ZB

School balls: Private school to Covid test ballgoers at door

Author
Dubby Henry,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Jul 2022, 9:29am
Students attending Pinehurst School's ball, and their dates, need a negative RAT to get in. (Photo / Getty Images)
Students attending Pinehurst School's ball, and their dates, need a negative RAT to get in. (Photo / Getty Images)

School balls: Private school to Covid test ballgoers at door

Author
Dubby Henry,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Jul 2022, 9:29am

Students going to a private Auckland school's ball this evening will need an extra accessory along with their ball gowns and bling - a negative Rapid Antigen Test. 

Pinehurst School is testing all students and guests ahead of the event, to be held at the Hilton hotel in Auckland tonight. 

All students attending the ball had to get tested on Friday morning at school when they picked up their tickets, while guests will be tested at the venue tonight. 

But that's upset at least one parent, who emailed the Pinehurst board asking why ballgoers needed RATs when they weren't required at gatherings under the orange traffic light setting. 

"The All Blacks are playing at Eden Park on Saturday night with a crowd of 40,000 people, no RAT test is required. The Government has removed the need for pre-departure RAT tests. Why does Pinehurst require a RAT test for this event? Do all students have to have a RAT test to attend school every day?" he wrote. 
 
The parent also questioned whether the school had legal advice on testing minors without parental consent, and what would happen if students were still testing positive after finishing their isolation period for Covid. 
 
He believed there was "growing unrest" among parents about the policy. 

But Pinehurst is standing by the testing - saying while it may be conservative it's the best way to keep students and staff safe from Covid. 

Pinehurst principal Alex Reed confirmed to the Herald one parent had sent a "polite email" questioning the response. But he said the "vast majority" of parents were in favour and didn't find the policy controversial. 

"Our testing has been by consent, and it would be wrong to characterise this issue as a difficult one for the school." 

Pinehurst School says its approach to testing is supported by "the vast majority" of parents. File photo / Michael CraigPinehurst School says its approach to testing is supported by "the vast majority" of parents. (File photo / Michael Craig) 

Reed said Pinehurst also tested ahead of other high-risk events like camps; the ball was high risk as masks wouldn't generally be worn. 

That differed from the classroom where about 80 per cent of students and staff regularly wore masks. That had meant relatively few infections at school and no outbreaks on camps or similar events. 

Asked about ballgoers who had finished isolating but were still testing positive for Covid, Reed said the school routinely tested such children when they returned to school. 

"We always use our judgment, and students returning from infection after isolation frequently test positive (usually a weak positive) in the 8-10 day period. Those students, who are not infectious, rejoin our community in school." 

All students had returned negative tests on Friday, he said. 

"We are testing guests on the door because it's the only practical way of doing this. Yes, anyone who tests positive and therefore can't attend will have a full refund, and we will arrange for safe transport home." 

The school's decision comes as cases of Covid - particularly the BA.5 variant of Omicron - are creeping up, along with hospital numbers. Health authorities are warning of a second wave of Covid-19 over the winter adding to unprecedented pressure on the hospital system from other winter illnesses. 

Asked to clarify the rules around RAT testing, the Ministry of Education's hautū (leader) of operations Sean Teddy confirmed in a statement that private schools like Pinehurst were entitled to make decisions about RAT requirements to attend their school balls as they were governed by their own independent boards. 

But state and state-integrated schools couldn't require evidence of a negative RAT to access curriculum-related activities, Teddy said. However under the Education and Training Act 2020 principals could require a student not to attend "if they believe, on reasonable grounds, that the student may have a communicable disease". 

For state and state-integrated schools, the ministry likened RATs to using breathalysers at a school ball to see if students were drunk. 

It's illegal for a state school to breathalyse students as it's considered a search - which schools can't do, according to guidance on the ministry's website. This includes at a ball. 

However if the ball is held at an outside venue, the venue owner can set its own rules including requiring breath-testing. An event held on school grounds but organised by another group, such as an alumni association, can also set its own rules such as using breathalysers. 

Schools are also free to refuse entry to anyone if they believe that's warranted - including through a visual assessment of the student's condition or behaviour, the guidance says.