By John Gerritsen, RNZ
Auckland and Waikato schools can reopen next week but it is likely a few thousand 13 and 14 year olds will have to wait a little longer to get back to the classroom.
That is because some secondary schools in alert level 3 areas do not want their Year 9-10 students back until senior students have left for exams.
There are about 43,841 Year 9-10 students in Auckland and more than 13,000 in Waikato.
Hobsonville Point Secondary School principal Maurie Abraham said his school would make a final decision on Friday, but the junior students would not return on November 17.
"We definitely won't be bringing them back until we've finished with the seniors. So even though we can bring them back on Wednesday we'll at least delay it until sometime in the following week."
The junior students were coping well at home and it would be difficult to have them back in the school at the same time as the seniors, Abraham said.
"But secondly as well it's been quite demanding work for staff maintaining remote learning for all of our kids but also working face-to-face with seniors who need that extra support.
"I just don't want them having to deal with both focus areas on site at the same time. They're pretty exhausted."
Bringing Y9-10s back for several weeks before the summer holiday was awkward, he said.
His preference would have been for a shorter return period, such as two weeks, to concentrate just on reconnecting with students.
Pakuranga College principal Mike Williams said his school was also delaying the return of junior students until the seniors had left.
When junior students did come back, lessons would be a little different from normal, Williams said.
"What they've missed is the emotional and social development so we want to put a highly-customised programme in place for them really developing those skills, rebuilding connection, sense of belonging, relationships, social skills, all that stuff. So that's going to take a little bit of time to put together."
Teachers also needed time to plan for face-to-face and online classes because some students were likely to stay home, he said.
It was worth the effort because they had missed the students, he said.
"It's been a long time since we've seen them and we really need to rebuild those personal connections and those relationships, rebuild the connection, the sense of belonging for the kids back in their school, that's going to be critical."
Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Steve Hargreaves said most schools in the region were looking forward to welcoming back their Year 9-10 students.
Hargreaves said their return to the classroom would be relatively straightforward compared with primary schools, because all students would have to wear masks and they were eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations.