Schools across the region are rising to the challenges presented by starting the school year in Red.

While social distancing and gathering restrictions have become part of life, mandates on mask-wearing introduced for pupils from year 4 up is new.

Roxburgh Area School principal Paul McDowall said the challenges the Red traffic light setting presented for schools could fill an essay.

However the foremost was the use of masks.

“There is some reluctance from some families [towards mask wearing] and add to that the near 30-degree temperatures [last week] and it has been hard work,” he said.

“The other challenge is reviewing every activity outside of the classroom to assess if it can go ahead under the current restrictions. Denying students the ability to do all the extras school normally offers is not easy.”

In Cromwell, Goldfields Primary School principal Anna Harrison said the school had moved to virtual assemblies and a zoned playground, with protocols in place for cleaning, hand washing and sanitising.

“There are multiple challenges related to changing Covid alert levels,” she said.

“We have some anxious staff and parents – that will certainly mean that we will have some anxious students for our return.”

Matthew McCormick, new principal at Cromwell Primary School, said it was a balance ensuring the school adhered to Ministry of Education requirements without disrupting pupils, as well as keeping the school and community safe from Covid-19.

“Our primary focus is and always has been to ensure that our students experience quality teaching and learning and a positive school experience,” Mr McCormick said.

Cromwell College closed its apartments for the year after completing a risk analysis based on information from the Ministry of Education and the Boarding Schools Association, principal Mason Stretch said.

“We closed our apartments this year because of our concerns safely managing staff and student health and wellbeing as a result of having to manage close contacts or those who were unwell with Covid,” Mr Stretch said.

While restrictions were similar to the old Alert Level 3, the gathering limits and masks were a change.

Staff were providing mask breaks for students during class time which had been helpful as everyone adjusted to the new rules, he said.

In Alexandra, Dunstan High School principal Reece Goldsmith said the main challenge was around managing anxiety levels for students and staff as they entered a “different normal” with masks and modification of school events and activities.

“That being said, students and staff responded amazingly well to online learning and school closures, hand sanitising etc over the last couple of years so I am sure most will be fine,” he said.

The school had capacity to isolate hostel pupils in the event one contracted Covid-19 and there were plans in place under guidance from the Ministry of Health.

Mount Aspiring College also had space for hostel students to isolate if necessary, principal Nicola Jacobsen said.

With 1219 pupils, staff were navigating having groups of up to 100 for assemblies and other activities.

Last week three separate haka powhiri were organised to welcome returning staff and pupils and ensure Red traffic light restrictions were adhered to.

“The feeling amongst the staff and students is that it is good that we can be onsite for learning,” Ms Jacobsen said.

” And much like everyone at present, there is the unknown with regard to the disruption that Omicron may cause for us. However, we are doing our best to plan and prepare so that our students can have a great experience at school, and make the most of the opportunities that the school can offer within the requirements of the Red setting of the Covid protection framework.”

Wanaka Primary School principal Wendy Bamford said mask mandates were “very challenging”. However staff were working to ensure the start of the school year was “busy, settled and positive” for the children.

“We are not making the rules but are obliged to enforce them challenging as there are so many strong differing views out there about Red traffic light protocols,” she said.

“Please be kind to principals and teachers out there.”

“Coping with the many demands from parents and groups with varying views and a changing Covid landscape is not easy.

“This is a particularly challenging beginning of the year.

“Your schools will look after your children .. please look after your schools.”