Supporting ākonga at higher risk of illness from COVID-19

Supporting ākonga at higher risk of illness from COVID-19

Mask use, learning offsite, and avenues for supporting akōnga with high health needs.

Planning to reduce risk

Through your risk assessment planning, you will already know the ākonga and whānau who are more at risk from a COVID infection. The risk profile for your school and wider community will continue to change as COVID- 19 case numbers fluctuate.   

We encourage you to work with ākonga, whānau and their medical professionals (where appropriate) to understand the level of risk and consider the options available to balance the education, health and wellbeing needs of the ākonga. 

If ākonga in your school are at higher risk if infected by COVID-19, working with staff onsite to ensure they are aware of the heightened risk, and planning to reduce risk is advised. 

This may include additional strategies such as: 

  • reducing the number of adults working closely with the ākonga 
  • ensuring ākonga are positioned in well ventilated parts of school spaces while indoors 
  • building a class culture of manaakitanga that supports good hygiene habits 
  • staying home when sick  

Through your risk assessment review, you may also choose to implement a policy where staff working with children with complex medical needs should be up to date with their vaccinations. Any policy decisions should be carefully considered and involve consultation with staff, parents, and caregivers, with the least intrusive measures used first. 

Providing short term options to learn offsite

If your school or community is experiencing a peak in case numbers, you may consider providing hybrid or distance learning options for some ākonga. This approach would be based on risk assessments and kōrero with whānau, with regular risk reviews to support a return to onsite education alongside peers as soon as possible. Identifying ways for ākonga to remain connected to their kaiako and peers will support an easier transition back when the time is right and reduce feelings of isolation while learning offsite. 

To support you to provide offsite options for ākonga, content to on hybrid learning and learning at home information remains available: 

Te Mahau Learning Support staff and resource teachers including RTLB are available to ākonga, whānau and educators to plan and deliver learning whether ākonga are on or offsite. 

Avenues for support for ākonga with high health needs

Students with high health needs may be able to access support through the following if they meet the criteria for entry:

COVID-19: At risk Gateway

Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education has approved a new, temporary, Government-funded dual tuition gateway that will allow ākonga to access distance education where they or their whānau are immunocompromised or have a higher risk of illness from COVID-19. 

The 'COVID-19: At risk Gateway' will enable up to 1000 ākonga to enrol in Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) for all or part of their learning programme. It is specifically for ākonga who are unable to return to in-person learning in a school setting because they or a member of their household have compromised immunity or have a higher risk of illness from COVID-19. 

The gateway was introduced in Term 2 of the 2022 school year. It is available free to eligible domestic ākonga enrolled in state and state-integrated schools in New Zealand until the end of the 2022 school year, with no subject limit.  

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible:

  • caregivers must provide a medical certificate from a specialist medical practitioner certifying that attending school in person would put ākonga or a member of their household at a higher risk of illness from COVID-19 due to compromised immunity arising from a medical condition or treatment;  
  • whānau, ākonga and the school have agreed that the school is unable to provide a full learning programme at home for an extended period of time and will require the support of Te Kura; and  
  • ākonga must remain on the roll of their enrolled school, which will provide pastoral support. 

Eligible medical conditions and treatments

The current Ministry of Health guidance includes medical conditions such as: 

  • Chronic lung disease such as cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive respiratory disease and emphysema, severe asthma that needs multiple medications and medical care; 
  • Serious heart conditions such as congestive heart failure; 
  • Hypertension that isn’t well controlled; 
  • Diabetes that isn’t well controlled; 
  • Chronic kidney disease; and 
  • Liver disease. 

The Ministry of Health guidance on conditions and treatments that weaken the immune system include: 

  • Having chemotherapy or radiotherapy; 
  • Bone marrow or organ transplantation; 
  • Some blood cancers; 
  • Immune deficiencies including HIV infection; and 
  • Immunity weakening medications such as high-dose corticosteroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs that treat inflammatory forms of arthritis. 

Ākonga whose condition is not in the Ministry of Health guidance

Applications for enrolment for medical conditions not included in the Ministry of Health’s guidance would still be accepted, provided the application includes a medical certificate from a specialist indicating why the condition puts ākonga or a member of their household at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, if they are attending school in person. 

How to enrol eligible ākonga

An enrolling school or kura can contact their Te Mahau office to discuss potentially eligible ākonga. 

Regional Te Mahau contacts 

You will need to complete a referral form and submit this together with a medical certificate from a specialist medical practitioner to a Te Mahau (the Ministry's regional office) office. 

The Ministry of Education is the referral agency and its referral information to Te Kura must: 

  • clearly state the educationally appropriate off-site supervision arrangements for the study of ākonga with Te Kura; 
  • provide an educational profile (where available), and the name of the enrolling school; 
  • confirm the risk to the ākonga or household member that could not be appropriately managed by the enrolling school based on the specialist medical practitioner's assessment; 
  • confirm how the enrolling school will maintain a pastoral care and/or learning support relationship with ākonga while they are studying with Te Kura; and 
  • set a review period 

Example where this gateway could apply

A child undergoing chemotherapy would be eligible for enrolment in the Regional Health School. Their siblings would not and their attendance at school could put their sibling at risk. The siblings of a child who is undergoing chemotherapy can be enrolled in Te Kura under this emergency gateway. 

The gateway is free to eligible ākonga.