All Year 1-10 students in Auckland and Waikato will be able to return to school from next Wednesday, November 17, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.
Years 9 and 10 would be able to return fulltime, but most students in years 1-8 would be returning part-time.
Hipkins said the public health advice supported the return to onsite learning.
Children in years 4 and up would mostly be wearing masks, he said. Other measures to mitigate the risk of Covid included ventilating classrooms, limiting the number of students on site, and making sure groups of children kept distance from each other.
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There was flexibility for schools and kura to decide what worked best for their learners and community.
"That might be by alternating days or half weeks - through year levels, or through whānau groupings."
Fulltime learning would continue on site for those children who had already needed it - for example, so their parents could go to work.
"Lockdowns can be stressful for children and young people, so returning to some on-site learning will mean they can reconnect with their teacher and friends.
"Starting this month will provide certainty ahead of the Christmas break and before the new school year starts."
Hipkins said the health advice showed in other countries, out-of-school activities created a greater risk of transmission than did places of learning.
"It is clear that the risk of reopening schools is outweighed by the benefits of kids re-engaging with their learning face-to-face in this context," Hipkins said.
He said the balance of risk had shifted due to really strong vaccination rates.
"As vaccinations rates increase, including the requirement for teachers to have at least one Covid-19 vaccination from Monday, the risk to children and students is lowered."
Hipkins thanked those who had provided feedback over the past fortnight.
"We...have taken on board that you wanted a few extra days' preparation time, and for all students not to come back at once."
He also thanked parents, caregivers and teachers who had been doing an "incredible" job helping children with online learning - and acknowledged school leaders and teachers who would be preparing for hybrid learning from November 17.
The Government had previously indicated that primary schools could be returning in a staged way from November 15. It has been consulting with principals from affected areas over the date and how they could make it work.
Schools have been grappling with numerous challenges including how to open while case numbers continue to climb, with some parents worried it's not safe to send their children back.
Monday is also the last day for teachers and support staff to have their first dose of the vaccine, meaning some schools could be losing staff next week.
The Auckland Primary Principals' Association has been gathering feedback from hundreds of members and a group of principals had been talking with the Ministry of Education about the issues they faced and possible solutions.
The Ministry of Education then took its advice to Education Minister Chris Hipkins to inform today's announcement.
Children in Auckland have been away from school for close to three months. While many have been learning online, some haven't had access to devices or good internet connections, and have been working through hard packs of school material.
It's not clear how many children will return next week or even before the end of the year, with some parents fearful that their child could pick up an infection and bring it home to other vulnerable family members.
The National Party this morning called for schools to reopen immediately, with funding to help with catch-up initiatives in 2022 for students who had been affected by lockdown.
Its "Back on Track" plan includes a $400 per-student funding boost next year as well as setting attendance targets and required daily maths and literacy teaching.
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker told the Herald earlier he thought schools shouldn't reopen fully until vaccination is available for under-12s.
"I just don't think that would be compatible with trying to keep numbers down at all."
Paediatrician Dr Jin Russell last month said parents would have a mixture of relief and anxiety at the prospect of schools reopening.
"A staged return, where students may attend on alternative days, can help reduce the risk of transmission, and is an approach that has been used overseas. Taking learning activities outdoors as much as possible is also a smart approach to lower the risk of any Covid-19 transmission."
She has also called for a "gold standard" approach to preventing transmission in schools, including improving air filtration and ventilation.
"At a population level, the greatest acute health risks posed by reopening schools is not to students themselves...but to unvaccinated older family members. Infected children may transmit the virus within their households."
That meant it was important for older people to get vaccinated as soon as they could.
Children under 12 can't yet be vaccinated. While it's rare for them to get really sick from the virus, it's not impossible.
As of November 9, the current outbreak had seen 4666 total cases, 789 of them children aged 0-9. Fourteen of those children had ended up in hospital - making up about 5 per cent of total Covid hospitalisations.
Among children aged 10-19, 763 had caught Covid in the latest outbreak, with just six ending up in hospital - 2 per cent of all hospitalisations.