COVID-19 update Thursday 7 May – possible return to school

COVID-19 update
Thursday 7 May

Kia ora koutou

The decision about moving between Alert Levels will be announced by the Prime Minister on Monday 11 May. That decision will be based on public health information, in particular low or no community transmission. The decision will be fit for the New Zealand context. I know there is a lot reference to how other countries are responding to COVID-19 but ours has been a unique approach, drawing on the best interventions from around the world and consistent with New Zealand values.

This Bulletin provides you with the detail of Alert Level 2. I know that this has been eagerly awaited. This is what will be expected once the Government has decided to shift to Alert Level 2. Until then, we remain in Level 3.

Thank you to those of you who have sent through your questions and concerns. These are helpful to guide our advice. We will have answered some, but not all of your questions. We will continue to work through these as they arise.

Level 2 is all about being safe and sensible and that is the approach that goes through the public health and our own guidance for schools. There is a lot to work through but you do not have to do this on your own – we are here to help.

Our regional teams will continue to support you to transition through each Alert Level.

We have made it this far and have a way to go but we’ll get there together.

Below are some key messages from the Prime Minister.

Ngā mihi

Key messages from the Prime Minister
“Early learning services, schools and tertiary education facilities are all open.”

“Schools and early learning services are safe environments for children, young people and staff. Additional public health control measures are in place to prevent the spread of disease and to support contact tracing.”

“Schools and early learning services will engage with parents about children returning at Alert level 2.”

“Distance learning is available for those unable to attend school, for example who are self-isolating.”

“Tertiary education facilities too will maintain the core capability to deliver comprehensive distance learning to students.”

“If a school has a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, they must close on an individual or group basis for 72 hours, to allow contact tracing, and then potentially for a further 14 days.”

“We also agreed that when we make the decision to move levels, schools won’t open midweek – whenever the decision is made – they will open at the beginning of the following week. So if we make a decision to shift to Alert Level 2 next week, schools and early learning centres will have ten days from now to prepare.”

“The two key public health principles we’re talking to the sector about are one: to reduce the risk of someone getting infected in the first place and two, to ensure we can identify and contact anyone who becomes infected.”

So keeping kids at home if they’re sick, and good hygiene such as hand washing are so important.”

“Where possible physical distancing is a good precaution. We do, however, know it is near impossible in an early learning environment and challenging in schools. So good hygiene practices and regular cleaning are even more important here.”

“In schools, physical distancing means children, young people and staff maintaining enough distance so that they are not breathing on or touching each other. And maintaining good hygiene practices, and regular cleaning. As is regular cleaning of equipment.”

“And all schools and early learning services will collect information about who’s there, so Public Health can contact people quickly if they need to.”

“We know parents will have lots of questions, but please give schools and early learning centres time to plan and contact you.”

In today’s Bulletin:

*Welcoming all staff and students back to school
*Supporting learning
*Public Health Statement for the Education Sector from Dr Caroline McElnay, Director, Public Health, Ministry of Health
*Alert Level 2 for schools
*Guidance for schools on staff matters
*Resuming Ministry contracted school transport services
*Learning Support

Welcoming all staff and students back to school

When the decision to move to Alert Level 2 is made, we appreciate that welcoming staff and students back, assuring them they are safe and checking on their wellbeing is the first and most important job you’ll do. Once this has happened, everyone will be ready to start focusing on learning. We will provide some guidance on this early next week.

The time it will take for children and some staff to reconnect and relax will be different for everyone. Wellbeing needs to be addressed before learning will happen. There are a lot of resources to support you in reintegrating students and staff, we are working to make this easily accessible early next week.

Please remember that your own wellbeing is also important!

Supporting learning
We know that teachers have done their very best to support learning over the time students have been learning at home. Some children will have maintained their learning, while you may notice others need additional support in some areas of learning

As students return back into the learning environments there are a range of learning activities that will help students connect with teachers and their peers in the first instance and provide an opportunity for teachers to observe individual readiness for learning and next learning steps.

We can support you with the actions you may need to take to ensure your learners are well supported and get back on track. We are preparing advice and collating a range of resources that can assist. There are also a number of specialist teachers such as, RT lits, RTLBs and reading recovery teachers, that work in schools that could be utilised to assist individual students and teachers.

We look forward to hearing from you about any specific needs or resources that would help you in your school. Please email us at

Public Health Statement for the Education Sector
We have carefully looked at the evidence around COVID-19 and educational settings, and at the experience of other countries in responding to COVID-19 in these settings to inform the public health advice to the education sector in planning for a move to Level 2.

Our experience in New Zealand and overseas with COVID-19 over the last four months shows that it does not infect or affect children and teens in the same way it does adults.

So children and teens have low infection rates, they don’t become that unwell if they do get infected, and they don’t tend to pass the virus on to adults.

Quality education is a public health intervention in itself, so I am very aware of the benefits of children and young people attending school and early learning, and the need to support children and young people to do this as quickly as we can.

The two key public health principles that support our approach at Alert Level 2 are first to minimise the risk that someone gets infected in the first place, and second to ensure we can identify and contact anyone who has been in close contact with a person, if someone in a school or early learning centre is infected.

Any children, young people and staff should stay at home if they are sick, or should be sent home immediately if they show any symptoms.

Physical distancing is a good precaution to prevent the spread of disease. In an Alert level 2 school environment, this means children, young people, and staff maintaining a physical distance so that they are not breathing on or touching each other, coupled with good hygiene practices (coughing into your elbow, handwashing and drying) and regular cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.

There are situations where physical distancing is not possible, such as some sporting activities. In these situations extra emphasis on handwashing and drying (or cleansing with hand sanitiser) before and after activities and regular cleaning of equipment is recommended.

In an early learning environment, it is not really possible to have a physical distance between children and staff. Young children require a lot of physical support and it is not possible to explain or maintain a physical distance between young children given the age of the children and set up of centres.

This means good hygiene practices (coughing into your elbow, regular handwashing, and drying) are even more important.

Schools and early learning services will also maintain registers so that children, young people and staff can immediately be contacted by public health services if there is a probable or confirmed case.

And it is important that parents fully support this approach by doing their bit – keeping children home if they are unwell and seeking medical advice about whether a child may need to be tested; and ensuring great hygiene practices at all times.

Dr Caroline McElnay
Director, Public Health, Ministry of Health

Alert Level 2 for schools
Under Alert Level 2, it is safe for all schools to open. Safe and sensible practices for hygiene and contact tracing will be the norm, and all students will be able to return, so long as they remain well.

Under Alert Level 2, there are still likely to be new cases which may be the result of household transmission or associated with cluster outbreaks that are contained. The disease remains in New Zealand, so we need to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to avoid transmission. People are able to leave home but are asked to do so in a safe and conscientious way.

The key principles for Alert Level 2 are to:

  • reduce the risk of someone getting infected in the first place
  • ensure we can identify and contact anyone who becomes infected
  • understand that Level 2 is not business as usual.

Schools will be open to all students and year levels at Alert Level 2 from the beginning of the next school week after the announcement is made.

All staff will be able to be on site from the start of Alert Level 2, as will students who have been on site during Alert Level 3.

We have drafted an optional letter template [MS Word] to support your communications to your community noting you are looking forward to welcoming everyone back on site and what you have in place to support their safety.

Also at Alert Level 2:

  • Residential Specialist Schools and Day Specialist Schools including satellite units will be open for children to attend.
  • School hostels fully return to occupation.
  • Ministry staff supplemented by resource teachers and school staff continue to support children with learning support needs by phone and Skype where their health status requires them to stay isolated.
  • School transport will resume. The Food in Schools Programmes will be fully operational (extra health provisions will apply).
  • OSCAR programmes can open as can other before and after school programmes.
  • An increased number of school redevelopment and construction projects may be able to resume if the requirements of Alert Level 2 can be met.

As you have been doing at Alert Level 3, please continue to focus on:

  • enabling good hygiene practices – regular washing and drying of hands and good cough and sneeze etiquette remain fundamental to preventing spread of illness such as colds, flu and COVID-19
  • ensuring people with COVID-19 symptoms stay away from school
  • maintaining physical distancing where practicable – in schools at Alert Level 2 this means children, young people, and staff maintaining a physical distance so that they are not breathing on or touching each other (there is no minimum distance requirement for schools at Alert Level 2)
    keeping track of people that enter your school – through your attendance register, timetable and visitor register.

The specific public health measures for schools can be found here and in our detailed guidance below.

Guidance to support schools at Alert Level 2
You will already have a plan for managing health and safety; we have developed detailed guidance to assist you to review and update that plan to reflect the public health requirements for Alert Level 2. Work with your staff to do this, including your elected health and safety representatives.
We have also developed guidance for school hostels to support you at Alert Level 2.
The WorkSafe website also provides further information and support –

Physical distancing in schools further explained
Physical distancing remains important, particularly when people are interacting with people they don’t know and who couldn’t be easily traced. However the risks are relatively lower at Alert Level 2, and it’s now safe for individuals to be physically close to their good friends and family.

A school environment is controlled, you know who is at school, who they have been in close contact with and have good hygiene measures in place including regularly washing hands, including before and after using shared equipment. People who are sick are staying at home and you are monitoring for anyone presenting with signs of illness and are cleaning high-touch surfaces daily.

So for physical distancing in schools, it means children, young people, and staff maintaining a physical distance so that they are not breathing on or touching each other. You literally get some breathing space. As described by Dr Payinda in his NZ Herald article, “Covid’s not measles or chickenpox, it doesn’t hang in the air for hours waiting to infect passers-by. It travels on invisible drops of spit. You don’t have to cross the street to avoid anyone. Just avoid getting in their ‘moist breath’ zone”.

So in a school setting, if you can smell the person’s breath or feel that you are in that “most breath” zone, move a little further away. Avoid touching others and for adults, it is recommended that where practicable you keep a metre distance between you.

Guidance for schools on staff matters
The following information will support your staffing arrangements as you adjust to the change in Alert Levels:

  • Schools and kura must adhere to legislative and government requirements, including implementing controls and measures to meet Alert Level 2 standards, such as hygiene practices, and continuing practices to support contact tracing
  • Unless required to self-isolate on public health advice all employees are able to return to work on site, but are asked to do so in a safe and conscientious way.
  • People at higher-risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (eg those with underlying medical conditions, especially if not well-controlled) can return back to work. You should talk to each employee in this situation and agree the safety provisions that will apply on-site.
  • Employees who cannot return to work for health reasons should work from home, or be provided with alternative duties where it is safe to do so. If neither option is available, the Board may choose to provide discretionary paid leave (at their cost) to teaching staff, or approved annual leave or other paid leave for non-teaching staff. Where no paid leave arrangement can be agreed, special unpaid leave can be provided.
  • Where a person is not able return to work as normal due to an underlying health concern they should provide you with appropriate medical evidence to support this request (such as a medical certificate obtained at the employees cost).
  • Employees are expected to resume their usual childcare arrangements, if needed. Some flexibility may be required if all usual childcare options are not available.
  • Where there are genuine limitations to returning at work, employees may require flexible working arrangements to accommodate those limitations such as different start/finish times, working remotely, and/or rotating days both on-site and working from home.

Blanket exemptions for returning to work on-site?
Employees must stay at home if they are sick with COVID-19, are unwell generally, or are caring for a dependant who is sick with COVID-19.

Sick or dependant sick leave should be applied in line with your usual sick leave policy. A medical certificate should be provided in line with the requirements of the relevant employment agreement. Sick leave provided to teachers and principals due to COVID-19 can be disregarded on application to the Ministry. Dependant sick leave is not eligible to be disregarded.

If the employee has insufficient sick leave, they should receive additional discretionary paid leave so they can continue to be paid.

Casual staff who are booked to work should be provided with sick leave for the period that they have been booked in for.

Employees must stay at home if they are self-isolating, or are caring for a dependant who is self-isolating, on instruction of public health. In this case:

  • Employees should work remotely (usually from home) wherever practicable
  • Where it is not possible for an employee to work remotely, discretionary paid leave should be given, paid at normal rates.

Casual staff who are required to self-isolate on instruction from public health can contact the Ministry to find out what support is available for them under Alert Level 2 at:

These leave arrangements are summarised here on our website.

Re-emergence of COVID-19
If a COVID-19 case is identified at a school or kura during Alert Level 2, affected sites will be closed for cleaning and close contact tracing. Instruction should revert back to the distance learning model until the school or kura is cleared to open.

In these circumstances:

  • Employees should work to the extent possible, including working from home
  • Where it is not possible for an employee to work from home, discretionary paid leave should be provided.

Casual staff, including day-relievers and support staff paid by timesheet, who were booked to work when the school or kura is closed, should be paid for any work they were booked for.

If your employee has dependent children who are unable to attend school or an early learning service because the school or service is closed due to COVID-19 then the:

  • employee should work to the extent possible, including working from home
  • employee should be encouraged to identify alternate care arrangements wherever possible
  • If working from home is not possible and alternative care is not available, they may receive additional discretionary leave so they can continue to be paid.

Funding for relief cover
Schools and kura can claim for additional funding for relief teachers and kairīwhi or non-teaching staff and kaimahi if relief cover is required due to COVID-19.

More information about funding and how to make a claim can be found on our website

Who to contact

  • Questions around general employment advice, should be sent to the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association (NZSTA) at or Freephone 0800 782 435 (option #2)
  • Questions about how the emergency payment which has been provided for casual day relief and support staff has been processed can be sent by authorised payroll administrators to
  • Questions employees have about an emergency payment they have received, can be emailed to
  • For any other employment-related questions, including those from employees and kaimahi without a school payroll administrator, email
  • Frequently asked questions about income security for staff and the emergency payment
  • Further payroll information can be found on the Novopay website
  • In order to claim for any additional costs please email with the details and we will get back to you while schools and kura are closed.

Resuming Ministry contracted school transport services
When schools resume under Alert Level 2, school transport services will also return to normal schedules. The ongoing safety of drivers and students and the ability to contact trace is a priority when we enter Alert Level 2, and will be managed in the following ways:

  • Schools must ensure their transport providers have reliable, up-to-date bus lists at all times to ensure everyone knows who is being transported each day, to enable contact tracing.
  • Transport operators will maintain up-to-date information on special assistance (SESTA) students they are transporting each day.
  • Hand sanitisers will be available for each student to use as they board the vehicle.
  • Vehicles and surfaces will be sanitised after each journey by the transport company.
  • Seats in close proximity to the driver will be left empty.


  1. To allow for accurate contact tracing, schools must provide their transport provider with up-to-date bus lists, and must keep records to enable contact tracing to take place.
  2. Schools are responsible for keeping their families and communities informed with the latest information about their bus services.

Learning Support
Keeping your community informed about what your school is doing to welcome back students and look after their wellbeing will help support a calm environment for staff, students, families and whānau. Remember, be kind to yourself and others.

Some children will have had a loss of learning over the Alert period and will need some help to catch up; as many children experience over the summer break. We will link you up with virtual and physical resources to help address these additional learning needs.

Learning Support at Alert Level 2
Under Alert Level 2, all schools are open again including Residential Special Schools, Day Special Schools, satellite units and school-operated learning support units.

LSCs and SENCOs have a key role in identifying and coordinating responses to your students’ learning support needs as they return to school. They can:

  • provide a known point of contact for family and whānau to raise any concerns about their child’s return to school and supports that may be needed
  • ensure teachers understand students’ support needs at this time and have the tools and strategies they need respond
  • work with pastoral care and guidance teams to put wellbeing supports in place for individuals and groups of students
  • connect with peers across schools or the cluster to identify where a joined up response or sharing resources makes sense, and to share practical solutions and approaches
  • connect with the Ministry’s service managers to access supports and services, including specialist supports and connections to other agencies where needed.

Special School staff will provide similar supports.

Identifying and responding to students with learning support needs
It is important that you have a plan in place to assess the learning and wellbeing of students with additional learning needs, including those who are neurodiverse, gifted and at risk of disengaging. These students and their families may have experienced additional anxiety and stress during this time.

Helping all students settle back into school is the priority, then re-engaging them in learning as quickly as possible once they are settled in. Teachers can help by:

  • being welcoming, responsive, and inclusive
  • reconfirming behaviours and expectations specific to their class
  • providing a structured and predictable environment with clear rules and routines
  • asking how the student is feeling about returning to school
  • encouraging the student to engage in peer and group activities
  • keeping instructions simple, breaking tasks into small chunks, allowing extra processing time, and providing simplified versions of the curriculum; and
  • using assistive technologies to remove barriers to learning.

Resource teachers, outreach teachers and other itinerant teachers will be available to help. They can resume visiting your school and provide a range of strategies, advice and supports for individual or groups of students – including ways to adapt the curriculum, manage students’ anxiety, and support them to re-connect with peers and re-engage in learning.

Local PB4L Schoolwide Practitioners will provide advice and planning for schoolwide initiatives to support a successful return to school for your staff and student body.

Review individual education and behaviour plans
It may also be a good time to re-look at individual education and behaviour plans for those students who have them. Ministry specialists will work with teachers, families and whānau to consider individual circumstances, identify issues that may arise in transition back to school, and update IEPs and behaviour plans where needed.

Learning support for students with compromised immunity or at higher risk if they contract Covid-19
You may have students who have underlying medical conditions that may place them at higher risk if they contract COVID-19. It is likely that these students will need to continue to learn and work from home during Alert Level 2. Information from the Ministry of Health on underlying medical conditions that may place people at higher-risk if they contract COVID-19 can be found here.

Where this is the case, teachers should continue to support parents and caregivers with tailored planning and support for these students.

It will be important to talk with the parents or caregivers about:

  • how long the student might need to continue to learn from home,
  • whether the student and whānau have the support they need for effective ongoing distance learning
  • potential technology options to enable the student to participate in classes to support connection and engagement
  • whether it would be possible and beneficial for a teacher aide to work with a student in their home or remotely if necessary for the student’s health.
  • More guidance about teacher aides working in student’s homes is available here.

Ministry specialist staff and Resource Teachers will continue to support school staff to support children by phone and Skype where their health status requires them to continue learning from home.

Equipment return
Where specialist equipment or assistive technology has been sent home, plans will need to be made for the safe return of this equipment and any other physical materials made available to support students’ learning from home. This equipment will need to be cleaned before being put back into classroom use.

Residential and Special Schools
Children, young people, and staff should follow the public health requirements, listed earlier in this Bulletin. You should place extra emphasis on handwashing and drying (or cleansing with hand sanitiser) before and after activities. Regular cleaning of equipment is also recommended.

Personal care tasks should be managed as usual, including the use of gloves or aprons that are routinely used for feeding nor nappy changes.

All SESTA services will be available as usual.

Alternative education settings
All students enrolled in Alternative Education, Activity Centres and Teen Parent Units are also open in Alert Level 2. Managing and enrolling schools will be working with your providers to ensure they have the support they need to operate.

Schools have been asked to submit information on the need for devices and hard packs for all the children and young people on their roll, including those in these alternative settings. Enrolling schools should be communicating with Alternative Education, Activity Centres and Teen Parent Units regularly to identify the needs of these students and include this information in their returns.

Providers have continued to support their students in a variety of ways with distance learning during Term 2, including contact by phone, text messaging, Zoom and Facebook, online learning through Open Polytechnic and Te Kura, programmes such as Lexia for Literacy and Mathletics for numeracy, and paper based learning kits and resources (numeracy and literacy). Managing schools should communicate regularly with their providers on any support needed for students who need to continue with distance learning under Alert 2.

Students who have been excluded from school
If a student was excluded from your school just prior to or during the alert level 4 lockdown, the student remains on your school roll and you remain responsible for providing distance learning to that student during this period.