More than half of Bay schools have Covid cases, leaving hundreds of students to learn from home isolation and some parents to keep kids away from school out of "fear".
As schools adapt to dwindling classroom numbers, Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank says it is likely the Bay will reach peak case numbers in the "next week or two".
Ministry of Education figures released on Monday showed 53 per cent of schools in the Bay of Plenty and Waiariki had been impacted by positive cases in the last 10 days. This was 100 of 190 schools in the region.
It was at 19 per cent a week ago.
The Ministry of Health yesterday reported 475 new cases in the Lakes District Health Board area. Toi Te Ora-Public Health reported 346 new cases in Rotorua District.
Rotorua's Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins said 37 pupils were self-isolating at home on Friday and 172 children of 500 were not at school.
"A lot of them are being kept home by parents out of fear."
Watkins said most cases were from external contacts.
"But that could all turn to custard next week."
In preparation, Watkins said year levels had been split into "bubbles" with each having access to different facilities and items.
He had personally delivered learning packs to children at home, tailor-made for each child by their teachers.
Rotorua Primary School education entrepreneur Fred Whata said 115 pupils out of 300 were away on Friday, and six teachers and three teacher aides were off sick.
Whata said the numbers were slowly rising, and next week could look totally different.
"Parents are worried. They want the best outcome for their children."
New Zealand Education Institute Rotorua branch president Chelsea Old said every class at her school of about 200 pupils had fewer than 10 children present.
Old said this was due to students being infected with Covid or living with a positive case and many "afraid" parents were keeping children home to protect at-risk family members.
She said while the low numbers meant "a lot less culpability" in an outbreak of cases it was crucial to consider the learning needs of children at home.
"This is going to be an issue that will be pervasive all year."
John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said about 50 per cent of the Year 13 cohort were learning remotely, with roughly 75 students in class.
There were also six to eight staff away for Covid-related reasons, he said.
Students at home had either tested positive, were household contacts, or experienced a "high level" anxiety of becoming infected.
He said staff were using Google Classroom so students both in class and at home could access their schoolwork.
"It's important for students to have choice and that's the risk about closing the school or rostering students home," he said.
"We don't want to place a burden on staff having to teach those students in school and teach students online so we have a hybrid approach."
All but two Ōwhata School pupils were learning from home yesterday as the school moved to a hybrid teaching model after about 40 per cent of children were away last Monday and Tuesday due to Covid.
Principal Bob Stiles said six teachers were sick by the end of last week.
Stiles said most of the school's 251 pupils were now learning online and hoped children will be back at school from March 21.
"Hopefully we will be clear of the worst of it."
Lynmore Primary School had also switched to a hybrid model on Monday.
Principal Hinei Taute said attendance had been decreasing, and by yesterday, about 67 per cent of children were learning on site.
Taute said the school had so far been lucky with low numbers of teachers getting sick.
"We've been pretty good but we know this is inevitable."
University of Canterbury professor and Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank said case numbers had been "erratic" since rapid antigen testing was introduced and there was concern some were not uploading test results.
Plank said it was possible Auckland's case numbers were "very close" to peaking and the Bay would likely reach peak numbers in the "next week or two", however, it was difficult to be certain.
Western Bay of Plenty Principals Association president Suzanne Billington said the last couple of weeks had been challenging as cases in primary, intermediate and secondary schools grew quickly.
"Schools across our region have large numbers of students away, mainly due to being positive cases or household contacts."
Billington said some whānau chose to keep their children home due to concern about possibly catching Covid in the classroom but she encouraged parents to keep children at school.
"While school is one place of risk, it is clear that we cannot pinpoint exactly where students contract Covid-19.
"Schools remain open and all have sound management practices in place to keep students as safe and healthy as possible on site."
Billington said principals were finding innovative ways to keep kids at school with low teacher numbers, including rostering, staggering start and finish times, breaking school staff into teams for learning and break times.
Ministry of Education Operations and Integration/Te Pae Aronui leader Sean Teddy said all schools and kura were kept updated through the school bulletins.
Regional office staff were also in regular contact with school leaders to answer any questions and identify what support was needed to implement required changes, he said.