Alert Level 2 FAQs for Schools and Early Learning Centres

This section was updated on Tuesday 19 May at 6.45 pm.

Answers to some of the most common questions we are being asked about education at Alert Level 2 by educators, parents, students, Board members, families, caregivers, parents and whānau. We will update these questions regularly. 

Can my child go to school or Early Learning Services at Alert Level 2?

At Alert Level 2, all children and young people can go to school or Early Learning Services. The only exceptions are children or young people who are sick or have any COVID-19 symptoms, are in isolation, or are awaiting for the result of a test.

Distance learning will still be available for those who need to remain at home.

Public health measures will be in place in schools, including children, young people, and staff staying home if they are sick, contact tracing, and hygiene requirements.

The Ministry is working with the sector and individual schools on guidance and implementation of public health control measures at Alert Level 2. Schools will keep in contact with parents as they work through their plans to shift to Alert Level 2.

Children will be able to attend playcentres and play groups at Alert Level 2.

What public health control measures are in place in schools at Alert Level 2?

Public Health officials have advised that schools are safe to be open at Alert Level 2, if appropriate public health control measures are in place. Specific public health control measures to be taken in schools include:

  • Parents are asked to keep any sick children at home. If a sick child comes to school, schools will send them home.
  • Where possible, children, young people and staff should be far enough away from each other, so that they are not breathing on, or touching each other. This must be accompanied with good hygiene practices and regular cleaning of commonly touched surfaces. There does not need to be a specific measurement but where practicable 1 metre can be used as a guide, particularly between adults.
  • Hand sanitiser at entry to class rooms and in shared spaces. Soap, water and the ability to dry hands must be provided in bathrooms.
  • Where practicable ensure that children and young people regularly wash and dry hands, cough and sneeze into their elbow, and try to avoid touching their face.
  • Physical education classes and break time activities can include access to sports equipment including playgrounds but hygiene practice should be observed after playing with equipment.
  • Disinfect and clean all surfaces daily.
  • Contact tracing registers must be in place.

PPE is not required or recommended as necessary in any educational facility by the Public Health Service.

Upon advice from the local medical officer of health, any educational facilities connected to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 must close on an individual or group basis for 72 hours to allow contact tracing, and then potentially for a further 14 days.

What public health control measures are being put in place in Early Learning services, and playgroups and playcentres?

Public Health officials have advised that early learning services are safe to be open at Alert Level 2, if appropriate public health control measures are put in place.

Specific public health to be taken in early learning services include:

  • Parents are asked to keep any sick children at home. If a sick child comes to the service, or shows symptoms, services will send them home.
  • Indoor temperature needs to be set at a minimum of 18 degrees Celsius. This minimum must be met.
  • 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 are even more important. There does not need to be a measurable physical distance between children or children and staff.  Where possible, adults should keep 1 metre distance between themselves.
  • Ensure all children regularly wash and dry their hands.
  • Ensure hand sanitiser is available but teachers/staff supervise its location and use in order to avoid a child accidentally drinking it.
  • Ensure that children have their own food containers and do not give and take food to and from each other. Food can be supplied in accordance with public health guidance.
  • Outdoor play areas can be used, including sandpits, but children must wash their hands after use.
  • Disinfect and clean all surfaces daily.
  • Contact tracing registers must be in place.

PPE is not required or recommended as necessary in any educational facility by the Public Health officials.

Upon advice from the local medical officer of health, any educational facilities connected to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 must close on an individual or group basis for 72 hours to allow contact tracing, and then potentially for a further 14 days.

What happens for students in years 11-13?

All students in years 11-13 can return to school except young people who are sick or have any COVID-19 symptoms, are in isolation, or are awaiting for the result of a test.

What about children and young people who have existing conditions?

At Alert Level 2, all children and young people who are at greater risk of getting a severe illness from COVID-19 may go to school or early learning services or continue to learn from home.

Distance learning will be available for those who need to remain at home and Ministry staff will continue to support children with learning support needs where they are required to remain at home. Students and parents with any queries about distance learning for these students should contact their school or kura.

More information about distance learning

Do children, young people, or teachers need to wear PPE at schools or early learning services during Alert Level 2?

No. In schools and early learning services, all children, young people, and teachers with any symptoms are being asked to stay at home, and we are asking schools to send anyone home who has or develops symptoms.

Schools and early learning services will also collect information for the purposes of contact tracing if this is required.

Standard hygiene measures are also really important including:

  • hand hygiene – that is, washing hands regularly with soap and water and drying well, or using hand sanitiser when soap and water aren’t available
  • coughing or sneezing into tissues or your elbow and then performing hand hygiene
  • cleaning surfaces regularly.

Public Health officials have advised that if these measures are in place, then personal protective equipment is not needed.

Can children with learning support needs attend early learning services, school or kura under Level 2?

Under Alert Level 2 all early learning services and schools and kura are open for on site attendance for all year levels. This includes Residential Special Schools, Day Special Schools and satellite units. 

All students with learning support needs can attend their school, kura or early learning service safely during Alert Level 2. If your child’s health requirements can be managed, your child can attend their school or early learning service.

My child attends a specialist school. Can they return to school now?

Day Special Schools including satellite classes are open at Alert Level 2. Unless your child is sick, they can return to school. Good hygiene practices and physical distancing consistent with a child’s support needs need to be maintained at all times. Speak to your transport provider if your child requires transport.

Residential Special Schools (RSS) are open under Alert Level 2 for their day and residential programmes. Unless your child is sick, they can return to school.

Will tertiary education start face-to-face learning?

Tertiary education providers can open from Thursday 14 May. They will put in place public health measures to keep students and staff safe. They will also maintain the core capability to deliver comprehensive distance learning, for those staff and students who need it.

Will student accommodation be open?

Student accommodation will be open for all students, and public health measures will be put in place to ensure residents are safe.

Can parents and caregivers come on site at Level 2?

Yes – however physical distancing of 2 metres is recommended for parents and caregivers from people they don’t know (to align with public health measures outside the school grounds). Parents and caregivers who come on site need to be noted in the visitor register.

A reminder that you will already have contact information for parents and caregivers, so don’t need to collect those particular details each time they come on site. But will need to record their name and their time in and out of the school, including any classrooms they entered.

Can you take temperatures of your students and/or staff when they arrive at school?

If someone is showing signs of a fever, you may want to take their temperature as part of your usual first aid response to inform medical practitioners and/or parents and caregivers. That individual can refuse to have their temperature taken and you may want to seek a parent’s or caregiver’s permission before you do so.

Otherwise, you do not have a right to take student temperatures as a matter of course which may result in preventing their attendance at school. Taking temperatures is not part of the public health requirements for COVID-19. It is also not an overly effective tool to screen for people who might have symptoms of COVID-19. The symptoms are varied and the majority of people only have mild symptoms, particularly children. Someone who has a fever looks unwell. You don’t have to take their temperature to suspect they have a fever.

As noted in the health and safety guidance school staff are to observe students on arrival into the classroom checking for symptoms and ask those presenting as unwell to go home (or arrange for parents and caregivers to come and pick up).

Health and safety guidance at Alert Level 2 (external link)

Symptoms to monitor for are any respiratory symptoms such as a cold, a head cold, blocked ears, cough, sneezing, chills and a fever. Anyone with those symptoms should be isolated and contact Healthline for advice, which may include getting tested for COVID-19.  A principal can ask a student to not attend school if they believe on reasonable grounds they may have a communicable disease, which includes COVID-19.

Best practice to prevent COVID-19 from spreading continues to be asking people to stay away if they feel ill, maintaining a breathing distance from others in school, good cough/sneeze etiquette and washing hands regularly.

Can I ask my staff to get tested for COVID-19 before coming back to school?

There is no general legal right for an employer to require employees to undertake medical testing. Such testing can only occur with the employee’s consent. Nor is an employee required to provide the outcome of any such testing to their employer (unless they consent to this).

If someone is showing signs of COVID-like symptoms, they should remain at home and seek advice from their GP or Healthline. This may result in being advised to get tested for COVID-19.

In some circumstances it may be possible to require an employee to provide evidence that they are fit to return to work, but if you are considering this, you are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from NZSTA.

A test is also a moment in time and does not provide any guarantee that someone who is negative today won’t contract COVID-19 in the near future. For more information on how COVID-19 is spread go to the Ministry of Health website:

COVID-19 information – Ministry of Health website (external link)
 
Hand hygiene, cough etiquette, staying away if sick and physical distancing, remain the best measures to prevent spread of COVID.

What do I do if someone is sick but won’t go home?

If you are the principal of a state school, you can preclude a student who you believe on reasonable grounds may have a communicable disease (Section 19 Education Act). The student has to stay away for the infectious period of the specific disease.

Section 19 of the Education Act does not apply to private schools. If you are the principal of a private school, you can request that a student or staff member with a communicable disease or that is suspected of having a communicable disease, does not attend. For both state schools and private schools, if the person doesn’t comply, you can ask the Medical Officer of Health at your local Public Health Service for support, which could include a direction under the Health Act.

Only medical experts have the ability to determine if the signs of illness presented in staff and students is influenza, early stages of measles, the COVID-19 or some other illness which has similar symptoms. However, presenting symptoms along with any relevant information such as close contact with someone diagnosed with illness or recently travelling in a region known to carry risk of infection, should inform your decision about the application of Section 19.

You must inform the Medical Officer of Health, the student’s parents and your school Board of Trustees if you take action under Section 19:

Communicable diseases in early learning services and schools: a guide to legal powers (external link)

I have a staff member with allergies who sneezes a lot – do they have to stay away?

While the numbers of new cases continue to remain low, we are still responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and need to remain vigilant. Our response is also reliant on everyone in New Zealand doing their part to prevent spread.

This includes staying away from school if unwell and if showing COVID-like symptoms being assessed by a GP or Healthline to determine if testing is recommended. The symptoms for COVID-19 have expanded as more has become known about the virus. 

Symptoms noted on the Ministry of Health website (external link) :

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38˚C)
  • shortness of breath
  • a sore throat
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • temporary loss of smell.

At Alert Level 2, if you are not sure, you may wish to continue to err on the side of caution and ask them to remain at home. If you are concerned about the health of the staff member or student you should encourage them to seek advice through their GP or Healthline.

Can staff work across different sites and for different employers at Alert Level 2?

Staff can work in different schools on the same day, week etc. and for other employers.  Everyone will need to ensure they are recorded as being on site (through the timetable and/or visitor register) and following appropriate hygiene and other health and safety measures required by that school.
 
A reminder that for schools, physical distancing at Alert Level 2 means: if you can smell the person’s breath or feel that you are in that “moist 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.

Can students from other schools and external providers come on site at Level 2?

Yes - students from other schools and external providers will be able to go on site (eg technology centres, teaching specialist subjects, coaching teams).
 
Everyone will need to ensure they are recorded as being on site (through the timetable and/or visitor register) and following appropriate hygiene and other health and safety measures required by that school, including that shared equipment will also need to be regularly cleaned.

Can we use drinking fountains at Level 2?

Providing clean water at your school is part of your overall health and safety responsibilities.

The surfaces around the fountain including the spout, button/leaver and nozzles could pose a risk for the transmission of COVID-19 and other germs. Whether you continue to make your drinking fountains accessible will depend on the ability for your students and staff to use them safely:

  • Encourage students to use personal water bottles
  • Don’t place your mouth on the spout of the fountain or allow your water bottle to come into contact with the nozzle when refilling.
  • Test the water flow and let the water flow for 10 seconds to allow for fresh, clean water to come through prior to drinking.
  • If the fountain requires you to push a button or lever, clean the surface before and after, or you could use your elbow, sleeve or a tissue.
  • If your hands have touched the fountain directly, clean them afterwards with soap and water or hand sanitiser if available
  • Regularly clean the surfaces of the fountain as part of your cleaning programme.

If you decide to not use your water fountains, you will need to provide a facility for refilling water bottles. This will need similar safety considerations however: not touching the water bottle to the metal/tap, cleaning the taps regularly and washing hands after touching the taps.

Are we able to have more than 100 students in our Modern Learning Environment?

Yes you are. Workplaces, educational facilities, and school transport are not considered mass gatherings. This means there are no restrictions on numbers of people indoors or outside at schools and early learning services, other than what other public health or health and safety measures require. 

Health and safety guidance at Alert Level 2 (external link)
 
The exception is where people from outside the school may be attending eg for a school production or school ball. In these examples, and if a school is hiring out its hall or allowing community groups to use its facilities, the rules for gatherings (external link)  will apply:

Rules for gatherings – COVID19.govt.nz (external link)

Do we have to stop the general public from using our playgrounds?

Public and school playgrounds are open at Alert Level 2. It won’t be easy to prevent others from using your grounds out of school hours, nor is this a requirement.  Instead, keep your practice focused on good hand hygiene – washing hands before and after using the equipment, and anyone who is sick staying at home. You are not required to wash playground equipment.

Do I have to include parents who are doing drop offs and pick-ups in our visitor register?

Yes you do if they come on to school grounds. Contact tracing continues to be an important part of New Zealand’s response to COVID-19. Recording who comes on-site means you could work with health authorities to identify who had been in close contact with that person, if there was a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 in your school community.
 
Depending on the age or needs of children and young people, some parents and caregivers will need to come on-site for drop offs and pick-ups. They will need to be captured in your visitor register but you won’t need to ask for email addresses, phone numbers etc, as you should already have that information on file. You may wish to use a separate system for capturing visitors that are only there for drop offs and pick-ups (a pre-printed list which people can tick as they come into the grounds or school building for example), or consider asking those parents and caregivers to use a particular gate or entrance point to manage this more easily.

What cleaning do I have to do at Alert Level 2?

The only requirement specific to Alert Level 2 is to clean and disinfect surfaces once each day. This requirement is particularly focused towards high-touch surfaces such as door handles, bathroom taps, desk tops, handrails, etc. If surfaces look visibly dirty, they should be cleaned first. It’s best to use a disinfectant that is antiviral and follow instructions. A bleach/water solution will be appropriate for most surfaces.
 
There is no requirement to clean surfaces between uses by different groups, or to clean playground equipment. It is suggested that other shared equipment is cleaned regularly but, again, there is no requirement to undertake cleaning between each use by different groups or individuals.
 
Washing hands before and after using shared equipment including playground equipment remains a priority. Many school playgrounds will be accessible out of school hours and unable to be monitored for contact tracing. Ensuring students wash and dry their hands before and after use will help mitigate any possible risk from others using the equipment eg in the weekend.
 
More information about cleaning surfaces by Siouxie Wiles – The Spinoff (external link)

Can we run food technology classes?

These classes are able to go ahead with appropriate food safety practices in place, coupled with adherence to the public health measures required for schools including hand hygiene, staying away if sick, cough/sneeze etiquette and physical distancing (not touching and having some breathing room). Where possible, a 1 metre distance is recommended particularly for adults. A reminder that you can share equipment at Alert Level 2 but it should be regularly cleaned (daily).

The Ministry for Primary Industries has provided some guidance that may also assist you when reviewing your food handling practices, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand also has useful information about cleaning and sanitising more generally:

Food Handling – Ministry Primary Industries (external link)

Food safety and sanitising – Food Standards Australia New Zealand (external link)

In these circumstances, where the appropriate food handling and other health measures have been followed, students will be able to eat the food they have made. However, this should be served as individual portions rather than sharing off a communal dish for example. Students and staff should use their own cutlery, crockery or drink container.

Can we run out of hours programmes (e.g. music programmes)?

In the same way technology centres are able to have other schools’ students come on-site during the week, the same can occur after school and in the weekends for school-run out of hours’ programmes.
 
You will need to treat the running of these programmes with strong caution, particularly if there are a number of different schools participating or large numbers of students (and parents and caregivers) involved. It is recommended that you develop a specific health and safety plan for managing the programme. Minimising congestion should be a key priority for that plan, including in the classrooms or spaces being used for delivery.
 
If parents and caregivers come into the classrooms or other teaching spaces to observe, you need to treat the programme as a gathering, and limit visitors to no more than 10, in addition to students and staff. NB this maximum number of visitors may change over the period of Alert Level 2.
 
The public health measures required in schools must also be in place, including hand hygiene, staying away if feeling sick, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces daily, ensuring everyone is registered for contact tracing purposes and are keeping an appropriate physical distance. A reminder that the recommendation is to keep a 1 metre distance for those singing and playing wind instruments, where practicable.
 
Adults who come with the children should keep a 2 metre distance from people they don’t know and will need to be recorded in your contact register if they come on-site, including for dropping off and picking up inside the school grounds.
 
For children and staff, they should maintain enough distance so they aren’t touching or in each other’s breathing space and, where practicable maintain a 1 metre distance, particularly for adults.

Are Board meetings public gatherings?

Board of Trustees meetings are public gatherings and therefore subject to Alert Level 2 requirements for gatherings:

These requirements may change during Alert Level 2 but currently are:

  • no more than 10 people
  • practise recommended hygiene standards
  • record attendees to ensure contact tracing can be conducted if necessary.

Can we have more than 10 visitors at our school?

Events continue to be a key risk in New Zealand for the spread of COVID-19. As noted in the health and safety guidance, if you have people from outside the school attending, the rules for gatherings will apply:

Rules for gatherings – COVID19.govt.nz (external link)

Currently at Alert Level 2, gatherings must be limited to no more than 10 people, not including school staff and students (with some exemptions in place for tangihanga and funerals).

The maximum number of 10 may change as Alert Level 2 progresses and information is regularly updated on the  website, and there is also advice on tikanga Māori and gatherings available:

COVID19.govt.nz (external link)

Tikanga Māori and gatherings – COVID19.govt.nz (external link)  

Alert Level 2 FAQs for Schools and Early Learning Centres in other languages

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