COVID-19 FAQs for Schools

COVID-19 banner image

At any Alert Level

See also Guidance for schools for Alert Levels 1–4 Further information

At Alert Level 2

At any Alert Level

What symptoms do I need to monitor for?

The symptoms of COVID-19(external link) are similar to common illnesses such as a cold or influenza. Someone with COVID-19 may have one or more of the following:

  • a new or worsening cough

  • fever (at least 38˚C)

  • shortness of breath

  • a sore throat

  • sneezing and runny nose

  • temporary loss of smell.

Some people may present with less typical symptoms such as only: diarrhoea, headache, muscle pain, nausea/vomiting, or confusion/irritability.

Anyone with those symptoms should stay home and contact Healthline for advice, which may include getting tested for COVID-19

Can you take temperatures of your children, 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 temperatures as a matter of course which may result in preventing their attendance at school or early learning. 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.
 
Staff can observe children/students on arrival checking for symptoms and ask those presenting as unwell to go home (or arrange for parents and caregivers to come and pick up).

Can I ask my staff to get tested for COVID-19 before coming 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 (schools) or your legal adviser.
 
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(external link).
 
Hand hygiene, cough etiquette, staying away if sick and physical distancing, remain the best measures to prevent spread of COVID.

Who needs to stay away?

Health authorities will make decisions about risk on a case by case basis when determining who needs to stay at home and/or self-isolate.

At a minimum, at level 1, 2 and 3 people will need to stay away if they are:

  • Unwell.

  • Self-isolating (at the request of health authorities).

  • Waiting for COVID test results (but only if advised by health authorities that they can’t return to school until the test result comes back).

At Alert Level 3, any child who can’t be supervised at home by an appropriate person, needs to be able to attend school. All other children are to remain learning from home.

At Alert Level 4, everyone stays away although some staff may be exempted to be able to work on-site in specific circumstances.

Anyone who is a contact of a ‘close contact’ is not required to self-isolate, unless they are specifically directed to do so by health authorities. For example if they are living in the same household of a close contact who is symptomatic, they may be asked to self-isolate while the close contact waits for a test result.

There is no requirement for people leaving managed isolation to isolate at home for a further week. They will have received at least 2 negative tests for COVID-19 prior to their departure and are therefore safe to return to work and school. They will receive a letter on their departure, recommending they don’t attend large gatherings for the next week or so (eg, large sports events or concerts). This request does not apply to school or early learning settings, however. A school or early learning service, like other workplaces, is not considered a gathering. There are good systems in place in these environments to reduce the risk of transmission of illness, including COVID-19 (eg, good cleaning and contact tracing practices). As with all New Zealanders, managed isolation departees will be asked to stay away from work/school if feeling unwell, follow good hand hygiene practices and good cough and sneeze etiquette, and keep a track of where they have been (through the NZ COVID Tracer App).

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 77 of the Education and Training Act). The student has to stay away for the infectious period of the specific disease.
 
Section 77 of the Education and Training Act does not apply to private schools. If you are the principal of a private school you can request that a child, student or staff member with a communicable disease or that is suspected of having a communicable disease, does not attend.

For 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.
 
For state schools, staff will not have the ability to determine if the signs of illness presented in children, 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 77. You must inform the Medical Officer of Health, the student’s parents and your school Board of Trustees if you take action under Section 77. You can go to our legal guide for more information(external link).

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

Our COVID-19 response is reliant on everyone in New Zealand doing their part to prevent spread.
 
This includes staying away from school or early learning 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) are:

  • a cough

  • a high temperature (at least 38˚C)

  • shortness of breath

  • a sore throat

  • sneezing and runny nose

  • temporary loss of smell.

Staff, students and children with asthma, hay fever, allergies, ear infections or other acute or chronic conditions may have similar symptoms.

Before a child, student or staff member is sent home, they should be feeling unwell and where relevant, there should always be a conversation with the caregiver to determine whether there is another explanation for their child's symptoms that may mean that they do not pose a risk to others and do not need to go home.

If you are concerned about the health of the staff member, child or student you should encourage them to seek advice through their GP or Healthline.

At Alert Level 2

Can my child go to school at Alert Level 2?

At Alert Level 2, all children and young people can go to school. The only exceptions are children or young people who are sick or have any COVID-19 symptoms, are in self-isolation, or have been asked to stay at home by health authorities while awaiting for the result of a test.

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

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

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 should be at the entry to classrooms 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. See our guidance about face coverings for more information.

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 can people at a higher risk of serious illness do at Alert Level 2? 

People need to play it safe and continue to take sensible health and safety precautions, however at Alert level 2, public health advice is that schools, early learning services and tertiary institutions are safe to open on-site to all learners and staff.

While it is safe for them to attend school, the public health measures are very important and you may need to discuss any additional measures that the child or their caregiver may need, to provide confidence to return to school.
 
If the decision is made by the parents or caregivers that their child will remain learning from home as a precaution, please support them with learning at home as you would for children who are self-isolating or staying away while they are ill.

Guidance for people at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19(external link)

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

No. All children, young people, and teachers with any symptoms are being asked to stay at home, and they will send anyone home who has or develops symptoms.

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

Standard hygiene measures are also really important and in place at schools 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.

Any person who chooses to wear a face covering should be supported to do so, noting health authorities recommend that no child under the age of 6 should wear a face covering.

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

Under Alert Level 2 all 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 or kura 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 attend school at Alert Level 2?

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.

Can parents and caregivers come on site at Alert 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 for a period of time need to be noted in the visitor register. For drop offs and pick-ups, if parents and caregivers are checking in using the NZ COVID Racer App, they don’t need to also complete their details in a 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 staff work across different sites and for different employers at Alert Level 2?

Staff can work in different locations 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 Alert 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.

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.
 
The exception is where people from outside the school or maybe attending e.g. 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.

Do we have to stop the general public from using our school 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 your grounds for a period of time. 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 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 won’t need to be captured in your visitor register if they have checked in to the NZ COVID Tracer App using your QR code posters. For those who cannot access the App, 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 entry 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 on high-touch surfaces such as door handles, bathroom taps, desktops, 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.

Can we run food technology classes at Alert Level 2?

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 as per above is fine).
 
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.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand(external link) has useful information about food safety and the Ministry for Primary Industries has provided some guidance that may also assist you when reviewing your food safety practices – MPI Food Safety(external link)

Food Standards Australia New Zealand(external link) also has useful information about cleaning and sanitising more generally.

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 apply the appropriate limits to visitors.
 
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.

Can we run activities and events at Alert Level 2?

Yes. Under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Order, schools are exempted from physical distancing requirements when people are there to receive, provide, or support education services. For most day to day activities at schools, the rules for gatherings will therefore not apply.

Other health measures must however be in place including appropriate physical distancing (at Alert Level 2 for students – not touching each other and giving some breathing space; for adults 1 metre from other adults when practicable), hand washing, staying away if sick, contact tracing systems and regularly cleaning and disinfecting high touch surfaces.

However as soon as your event or activity brings people onsite who are not there for education purposes, including students, parents and caregivers, then the rules for gatherings do apply. This would include performances such as school plays, cultural events and sporting activities.

Go to our health and safety guidance for further information on Alert Level 2 requirements.

Can we offer Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC) in Alert Level 2? 

EOTC programmes can be offered if managed appropriately, with robust health and safety plans in place. Education Outdoors New Zealand (EONZ) is a Ministry PLD provider and has developed tools to help you support outdoor learning experiences across all levels of education.

Visit the EONZ website to access further information(external link)

Are Board meetings public gatherings?

Board of Trustee meetings are public gatherings and therefore subject to Alert Level 2 requirements for gatherings(external link). Good hygiene standards and appropriate physical distancing is recommended along with recording attendees to ensure contact tracing can be conducted if necessary.

Can we have more than 100 visitors at our school at Alert Level 2?

Events continue to be a key risk in New Zealand for the spread of COVID-19. If you have people from outside the school attending on-site for a period of time, including for performances and sporting events, the relevant rules for gatherings(external link) will apply.

Go to Guidance for schools for Alert Levels 1–4 for further information about health and safety requirements for COVID-19.

COVID-19 footer image

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback