay of Plenty/Waiariki
79% Auckland and Waikato
77% Hawke's Bay/Tairāwhiti
75% Tai Tokerau (Northland)
82% NEW ZEALAND
Source: Ministry of Education.