A student stuck on the edge of the Auckland region has been repeatedly denied an exemption to get to her school in Hamilton - and her mother fears her education is suffering.
Sophie Stening, 14, has been isolating at home in rural Pukekohe for five weeks and has tested negative for Covid-19. She wants to go back to boarding at Waikato Diocesan and stay there till Auckland drops an alert level. Dozens of other students are in the same position.
But health authorities won't budge, saying while they appreciate it's hard on students, the risk of crossing the border is too great.
Schools have been told to keep providing online learning but say it's too hard for teachers to keep that up to the full extent while also holding classes in person.
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Sophie, 14, was in Auckland when lockdown hit and online learning swung into action. Most teachers at her state-integrated school posted frequent video explainers, and her classes would use Google Meets to stay in the loop.
But now Waikato is in level 2 and her classmates are back at school, she says she's getting "bugger all" work to do.
"I feed my lambs, I come inside, I don't do much after that. A few teachers are posting stuff online but it's not the same - I can't talk to them about anything because i'm not there. It's hard to ask for help."
She's given up getting stressed about it. "I keep getting exemptions declined, teachers aren't helping that much so I've kind of gone, if we're not going to get help there's nothing I can do."
Mum Kirsten Russell said students in Sophie's position are worse off than others in Auckland who are their teacher's sole focus. She and other parents reckoned there were about 150 affected students in Franklin.
They've been frustrated to hear of netballers getting exemptions to play a game in Christchurch.
"If it is good enough for the Silver Ferns to have a negative test then surely it is good enough for the sake of children's education."
Russell had sympathy for her daughter's school, which had told her it was "fully aware that our Auckland-based students are disadvantaged" but it could not expect teachers to continue with the previous online learning structure and teach the students in front of them.
Waikato Dio principal Mary Curran told the Herald there were 22 students stuck in level 3, 20 of them boarders and two day students. The school's "thoughts and prayers" were with them.
Student and staff safety was the first priority, Curran said.
"Synchronous online learning as well as teaching a live class throws up challenges and we needed to adopt different teaching strategies for students unable to return to school in person at level 2.
"Although it is possible for students to learn anything online, we acknowledge that learning may perhaps be less than optimal, especially in courses that require face-to-face contact and direct interaction, or where there are a number of practical elements involved.
"As a state-integrated school, the teaching strategies that we have in place to support online distance learning in the spilt-level situation have been negotiated with teaching staff and what we believe is manageable in the current circumstances."
Students began derived grade exams today, and students in lockdown would be able to sit them too. Those who needed Special Assessment Conditions could be able to sit their exams when they got back to school.
Forty-two students from Hamilton Boys High School are also stuck in Auckland. Principal Susan Hassall said staff were committed to updating work on Google classroom and making contact with each young man regularly. Each had a "buddy" back in class helping him keep up with lessons.
But while staff and students were doing their best there was a difference between what the school could provide for Auckland students while maintaining normal classes.
"Every possible effort" would be made to catch the students up when they came back, Hassall said. It would be helpful for the Ministry to provide funding for extra staffing for schools to support that work.
'We understand this is a stressful time'
The Ministry of Education doesn't know how many students in total are in a similar situation to Sophie as it does not hold student address data. But deputy secretary Helen Hurst said Waikato Diocesan had confirmed there were 22 students in Auckland and online learning through Google Meet was continuing for them.
"We do understand this is a stressful time for the students keeping on track with their school work and for whānau who are supporting their ākonga.
"We continue to work closely with schools and kura directly impacted by Covid-19 whilst following the Health Order."
The Ministry of Health said travel to level 2 regions like Waikato was highly restricted to minimise the virus' spread, so students could not cross the boundary to attend other schools.
"We appreciate the disruption this will cause, but the highly transmissible Delta variant means strong precautions are necessary."
National's education spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the Government had had 18 months to find a way for this cohort of children to get back to school when alert levels changed - such as exempting those who were vaccinated and tested negative.
Asking schools to teach classes online and offline simultaneously was unreasonable, he said.
"It seems to me to be rather heartlessly inflexible ... Given the strong message that we have about the importance of attending school I think this is one where they could have done better."
He was also concerned about an "anomaly" that meant students were not eligible for the same credits as others in Auckland, because their schools were in level 2.