Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Unvaccinated teachers could remain barred from some jobs when mandate ends

By John Gerritsen of RNZ

Unvaccinated teachers could remain barred from some jobs when the vaccine mandate for schools and early childhood services ends in 12 days.

The Education Ministry has told schools they can require Covid-19 vaccination for certain roles even after the Government mandate lifts on April 5.

The vast majority of school and early childhood staff complied with the rule when it was introduced last year but a few thousand teachers and other staff refused to be vaccinated against the virus and lost their jobs.

Primary school teacher Kerry told RNZ her only work since the mandate began had been online tutoring and she was pleased the mandate was ending.

“It’s a relief because I’ve hardly been working at all for quite a while now. Definitely relieved but not actually happy that there was ever a mandate in the first place,” she said.

Ngakonui Valley School finance and office manager Cathy Vermeulen said she had to do her job from home because she did not want the vaccine.

She said she was “over the moon” that she could soon go back into the school.

“Not being able to go on the school grounds you feel like a leper. It’s had a big toll and I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.

Ngakonui Valley principal Maria Gillard said the mandate was tough for many teachers and she was pleased it would soon be over.

But not all schools would welcome unvaccinated teachers.

Whangārei Intermediate was forced to let go of five staff who refused to be vaccinated, including two teachers.

School principal Hayley Read said she would recommend it kept a vaccine mandate.

“Our Covid cases are still tracking reasonably consistently and our community is still a bit fearful about returning their tamariki to school and I believe in order to send a very clear message to our community we will continue with that mandate. However, I need to have that discussion with the board of trustees.”

Read said a fully-vaccinated staff helped slow the spread of Covid-19 in her school and keeping it that way would reassure the community.

“They need the assurance that when their tamariki come back to school that they’re in front of staff that are vaccinated not once, not twice, but three times.”

The Education Ministry said schools could require vaccination for some roles, such as those working with immunocompromised children, but it was unlikely many would decide all staff must be vaccinated.

Canterbury West Coast Principals Association president Phil Holstein said some parents might not want unvaccinated teachers back in the classroom.

“There’ll be, certainly, parts of our community that feel it’s not safe if our staff aren’t vaccinated and also staff with their colleagues,” he said.

Holstein said it might be hard for teachers to reconcile with the schools they had left.

“We’ve gone through the harrowing process of sadly terminating staff because of a vaccine mandate. Now, where do we stand with those? Obviously, if there are positions available then they are able to reapply but the emotional toll it’s taken on both parties during the initial process, I don’t know how people are going to feel.”

Secondary Principals Association president Vaughan Couillault said it was unlikely the jobs unvaccinated teachers left were still vacant.

But he said there would be new vacancies as young teachers started going overseas again, a practice that had slowed because of pandemic-related border restrictions.

“In a silver linings sort of way, there’ll be some people eligible for employment that yesterday weren’t which is great because as borders open up around the world and all of that sort of thing we will have young people going on OE, like they have for generations before, so the workforce needs all the support it can get.”

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