9 Nov 2021

Principals work to fill gaps as vaccine-resistant teachers mean staff numbers likely to drop

7:40 pm on 9 November 2021

Vaccination-resistant teachers are creating headaches for principals as the deadline for the government's vaccination mandate draws nearer.

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File image. Photo: 123rf.com

They are figuring out how to cover classes on Tuesday when staff who have not had at least their first injection are no longer allowed on site.

Those in rural areas warned there were not enough relief teachers to fill the gaps in the short-term and they feared they would not be able to hire permanent replacements next year.

Nelson Princpals Association president Symon Beattie said the vaccine mandate was creating challenging situations.

"This is huge, I mean we're the frontline messengers faced with the obvious impact of having staff with career pathways that will be blocked and ended for some."

Most schools in the region had only a small percentage of staff who were hesitant about the vaccination but a couple might lose more, Beattie said.

Schools could not be sure who would get their vaccination on or before Monday so it was hard to prepare for next week, he added.

"A huge challenge for us as principals is to be prepared for whatever eventuates on the 16th and to have cover on standby, ready if required, but equally to be able to welcome those people back and carry on as normal if they choose to be vaccinated."

Southland Primary Principals Association president Simon Bell said nearly 60 percent of its 73 member schools were expecting to lose staff next week.

"We don't have, not that we know of, any schools within Southland where across the staff are choosing not to [get vaccinated], it's just one or a couple, or might know of a couple but might have five others that are not sure. Principals are trying to gather that information and talk to staff," Bell said.

It could equate to roughly 100 people across the region, but it was difficult to get an exact figure.

The Ministry of Education had talked to schools about the possibility of principals taking classes or using learning support co-ordinators as teachers to temporarily fill any gaps, he said.

But principals were worried that they would not be able to find permanent replacements for teachers who refused to be fully vaccinated by 1 January.

"We traditionally struggle to attract teachers down to our positions so this was always going to be a difficult one when the mandate came in and I think the biggest worry for principals was, as of the 16th, where are we going to find extra teachers to fill some of these positions," he said.

Many Southland schools had to repeatedly advertise teaching and principals' vacancies.

Principals could provide information to vaccination-resistant teachers, but they were not allowed to put pressure on them, Bell said.

The early childhood sector faced similar problems.

In Golden Bay, one early learning centre told RNZ it would close on Friday because half its staff would not comply with the vaccine mandate and it was impossible to replace them.

Nelson Tasman Kindergartens chief executive Craig Vercoe said the issue was the most divisive he had seen in 30 years because it affected parents as well as teachers.

"Certainly the feedback we're getting is that there are pockets of communities that are really struggling with the mandate and the application of it, particularly in that parent space where traditionally they were there as helpers but potentially now they're seen as volunteers on site which then has implications for them around the vaccine."

Only 10-15 percent of the organisation's teachers appeared to be hesitant about the vaccination and it was not expecting to close any of its sites, Vercoe said.

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