COVID-19: Local schools brace for shut-down

Schools in east Auckland were yesterday bracing themselves for news of possible closures due to coronavirus which would impact not just tens of thousands of students and teachers, but parents as well.

At the time of deadline, the Ministry of Education was expected to make a statement amid growing fear of the potential spread of Covid-19.

Most schools already have strict protocols for staff and students in place. The Times contacted several local schools. Not all responded to our requests for information.

Owairoa Primary School principal Alan McIntyre told the Times they invested a huge amount of time and effort trying to keep everyone safe.

“We’re determined “to be strong, act decisively and protect our students, staff and the parents.”

“We are abiding by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health guidelines and expect to hear today (Monday) what we need to do in preparation for possible school closure.

Some of Owairoa’s initiatives include a concerted effort to have all staff and students to practice safe and hygienic practices. The school has also engaged a nurse to take student temperatures and sent home students with identified higher-than-normal temperatures. The school has enforced self-isolation for students from at-risk countries.

They’ve also informed staff that they must wash their hands before entering the staffroom and purchased hand sanitiser, Dettol spray and antiseptic wet wipes for all classes.

The school cleaners are also making an additional effort when cleaning door handles, toilets etc and are using more cleaning products to stop any transmission of germs

Owairoa has also cancelled all assemblies and other major public gatherings canceled its PTA family picnic, and stopped daily school milk distribution.

“With the Government announcement over the weekend we are getting even more vigilant trying to maintain a healthy and hygienic environment at school,” McIntyre said.

“Public health warning signs have gone up around the school this morning (Monday) asking all new visitors to New Zealand not to come onto the school site and to self-isolate for 14 days.

“Things are moving fast for us but we are doing our very best to keep ahead of the virus.”

Pakuranga College told the Times that this stage (Monday afternoon) everything at school is learning as usual.

Owairoa School has also cancelled all assemblies and other major public gatherings as well as the PTA family picnic. Photo supplied

“However we are increasing vigilance around students who are sick and ensuring they stay at home (even this is usual practice),” Mike Williams, principal of Pakuranga College, said.

“We all have a part to play in preventing the risk of infection.

“Our school staff and leadership team remain well-prepared for the possibility of a case in our community. If that were to occur, we are confident we can put our plans into action and know that we will be supported by regional health authorities.

“We are fortunate that our digital environment means that any student that is away from school or needs to self-isolate can continue with their learning. Teachers already use the Google classroom application heavily and students can complete classwork even if they are away.”

Current measures employed at Pakuranga College includes a nightly anti-bacterial wipe-down of the main reception areas (reception, student reception, health centre, international department), messaging to the public on our entrance doors (including Chinese).

Hand sanitiser and tissues have been made available to all staff while the normal nightly cleaning by the cleaning crew is using biological cleaner.

“Regarding future plans, these will be dictated by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education over the coming days,” Williams said.

Pigeon Mountain Primary School principal Ian Dickinson said the school board had worked proactively to provide its community with up-to date information “and to articulate the steps we are taking in school to keep our students, parents and staff well”.

“As a school, we are very much directed by the Ministry of Education with regards to special measures arising from the COVID-19 outbreak,” Dickinson said.

“As a team of educators, we are embarking on discussions about how we can best support student learning in the unlikely event schools are closed for a prolonged period of time.

“Steps being considered are based on the array of resources we currently have and use for learning- things like Google Apps for Education, Teacher Dashboard, online applications such as Reading Eggs, Mathletics, and Basic Facts.”

Principal of Mission Heights Junior College Ian Morrison said that all the principals of the Flat Bush Cluster of schools met up on Monday and have pandemic plans in place.

“We are awaiting further guidelines from the Ministries of Health and Education and will communicate all relevant information to our community as and when this becomes available.

“The best message at the moment  is to reinforce the advice from the Prime Minister which includes considering whether overseas travel is essential and following advice about social and physical distancing, staying at home if feeling unwell and washing hands.

“We also appreciate the calm, positive and supportive manner in which our community has responded to the challenges emerging from COVID-19.”