9 Nov 2021

Unvaccinated teachers 'putting the whole village at risk' - mayor

10:03 pm on 9 November 2021

Ruapehu District Mayor is bitterly disappointed that teachers at a small rural school in his region are refusing to get vaccinated.

Empty desks in school classroom

Photo: 123RF

Matiere School in King Country has a staff of three teachers, three support staff and a relief teacher.

Principal Vanessa Gotz told RNZ that [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/455243/covid-19-all-staff-at-small-king-country-school-refusing-vaccine-by-next-week-s-deadline

none of her staff intend to get vaccinated].

This means, considering the deadline for all teachers to have their first vaccine shot before Monday, the school can not open next week.

Ohura farmer Scott Gower, whose children went to Matiere School, is shocked by the decision of staff not to be vaccinated.

He said the area had a number of alternative lifestylers, so he would not be surprised they probably do not want the vaccine, but the school was a different matter.

''I would have thought school teachers and boards of trustees would have seen the sense in being vaccinated. And the responsibility of being vaccinated as well. It's a responsibility that they have for their community and the kids, and those kids going home.''

He is incredulous that a handful of people can put the community at risk.

''We are lucky that we are still being able to operate and we are waiting for people to get vaccinated so the country can start moving to some normality, so they are not only holding the country to ransom, these guys are holding their little communities to ransom now.''

The 40 or so children at Matiere School are expected to have to revert to remote learning next week, when the vaccination mandate takes effect.

Ohura Valley School is about 20km west of Matiere School. Principal Anna Fourie said only the school's board of trustees chairperson Sonia Corrigan could comment on the school's situation, but refused to provide her phone number.

Federated Farmers rural education spokesperson Wayne Langford said staffing shortages at rural schools had been a long running issue and the mandate could exacerbate that.

Schools were having to consider their options, he said.

''Of course they won't know until they get to the date just how many teachers they have and how many they don't. What support staff they have got and what it is going to look like.

"We could definitely see some split shifts, so kids going to school Monday, Wednesday and Friday rather than five days a week. We can't afford for Covid to get into our rural communities. We just don't have the infrastructure to be able to deal with it.''

Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron is not happy.

''They have got to understand they have to protect their young people and I just shake my head, I'm sorry I just don't agree with that stance. I think it is just quite crazy. It is putting the whole village at risk because some people do not want to be vaccinated.''

He said Covid-19 cases in small communities will take off very quickly.

''If someone comes in here and is Covid positive it will spread like wild fire, we just know that and we are really concerned about that and of course it doesn't choose whether it is young or old, anyone who is unvaccinated will get sick.''

It is a view supported by fellow King Country mayor, Waitomo District's John Robertson.

''Clearly we need to get the message out to encourage people to get vaccinated, whether they be teachers, or meat workers, whatever and this is important for us to keep people out of hospital and to be honest, to prevent death.''

On the streets of Te Kuiti there was some support for the teachers.

''I think it is people's choice. It is an individual decision because the vaccine hasn't been proven to prevent you from getting Covid.

''I just think that not everyone is able to get them, so I believe that needs to be considered into the factors as well.

''Of course they should be (vaccinated). Look after the children, save the children.''

''I don't really feel like people should be told that they have to do something against their wishes.''

It is estimated that in King Country alone about one-third of teachers were refusing Covid-19 vaccination.

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