A string of Auckland schools are keeping students home for part of the week to combat Covid staffing woes.
Many teachers in the city are isolating because they have tested positive or are a close contact of another case, with one school saying staffing has become "a nightmare".
With the pool of relief teachers drying up, some schools have made the call to keep a different year level home each day so the remaining classes can be fully staffed.
Last Thursday there were 320 education facilities dealing with active Covid cases, 177 in Auckland alone. They included 50 early learning centres, 196 primaries, 17 intermediates and 57 secondary schools, according to the Ministry of Education.
That number had almost doubled in three days, and with a further surge in cases over the weekend it's likely the next data release on Monday will show more schools affected.
•Principals cry foul over schools' exclusion from RAT critical worker scheme
• Mind Matters: Covid 19 turns up anxiety for school students
• Covid 19: How schools are bracing for Omicron
• Minister considering options for unvaxxed kids to play school sport
Yesterday there were 2552 new Covid cases, with 1799 in Auckland. Numbers are also growing rapidly in other areas including 188 in Waikato and 111 in Southern DHB.
Western Springs College told parents on Friday that as the outbreak grew the school would need to move to rolling timetables.
Starting Wednesday, Years 9-12 would take turns distance learning from home, "similar to [the system] adopted by many other schools". That would continue for as many days or weeks as necessary, a newsletter to parents said.
On Friday 22 staff were off for a range of reasons, including 11 who were isolating.
"Consequently, relief is currently a nightmare to manage," the newsletter said.
Secondary Principals' Association president Vaughan Couillault confirmed there were few spare relievers in Auckland, and many were choosing to base themselves at a single school.
His school, Papatoetoe High, had six regular relievers who all worked last week as teachers had to isolate.
The school announced this afternoon that from Monday, years 10-13 would take turns having a day at home, with only year 9s on site every day.
Couillault said the students would be skipping a day of school - there was no expectation their teachers set work for them or hold online lessons.
Instead those teachers would be relieving classes for their colleagues who were isolating.
Three staff had tested positive in the past two days, while a number of teachers and support staff were isolating due to being close contacts.
Their exposure was through social or family contacts - there was no link to them being infected at school that he knew of.
Last week several principals, including Couillault, called for teachers to be considered critical workers so they could stay at school if they returned a negative rapid antigen test.
But he admitted RATs probably wouldn't help with his current staffing issues given some of those isolating were now symptomatic.
He expected the staffing situation to get worse as the outbreak grew. "For me it's a phased approach...I made the call [to roster classes] a couple days earlier than I would have liked. I'd rather be caught with too many staff available than too few."
Other schools have made the same call, including Manurewa High School, where rostering of year levels starts on Monday and continues for two weeks, with only year 9s at school every day. The school told parents it had been preparing for this possibility, and students would be supported to continue distance learning.
Further south at Pukekohe High, rolling distance learning begins tomorrow for years 11-13, meaning some students will learn from home two days each week.
"With the number of staff who are self-isolating increasing, a key priority is ensuring that we can operate on campus as safely and effectively as possible," the school told parents.
All Year 13 students at St Kentigern College were also sent home for a week last week, while Kings College is understood to have sent students home for last Friday and today.
In east Auckland Tamaki College has moved to online learning till the end of this week due to "an increasing number of positive cases and close contacts" within the school whānau.
Tamaki has told parents it will continue with online learning all this week and review at the end of the week. Only year 9 and 10s who can't be supervised at home can stay at school.