Auckland Grammar School's headmaster says he was "blindsided" after learning of a sudden seven-day school closure through the media.
Thousands of students were set to return to school today when the Ministry of Education ordered late yesterday for Auckland schools to remain shut for another week.
It comes after the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) requested help reducing traffic to carry out necessary repair work with more stormy weather on the way.
Auckland Grammar's principal Tim O’Connor called the decision a “total surprise”.
“We had been preparing all weekend to open the campus,” he told Breakfast this morning.
“We’ve had 12 classrooms underwater. We stripped the carpet out of all those rooms. We sucked water out of the sports centre and a number of other facilities so that we could prepare to open business as usual today.”
He said the school’s last communication with the Ministry of Education had been on Sunday, which “made it clear it was schools’ decisions as self-governing bodies to make”.
“Our decision was that the campus was safe and we were ready to open.”
O’Connor sent out a letter to parents on Sunday evening and again on Monday morning expressing their intention to open its campus for in-person learning.
“So [it was a] total surprise and one that we found out via the media, not through any communication from the ministry.”
He said he attempted to contact the Director of Education for Auckland yesterday evening after reading media reports which appeared to suggest schools could open if they wished to do so.
O’Connor then sent out a message to parents saying the school would be opening “but did make it clear to them that I was still waiting to hear from the ministry”.
“We didn’t receive the directive to close until 10 [minutes] to 9pm last night.”
He said 60 students in their boarding house turned up to class, while a further 60 were on their way so “to actually receive this sort of information blindsided us”.
“Frankly, a seven-day closure announcement out of the blue … has made it feel like we’re back in Covid times and we’re being governed by central bodies rather than actually being able to govern ourselves.”
The Ministry of Education's Secretary for Education, Iona Holsted, told Breakfast she was “very aware that the lateness of that message”, which had been “aggravated by a technical fault in our system”, had left schools, students and their parents “unawares”.
“All of those things conspired against us, actually.”
She said the “change in mind came because we are in an emergency and things do change”.
“We got word in the morning from NEMA that they were really looking for help to minimise traffic flows in Auckland.
“Aucklanders will know that when schools aren’t open, traffic flows are quite different.”
Holsted said the ministry will be reviewing the directive “in light of NEMA’s advice” on a daily basis.
“If the weather improves dramatically, if the clean-up around infrastructure happens more quickly and we get that advice, then that directive can be lifted.
“We will be informing schools on a daily basis about the advice we’re getting and what that means for them.”
She said should the repair work be completed ahead of schedule, the ministry will be aiming to send out a notice for schools to reopen at midday.
“We will be aiming for as early as possible in the day but obviously, we’ll be wanting best quality advice from [NEMA] as well.”
Holsted also apologised over the handling of the directive to schools.
“I certainly apologise for the lateness and the lack of clarity around the message. I’m really sorry to have done that and I really want to thank the principals who prepared to open schools so well.”