Some Auckland primary principals are desperate to reopen their schools, while others worry vaccination rates are too low.
And there are concerns that staggered attendance for primary schools could be unworkable for some teachers - many of whom are also parents.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced this week that Years 1-8 in Auckland and Waikato Covid level 3 areas could be returning to school shortly, with an indicative date of November 15.
But he admitted the decision had been keeping him awake at night, and he'd asked the Ministry of Education for more advice.
The ministry is consulting principals on whether the return date is feasible and how it could work.
But NZ Principals' Federation president Perry Rush wrote to members today suggesting staggered attendance would be too complex - and possibly unnecessary given low numbers of students were likely to attend.
A group of principals had a "constructive" meeting with the ministry over Zoom on Thursday to talk through the options, Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Stephen Lethbridge said.
APPA was now asking Auckland's 420-odd member schools for their views, which would inform the ministry's advice to Hipkins later next week.
Asked if there was consensus among principals, Lethbridge said that was part of what made the issue so complicated.
"We've got suburbs and regions in Auckland where there is a lot of hesitancy, concern and worry about coming back, suburbs where vaccine rates are high, vaccine rates are low...what we don't want to do is a reopening plan that reinforces inequity."
November 15 will also be the last day unvaccinated teachers can be at school.
"It's a pretty turbulent time to be trying to manage the staffing situation and school returns. So all that feeds into the mix," Lethbridge said.
"Whatever we do in coming weeks - whether we open on the 15th...or whether a week later, or a week after that or next year, we still need to have a feasible, manageable plan that allows unvaccinated students back into school when Covid is living in the community."
Swanson School principal Leandro Piantelli believed rostering students into shifts or alternating days would be "a nightmare" and impossible to implement.
About 60 per cent of his staff had children, mostly at other schools.
"How would we work out when staff kids have to be in school or at home, to match with teachers coming to school or staying home?"
Piantelli's staff were 100 per cent vaccinated and desperate to get back and see the students, he said. His preference would be a November 15 start date but he wanted it to be "all or nothing".
He had seen feedback showing a number of other principals had similar views.
Social distancing with 600 kids had proven impractical, but the school could follow good hygiene practices, sanitising and ventilating classrooms and ensuring parents stayed at the gate, he said.
At Rongomai School in Ōtara, principal Paeariki Johnson was waiting on the ministry's decision but reckoned a one-size-fits-all approach would not work.
With Rongomai's low vaccination rates - around 60 per cent are fully vaccinated and first doses are in the mid-70s - it was "scary" for whānau to send their children back.
Areas with a high Māori and Pacific population were more at risk from the virus, but with fewer devices and low internet connectivity, her students were also missing out at home.
"We just want to be able to guarantee that it is safe for all our tamariki, and all our staff. There are so many issues that need to be addressed right now and I don't know what the solution is going to be."
Johnson wanted each school board to be able to decide whether and how to open up - but that would be a big responsibility to carry, she said.
Trudi Brocas, principal of Central Auckland Specialist School, was pleased schools had a voice and the ministry was keeping staff and students' health at the centre of decisions.
Many CASS students, who have special needs, would be particularly vulnerable to Covid. The school also had challenges like being spread across eight different sites, and how many staff were required for students who might need help with toileting or medication.
"Some of our learners are unable to comply with health and safety guidelines so we need to think carefully about how we manage the environment so they are safe, even if they can't social distance or won't wear masks."
*This article originally said Rongomai's first dose rate was around 60 per cent - in fact around 60 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated and more than 70 per cent of people have had their first dose.