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Back to school . . . Ardgowan Primary School year 7 pupil Ava Goodall (11) is ready to take on the year. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

‘‘It’s a journey and I think we’re building the bridge as we walk across it, really,’’ North Otago Primary Principals Association president Kate Mansfield says.

As schools returned for the first term of 2022 this week, waiting for the impending Omicron outbreak was ‘‘a strange place to be’’, Mrs Mansfield said.

Although she could not speak for the all North Otago principals, the general feeling among those she had spoken to, was they felt ‘‘quite bogged down’’ with the procedures and policies which needed to be put in place under the Red traffic light system.

Mrs Mansfield is the principal of 98-pupil Glenavy School, but said many larger schools had to take measures such as splitting the school into pods, and having different start and finish times.

Encouraging children years 4 and above to wear masks was another challenge. The school and teachers were not required to enforce mask-use, and children could not be excluded for refusing to wear a mask.

‘‘They’ve always got the right to an education. However as educators, what we’re telling our teachers, is that we’re there to educate the children why we are wearing masks.’’

The ministry was advising one or two relievers should be linked to each school, which could prove difficult, due to a lack of relief teachers, Mrs Mansfield said.

‘‘Our biggest worry is not having any teachers to put in front of classes.’’

While the principal usually spent the week before term 1 at work, preparing for the school year, this time, she had spent it ensuring the correct procedures for Covid-19 were in place.

Schools would operate differently, depending on which of the Government’s three phases the country was in.

In phase one, staff were all teaching and most children were at school; in phase two, when there was a ‘‘considerable amount’’ of teachers and children off, the school would go into a ‘‘hybrid model’’ with some schooling happening at home, and some teachers — if they were isolating — having to teach from home.

‘‘It’s a little bit unknown,’’ Mrs Mansfield said.

‘‘The ministry have also said, down the track, when they’re getting thousands and thousands of cases a day, it will be basically your close contacts [isolate], and then your class would stay put, unless they have symptoms later on . . . we’re talking about, it’s rampant over the South Island, probably at that stage.’’

School boards of trustees could also make the decision for home schooling, when a school gets to a point when there are not enough teachers to cover classes, or not enough students in the school, she said.

‘‘We have to plan for the worst but hope for the best really.

‘‘We’re planning for that there’ll be thousands ofcases a day, and we all know it’s going to come down our way, and I’m just reassuring my staff that we’ll just have to do what we can do, when we’re in that situation.’’

The waiting, and not knowing what would happen, was difficult.

‘‘It will come. We just have to relax and take it day by day and see how it goes.’’