ZB

Teaching staff farewelled ahead of vaccine mandate deadline

Author
Dubby Henry, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Nov 2021, 7:31pm
(Photo / 123RF)
(Photo / 123RF)

Teaching staff farewelled ahead of vaccine mandate deadline

Author
Dubby Henry, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Nov 2021, 7:31pm

An unknown number of school teachers, early childcare and other education staff have been farewelled today as the vaccination mandate kicks in.

No unvaccinated staff or volunteers are allowed on school or ECE grounds from tomorrow.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this afternoon that no schools were unable to open for learning as a result of the vaccine mandates but 11 were indicating they had a "high risk" of losing staff.

Overall there had been four applications for mandate exemptions, which were currently being assessed by the Minister, she said.

The mandate - which is supported by most in the sector - is in place because children can't be vaccinated, so rely on adults to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Vaccinated people are much less likely to catch and thus spread the virus - they are also thought to be less likely to infect others although more research is needed.

But some school and early learning staff have refused to get the vaccine, for a variety of reasons - often based on incorrect information they have read online.

That's led to some claims that those who leave shouldn't be in the sector in the first place as they lack the qualities of a good teacher.

But some school leaders say that's not fair - many of the teachers being farewelled were good at their jobs and will be sorely missed.

And a private online school is even being set up to give some of those teachers another employment option.

'We would welcome them back with open arms'

Papakura High School principal Simon Craggs said about seven per cent of staff had not had their first dose.

Papakura High School principal Simon Craggs says about seven per cent of his staff haven't had their first dose. Photo / Michael Craig

Among them was the school's Service Academy director Eparaima Paratene who posted a video to social media of a rousing haka and waiata at his farewell.

Paratene - a former army vet who served in Iraq and has led the academy for two years - struggled to compose himself before leading the "haka of respect" while some of his students were in tears by the end of the waiata.

Craggs said no staff were losing their job today - the school had decided to let them work from home and keep paying them until the end of the year.

Even though the school disagreed with their decision not to be vaccinated, they were still valued members of staff, he said.

With the public becoming increasingly divided over vaccine status, Craggs repeated a recent message he had given in the staffroom.

"That person sitting next to you ... who two months ago was one of your favourite colleagues and you got on incredibly well with, is not a different person because they've decided not to get the vaccine, or have decided to get the vaccine. They're still the same person, and they need to have understanding and empathy."

He believed that had struck a chord. "There was a bit of tension ... but that's really settled down once people realised, it's just one decision, it doesn't change who they are as a person."

Craggs had read some of the information those people were seeing. He understood why they found it "incredibly convincing" even though it was contrary to the advice from public health experts.

Staff had had chances to get their questions answered through a webinar series from Nanogirl Dr Michelle Dickinson and a Zoom call with Māori health advocate Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen.

It would be "fantastic" if people changed their minds in coming weeks, Craggs said. "We would welcome them back with open arms."

NZPF president Perry Rush told Mike Hosking this morning it was a tough day at the office for principals.

Principals' Federation president Perry Rush said today would be a "tough day at the office". Photo / NZME

There was still no national tally of how many school staff would be gone on Tuesday.

With only about four weeks to go, schools would be able to "limp through" to the end of the year. The hard date was January 1, when the policy's true impact would be seen.

"We simply don't know if we have sufficient teaching resource out there to backfill the absence of these teachers in a face-to-face context."

Auckland University's Head of Initial Teacher Education Paul Heyward told Kate Hawkesby school leaders shouldn't be giving up on their unvaccinated staff members just yet.

Heyward said there was time to talk to them and get them to "change their mind with dignity" before January 1.

That discussion could look at how their decision related to the professional teachers' code - some might see their decision as upholding human rights which was part of the code.

"Let's begin the conversation, rather than seeing all anti-vax teaches as a kind of lunatic fringe, which they're not. We could lose some very talented teachers."

Private online school offering jobs for teachers who aren't vaccinated

The Villa Education Trust is setting up a private online school following the vaccine mandate coming into effect.

It put out a call over the weekend for expressions of interest from teachers, "vaccinated or not".

The trust's academic adviser Alwyn Poole said more than 40 teachers had responded including some who cited the vaccine mandate as their reason for seeking an online teaching job.

He believed unvaccinated teachers had been characterised unfairly - there were some "very very high-quality educators" among the applicants.

Alwyn Poole from the Villa Education Trust which is setting up a new online school. Photo / NZME

Poole said the school was already tentatively in the works, thanks to the move to online learning in the pandemic, but the mandate had hastened the move.

The school's aims included providing high-quality learning for students, ensuring predictability for families and providing another option for teachers who were losing their jobs.

If vaccines were brought in for children, that could also prove a problem both for pro- and anti-vaxx parents who might have concerns about who was in their child's class. The school could offer them another option, he said.

It will be run out of Mt Hobson Middle School and will cater to Years 5-13 initially. The fees would be "well below $10,000", not including the costs of a once-a-term camp.

The school would be led by Poole, his wife Karen as chief executive, Dr Bruce Knox providing qualifications guidance and two others yet to be announced.

Poole said around 50 families had indicated an interest since it was announced on the weekend.

Between the trust's three schools - Mt Hobson, Middle School West Auckland and South Auckland Middle School - there were still four staff in a "decision-making process" about the mandate this afternoon.

VET wanted to follow a fair employment process and look at whether there were alternative ways they could stay employed, Poole said. "We love our teachers."