Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

SocietyJune 9, 2020

Schools seek to make distant drop-offs permanent post-Covid

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Primary schools around New Zealand have asked parents to consider new rules that would prohibit classroom drop-off and pick-up. Some parents think it will hinder communication between parents and teachers, but many teachers believe it helps the children become more independent.

Over the last three weeks our children have developed great self-management skills and independence through our pick up and drop off procedures,” reads a letter posted out to parents from dozens of schools across New Zealand.

The letter says there has been “reduced anxiety … with parents not dropping children directly at the classroom” since schools reopened following the Covid-19 lockdown. But some parents are concerned that making the drop-off rule permanent could harm their relationship with the school and children’s teachers. 

The proposal, which has been sent out to parents of many New Zealand schools across the country, differs slightly between schools, but typically asks parents to continue the gate drop-offs that have been mandatory under alert level two. This would mean daily classroom drop-off and pick-ups would be largely a thing of the past, and those backing the change say it helps reduce anxiety and distraction among the kids. 

Stephen Lethbridge, president of the Auckland Primary Principals’ Association and principal of Point Chevalier School, said that while there was no formal push for a change, teachers and parents had been broadly supportive of the intitiatve.

“The level of worry that some children have coming into school in the morning has been offset somewhat, and most teachers around the country have noticed that they can get straight into learning a lot quicker,” he said.

An Auckland mum whose youngest child started school on the first day it reopened after level three said she was worried that the most interaction she would have with her child’s teacher would be in the twice-yearly parent-teacher conference, and those short meetings are hardly enough.

“A lot of those little concerns you might want to just run past teachers aren’t something you would want to escalate to a formal meeting. Currently you’re allowed to email and make an appointment and go in, but most of the time you just want to ask the teacher something that doesn’t need to be so formal.”

She told The Spinoff the sense of community many families build with their schools could be under pressure if parents felt unwelcome on school grounds before and after school.

“I think it will change the culture of a lot of schools if parents don’t feel welcome. Our school relies so much on parent volunteer time and fundraising and if over the years that connection lessens and you don’t know the teachers and you feel like you’re not part of that school in some way, I reckon there will be an effect on the number of parents who want to give up their time and money.”

Lethbridge said he understood the concern, and schools would need to ensure parent didn’t feel excluded.

“The proposals that some schools are putting out at the moment do address that somehow by saying ‘we’re going to have a Friday morning whānau time’… We do need to be mindful of the fact that our parents are really important stakeholders and we need to keep them engaged in what’s going on.”

Included in the letter is a list of benefits schools see coming from the new initiative. These include children having higher independence, organisation and self-management has improved and there is “virtually no separation anxiety”.

For children who do require more support or supervision to and from the classroom, including beginner students, schools would have room to put provisions in place, said Lethbridge. 

“Some may need an extra level of support, we already had that in place in [Covid-19 alert] level two for children who needed extra support. For those brand new students who are coming into school, there would definitely be a different way to have a parent come and drop you off in the morning.”

The Ministry of Education and the largest teachers’ union, the NZEI, both told The Spinoff they had no involvement in the initiative, and it was up to schools to make these decisions for themselves.

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