Coronavirus: Teachers want right to choose when their own schools re-open

Teachers are demanding the right to decide when to re-open school doors under a level 3 lockdown.

In an open letter to Education Minister Chris Hipkins, frontline educators have outlined how schools face vast challenges before welcoming students back again.

Schools have been closed since the lockdown began in March, in an attempt to stop the spread of the deadly virus behind COVID-19. It seems to be working, with the number of daily new cases trending downwards over the last couple of weeks.

There has been confusion around who'll be allowed back at school when they do reopen. The Ministry of Education clarified on Saturday they'll only be open for students whose parents have to leave the house to go to work, and only up to year 10 - the rest of them will have to continue learning from home.

Teaching Council CEO Lesley Hoskin says teaching some kids at school and the rest remotely will be challenging, and not every school might be ready right away.

"It's something that we have to work through... this isn't a short-term situation. And so [we need] time to do a little bit of planning and thinking about how that's going to work," she told Newshub.

"We're going to have to make it work. Everyone I'm talking to is absolutely up for that task and challenge, but one of the things is, how do we cope with people on-site and off-site? Those who are on-site, how do we make sure they're safe? ... There are so many moving parts in there. 

"It's a lot to work through and I think they deserve to know that they will be able to say 'we're ready to open now'. Nobody's saying they don't want to do their part, but they are a little concerned that on a day - whatever day it is that level 3 takes effect - that they will be asked to be ready."

Though COVID-19 is rarely fatal for children, it can be, and they can also carry and spread it. New Zealand's teaching workforce is older than many others, with years of low pay and tough working conditions discouraging young people from entering the profession. The older you are, the more likely you are to suffer serious complications from COVID-19, research has shown. 

Hoskin says it's vital schools have the autonomy to make their own decision about when to re-open, as a one-size-fits-all approach won't work.

"Our request to [Education Minister Chris Hipkins] was that in their planning and thinking about when they move to level 3, that they allow for principals and centre managers and leaders to be able to determine when they're ready to open, and who they can support, whether its on-site or off-site. 

"They want to take into consideration those health guidelines that will allow them to determine if they're vulnerable, or have vulnerable people in their bubble, but they also want to ensure they can continue to educate the children and young people that they're responsible for. 

"We're acknowledging it's uncharted territory, it's complex - probably level 3 will be the most complex that we're navigating. What we're trying to do is just make sure that the people that will be setting up these physical environments to be safe, that they're able to say how and when that will happen."

The Teaching Council represents more than 100,000 registered teachers, from early childhood education through to primary and secondary schooling.

Late last week a number of principals slammed the level 3 teaching arrangements, saying it was unworkable and would leave schools little more than baby-sitting services. 

"It's going to be a shambles," Otorohanga College principal Traci Liddall told RNZ. "Who is allowed to come back? What is the purpose of them coming back? Are they just coming back because parents are sick of them? Are they coming back because they are the children of essential workers? I can't see it running very smoothly at all."

"The Government's not making a decision about education, it's making a decision about how to provide child care for reopening the country," said Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor.