Coronavirus: U-turn on schools - they won't be 'voluntary' under level 3 after all

Confusion over whether kids will be able to return to school when the country goes to level 3 has prompted the Ministry of Education to reword its guidelines.

On Friday officials said it would be "voluntary" for pupils up to year 10. School principals reacted in horror, saying it would be a "shambles" and "impossible" to administer. 

But late Friday night the ministry issued a correction, NZME reports, saying parents will only be able to send their children back if they "need to". 

"Where possible, students should remain at home connected to distance learning," the new guidelines on the Government's official COVID-19 website say.

With many workplaces intending to keep employees at home under alert level 3, this will likely reduce the number of kids going to school in person.

"I did have a clarification today that the term 'voluntary' is muddying the waters. It's not a voluntary return to school," Principals' Federation president Perry Rush told NZME, after hearing from the ministry. 

"It's, 'If you need to be at school, you can'. Voluntary implies want; need is if you have to be there. That was unequivocally communicated."

"It was always going to be the case that alert level 3 would be much less clear than alert level 4 - it is by its nature a partial lifting of limitations and as such creates more grey and more ambiguity," secretary for education Iona Holsted said in a message to schools on Friday night.

" The reason for the approach, as outlined by the Prime Minister, yesterday is to find a balance between having early learning available for those who need it while minimising the numbers of children attending for public health reasons.  I am sure there will be a lot of debate about the approach; we are however still in a state of emergency and the Government takes decisions in the national interest."

The same instructions were sent to early childhood education centres. The ministry's full guidelines for school and early childhood centres can be read online