Schools may stagger reopening days next week - and may let some students take longer to "transition" back to school if their parents have safety concerns.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed, as signalled last week, that schools and early childhood services will be open again for all students from Monday, May 18.
But a Ministry of Education bulletin says schools "can start a transition period from Thursday May 14", bringing different year levels back to school gradually over several days.
It also says schools can provide "a transition arrangement" for children whose parents feel it's still too risky for them to go back to school.
"We recognise that for large schools, in particular, having a large number of students return on the first day may not be the best way to ensure good systems are in place and operating to ensure public health requirements are met," the ministry says.
"Schools have also advised that this would help transition staff back on site after a long period away.
"We also recognise that some of you would like to transition students back in a managed way over two days. First and foremost it is important that all children can come to school, however if you work with your parent community to work out a way to transition returning students, then you may do that.
"Schools can start a transition period from Thursday 14 May.
"Like you, we also know that children and young people's wellbeing is important and there may be students whose parents are anxious about their return to school, as indeed the students themselves may be. In these instances, we can help you work through a transition arrangement that will take longer than the period of time talked about here."
Some private schools have already signalled that they will start this week. ACG Sunderland in Henderson told parents last week that "private schools will be able to open earlier than state schools".
"We are preparing to open next Thursday May 14 for our senior students only from 1.30pm, with all students expected to be at school on Friday May 15," it said.
NZ Educational Institute president Liam Rutherford said most teachers were now happy to return to schools despite fears expressed when the country came out of level 4 about the risk of children passing on the coronavirus to adults.
"I'm talking to an awful lot of principals, teachers and staff who are clearly excited about being able to reconnect with their children face to face," he said.
However he said Ardern's instruction to all workers to stay home if they have any "cough or sniffle" would put pressure on the pool of relief teachers during the winter months when colds are common.
The Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) Secondary Principals Council chair James Morris said he was still waiting for more guidance from the Ministry of Education on the health conditions that would justify teachers staying at home.
"There is still what feels like a grey area to navigate," he said.
"Principals and employers will sit down with staff if they have concerns about safety and work through what the options are.
"That is the bit of guidance that we are looking for - some clarity about who can come back and who can't, and if someone feels that they can't come back, what is the procedure? Are they on leave with pay or leave without pay, and what are the criteria that are enabling that to happen?
"The PPTA and the ministry are working together to make sure there is a really clear process."
He also expects that some parents will be anxious about sending their children back to school.
"It's just a matter of first off communicating with our families to make sure we know where they are at. One of the things about deferring it until Monday is that it gives us plenty of time to do it."
Schools will be free to reopen playgrounds, contact sports and assemblies.
Early childhood centres will also be able to reopen their sandpits and let children play with toys that other children have played with, as long as everyone washes their hands.
Detailed guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education say that the strict level 3 requirements to keep children one metre apart indoors and two metres apart outside will no longer apply when the country moves to level 2.
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Principals welcome schools reopening at level 2
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Schools under level 2 - Teaching changes and a lot more hand washing
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Many parents won't send their kids back to school in level 2
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Playgrounds, sports and assemblies back on at schools in alert level 2
For schools, the ministry says: "Children, young people and staff should be far enough away from each other so that they are not breathing on or touching each other, coupled with good hygiene practices and regular cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.
"There does not need to be a specific measurement but where practicable 1m should be used as a guide, particularly between adults."
For early childhood, it says: "There does not need to be a measurable physical distance between children or children and staff. However, adults should where practicable use 1m as a guide between themselves and other adults."
Principals' Federation president Perry Rush said schools had been given a clear signal that they were "open for business" again from Monday.
"We welcome all students back on Monday the 18th, and I underline all," he said.
He said most teachers were also ready to come back.
"We have our own internal Facebook pages for principals and teachers to participate in, and there is very, very broad acceptance of the need to get school back in session," he said.
"I think most teachers have accepted that level 2 is not level 3 or 4. The risk is significantly reduced, and at this time it's important to get into school and supporting young people.
"I think there is good reassurance there for parents that the teaching workforce is stepping into that challenge and wanting to be available for young people."
Secondary Principals Association president Deidre Shea said schools had been given "very clear advice that once a young person is well, they should be at school" in level 2.
"But we will all adopt a very careful and considered wellbeing approach to that," she said.
She said teachers with health conditions should get advice from their doctors on whether it is safe for them to return to school.
• Level 2 rules: covid19.govt.nz.