Coronavirus: Expert calls for mandatory student vaccinations as senior high schoolers in level 3 return for in-person learning

It's finally back-to-school for nearly 60,000 year 11, 12, and 13 students in Auckland and the more than 15,000 senior high schoolers in Waikato.

Schools in alert level 3 areas can reopen in person from Tuesday after the Government laid out guidelines last week. Masks will be compulsory, but one health expert says vaccinations should be compulsory for students too, not just teachers.

"The Government has introduced mandates in health - total no-brainer. They've also introduced one in education for all the staff - total no-brainer. They need to introduce the same mandate for 12-and-over children," says epidemiologist Rod Jackson.

"Why would you have children going to school unvaccinated? They're a super-spreading population. It's absolutely crazy and I understand quite a few schools are not going back."

But some children are unable to access digital learning at home, and others just need the contact and support of a teacher in a classroom.

"When disadvantage descends on a community, or in a city, it doesn't do so evenly, so there may be students who don't need to come back, and that's fine because they've got what they need out of their qualification," says Secondary Principals' Association president Vaughan Couillault.

"It's to cater for those students who need a bit of extra support and want to engage in an external exam at the end of the year."

Onehunga High School principal Deidre Shea says it's not just about credits but also students' wellbeing. 

"They're extremely concerned about their NCEA achievement, which for many students simply isn't as good when they can't be here learning face-to-face."

Most schools reopening on Tuesday are starting a register of vaccinated students - and one school is considering on-site vaccination. 

"We'll be starting a student register to detail all those students who have had their vaccinations to date, and also be asking our community whether they would make use of vaccination on-site if it was made available," says Botany Downs Secondary College principal Karen Brinsden.

It's expected 15 percent of Auckland schools won't be returning on-site on Tuesday, but those who are say they've done everything they can to maximise student success in the time they have left while keeping student safety front of mind.