12 Oct 2021

Principals confident most staff will comply with mandatory vaccine order

9:49 am on 12 October 2021

School principals are confident their staff will comply with the government's order to get vaccinated before 1 January.

Exam with uniform school student doing educational test with stress in classroom.16:9 style

File photo. Photo: 123RF

They are also relieved Cabinet did not push ahead with plans to reopen Auckland's schools next week.

School and early childhood staff who have contact with children must get their first vaccination by 15 November 2021 and their second by 1 January 2022.

It's not clear how many might refuse or what will happen to them and a petition opposing the vaccine mandate had more than 25,000 signatures by last night.

Auckland teacher and Post Primary Teachers Association regional chair Michael Cabral-Tarry said most of its members supported the no jab no job rule and the government's order was likely to persuade the hesitant.

"Where vaccine mandates have been introduced, rates of compliance are always very, very high because in a lot of cases people have just been waiting for that final push, that final thing to convince them to get vaccinated and a mandate for a lot of people will be exactly the push they need," he said.

Principal Traci Liddall of Otorohanga College, which is in the Waikato and under alert level 3, said there would be some push back but most teachers were happy to get the Pfizer shots.

"There will be a little bit of resistance. There's a freedom for teachers or something page on Facebook that I was looking at before that has a few members and people who are saying they are going to stand tough but I think by and large most school staff will be on board.

"I know that most of my staff are already at least single vaccinated and many are already double vaccinated," she said.

The vaccine decision was accompanied by the announcement that the government had backed off plans to reopen Auckland schools next week.

Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate principal Kiri Turketo said she was busting to get out of lockdown but Monday would have been too soon.

She and other principals from the AimHi group of decile one schools wrote to the Education Minister Chris Hipkins last week urging him to rethink the 18 October reopening due to the risk of spreading Covid-19 further.

"If we go into school too fast because of being a babysitter for parents, what we'll become is a super-spreader for the virus. It's actually more detrimental going in to a school half-baked and being shut down immediately which means the whole region will be shut down," she said.

Mount Albert Grammar headmaster Patrick Drumm said the decision not to reopen Auckland schools next week was frustrating but unavoidable.

"If anything myself and colleagues and other staff have been really scratching our heads about how we could come back a week from now and make it work in schools with the current state of play with the cases and all that sort of thing," he said.

He said reopening the city's schools should be tied to vaccination rates and, with that in mind, it was annoying the government was only moving now to making teachers get the jabs.

"It's great but it's frustrating that wasn't announced three to four months ago," he said.

"The timeline, first dose by the 15th of November, which you know you could walk into a service tomorrow and have your first shot so that seems a pretty generous timeline and then fully vaccinated by January 2022, I'm just not sure why those timelines are so elongated."

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves told Morning Report the vast majority of his 240 staff were willing.

"I have asked gently around the senior staff, what have they heard and my feeling is that we're going to have a very good uptake, and we have already," he said.

He was concerned about privacy, collecting and storing information, and how to go about dealing with people who refused to take the vaccine.

"We've got 240 staff, and on the law of averages, we're going to have somebody who's a bit reluctant, maybe for medical reason, or they just need more information, or perhaps they're wondering how it relates to their particular job in school.

"I can anticipate there'll be some discussions around those issues with certain staff, and it might only be three or four or five, but we've got a teaching shortage in some subjects, and if it means that somebody leaves then that could cause problems."

Hargreaves, who is also the president of the Auckland Secondary School Principals' Association, will meet with the Ministry of Education today.

The Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he wanted to give schools time to replace any staff who refused to be vaccinated.

He said it was not practical to expect schools to find new staff in the middle of the fourth school term.

The Education Ministry told schools it would provide more information about compulsory vaccinations and other changes including mandatory Covid testing for staff in level 3 areas.

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