'Running scared': 97% of schools in three regions dealing with impact of virus

Posted 15 March 2022 by Moana Ellis

Students are staying away in droves from Whanganui, Manawatū and Taranaki classrooms as 97 percent of schools in the three regions deal with Covid-19 cases.

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tūpoho in Whanganui.

In Whanganui, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tūpoho tumuaki Tim Tukupua was calling on parents not to keep their children at home out of fear. Photo: Supplied

The Ministry of Education says 170 of the three regions’ 176 primary, intermediate and secondary schools reported cases among students or staff in the 10 days to Monday.

The numbers are now the highest of any area in the country, leaping from 54 percent less than two weeks ago.

Another 42 percent of early learning centres in the three regions are also managing cases.

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In Whanganui, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tūpoho tumuaki Tim Tukupua was calling on parents not to keep their children at home out of fear.

“Out of a roll of 150, I’d be lucky if I get 40 on site. What I’m seeing here, parents are running so scared and frightened that they think the best option is [for their tamariki] to stay home.

“Get tested! If you’re positive, stay home, isolate … Check to make sure if you’re negative, and if you’re negative, come back to school. I will be encouraging my parents whose kids don’t have Covid, come to school.”

Tukupua said at one point the kura had 11 confirmed cases among students and seven of the 14 teachers, with more isolating because they were close contacts.

“Cases fluctuate. The first lot of cases all came back. Then members of their family get it and they have to isolate again. That’s what we’re facing. Most of the learning is online now.”

At Whanganui City College, principal Peter Kaua said there had been around 30 student cases and four among the school’s 32 staff. But up to half the school’s 340 students were absent on any given day.

He said he had never seen anything like it.

“I’ve been around the block – 40 odd years teaching – and no, nothing like this,” Kaua said.

“We’re sort of rolling with it at the moment. We’re dealing with it okay, we’ve got things in place, we were prepared for this to occur.

“Preparation included getting devices out to all our senior students. They’re still doing the online learning. We’ve got about three-quarters of our juniors with devices, and we’ve got hard materials for those who haven’t got devices.

“The whānau have every right to keep their kids at home, whether they’ve got Covid or not, because of just being scared of getting Covid into their whānau. We’ve got to roll with that.”

Kaua said the school had been organised into whānau groups, with the whānau teacher maintaining direct contact with each family.

“Then I make sure I ring firstly my staff who have tested positive, just to make sure they’re okay and their whānau is okay, and then I ring the kids that are affected, to see how they are too.”

About 190 students were at the college today (Tuesday).

“We’re watching the numbers closely. Kids are still coming to school. We’ve just got to keep going,” Kaua said.

“We were prepared at the beginning to roster kids home in year levels, but we haven’t got to that situation yet.

“We’re also lucky that the school’s big enough to break into house groups and occupy different parts of the school. We haven’t adopted that yet, but that will come if the number of cases rise.”

Kaua said maintaining face-to-face contact between students and teachers was vital for learning.

“One thing I’ve learnt is that you can’t beat the kanohi-ki-te-kanohi. You can’t beat it, and it’s what the kids miss, the face-to-face learning.

“My job is to make sure firstly that my kids are safe at school, and that my staff are safe at school. The idea is to lower the stress levels so they can do their jobs, and for the kids to know that they are safe and can do their mahi at school.”

Kaua warned that students missing a lot of school would at some stage have to catch up on learning.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air