COVID-19: Parents, teachers unhappy with Chris Hipkins' school return announcement

Don't mark it on the calendar just yet but Chris Hipkins says kids in Auckland and Waikato - up to year 8 - could be heading back to school on November 15.

There's no word on years 9 and 10 yet, but Hipkins, who's both Education Minister and COVID-19 Response Minister, says he'd like to see them back at school this year, too if possible.

But his announcement probably won't get a pass mark from parents.

"I need more certainty, my children need more certainty. I've been told for weeks now 'you're going to find out, you're going to find out' - and it feels like an announcement about another announcement," health psychologist Emily Gorman says.

Instead of certainty on Wednesday, we got this announcement about the staged return to school for students.

"We flagged 15th November as the next kind of milestone as a tentative date. Don't want to lock that in stone," Hipkins said.

So today's news - that after 10 weeks there is still no plan on how to open schools safely - wasn't well-received.

"Our children are missing out on so much schooling and so much learning, and at some point we're going to do more harm keeping our children away from school than we are trying to protect everyone from COVID," Gorman says.

Staff at Rowandale Primary School in Manurewa were equally as baffled. They didn't even know there was going to be an announcement today.

"I was happy you gave me the heads up," Rowandale Primary School principal Karl Vasau said.

And happy that primary and intermediate schools could open up on Monday November 15 as long as there is a plan.

"As a principal, I want to open a school that's safe for my staff and my community. The last thing I want is 700 children returning to school under 12 and non-vaccinated to get hurt in any way whatsoever."

To make sure that doesn't happen the Ministry of Education will work with schools.

"Bringing students back effectively on a roster so they're not back at the same time. Maximise the amount of time kids spend outdoors," Hipkins explains.

But years 9 and 10 might not go back at all this year.

"If we've got all year 11, 12 and 13 back on-site,  then even if you bought back half of years 9 and 10, then at that point secondary schools are pretty full," Hipkins says.

The teacher's union is more concerned they'll have to teach both at school and online.

"Teachers [need] to have one day of non-contact time a week to make sure they do have that space to be able to connect with kids and prepare for teaching in both the online space and face to face," New Zealand Educational Institute president Liam Rutherford says.

But the vaccine could soon be available for children as young as five after the FDA gave it the green light in the US. It's the same two-shot, three weeks apart regime, but only a third of the dose.

"I will definitely get my three children vaccinated," Gorman says.