Rapid antigen tests for teachers and classifying school kids as close contacts only if they "kiss, cough, share a vape or sing" are new rules for schools in hope of keeping kids in class.
This week the Ministry of Education announced new rules to reduce disruption to learning as Omicron cases rise.
The introduction of RATs is one but schools have been told the 200,000 available are only to be used when all other avenues have been exhausted.
The quick tests can only be used when schools are at risk of having no staff member available to supervise students who have to attend school in person, such as children of essential workers.
Auckland Teachers' Association President Steven Hargreaves said teachers should be regarded as essential workers and wanted to see widespread use of RATs.
"I would rather use a $12 RAT and get a fit and healthy teacher back in front of the class than spend $300 a day on a reliever," he said.
"We have RATs sitting here but we are not allowed to use them until our staffing is depleted enough that we can not supply teachers to teach children of essential workers.
"The students have missed out on enough in the past two years and online learning has serious social implications and increases the digital divide."
The Ministry said there would be another 450,000 RATs available next week.
The news comes the same day New Zealand recorded a new high of 3297 community cases of Covid-19 with 179 people in hospital.
Hargreaves pointed out one of the main goals of the Ministry of Education was to keep children in class with their assigned teacher - and he said RATs are the way to do it.
"We seem to have lost sight of the goal."
The Ministry of Education warned the tests were "a last resort" because they were not as reliable as PCR tests and sometimes gave a false result.
The Ministry said that meant a teacher who had Covid could return to class and unknowingly infect students.
But school heads said the risk of this happening was low as mask use was enforced - making class time as safe as a visit to the supermarket.
Schools were encouraged to exhaust other avenues such as rearranging timetables and classes, using relief teachers, using unregistered teachers, and using non-teaching staff to provide supervision before using RATs.
Some good news, Hargreaves said, was the relaxing of the close contact classification.
The previous classification meant a positive case wearing a mask needed to be in class for more than two hours for classmates to be close contacts.
Now schoolmates will only be identified as close contacts if there has been "direct contact with respiratory secretions such as kissing, spitting, hongi, sharing cigarettes or vapes, singing, shouting, coughing, sneezing, contact sports or physical play in close proximity."
Hargreaves said unless there was widespread use of RATs the only way to ensure a good supply of teachers was a move to phase 3 of the Omicron plan.
This meant only households were considered close contacts and students and teachers only stayed away if they were sick.
Patrick Drumm, the headmaster at Mt Albert Grammar, welcomed the relaxing of close contacts but agreed widespread use of RATs was needed.
"We want to do everything we can to keep students in class without resorting to online learning," he said.
"We are looking at purchasing our own RATs to keep the best teachers in front of our classes."
Drumm said there was 100 per cent compliance with mask use at the school and more than 90 per cent attendance.
He said the risk of a false negative RAT result from a non-symptomatic teacher who wore a mask in class was small.
"The risk we are taking outweighs the long-term effect of having students at home and away from the best learning environment."
"We are trusting science."
School heads also welcomed the news that children who had not received a result from their day 5 test could return to their school on day 11 if they are showing no symptoms.
This news comes as labs processing results are swamped, with tests taking five days and longer to process.
Health teams said the delays are due to a large increase in demand from people going to get tested, with 32,984 tests completed in 24 hours one day this week.