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With less than three weeks until school starts, the West Australian Department of Education is scurrying to ensure thousands of school staff yet to provide proof of vaccination will do so by then, ringing around in an attempt to shore up numbers.
The WA government announced its COVID-19 vaccine mandate late last year ordering all staff returning to schools in 2022 to be double-vaccinated by school return on Monday, January 31.
Back to school logistics now includes sorting out vaccine passports. Credit:Getty Images/Supplied
As of Tuesday, seven per cent of department staff had not yet provided evidence of being vaccinated, but the government would not confirm how many people that equated to.
Latest public sector employment figures show that the department employed 57,715 staff, which could mean about 4040 people hadn’t registered vaccination status.
Principals Federation WA president Bevan Ripp said while it was hard at this stage to know the exact number of staff who weren’t vaccinated, department data showed 1500 teachers and school leaders hadn’t registered their status.
“If that number is the number who remain unvaccinated, the start for many schools will be horrific,” he said.
“Programs offered will be seriously cut, classes will have to be restructured, and many principals and deputy principals will be required to adopt a classroom role.
“The impact for school leaders is that more of them will face the prospect of having to fill the gaps, i.e., teacher relief.”
Mr Ripp said there was already a serious teacher shortage which had placed additional pressure on teacher relief pools already stretched.
He said the vaccination mandate had added to the problem of closed borders making it difficult to recruit additional teachers.
“For principals, staffing has become a nightmare over the December-January period as teachers they thought had committed to their school have advised them they are accepting a better offer somewhere else,” he said.
“While this has always been a problem, it has been exacerbated this year. Principals are worried they are going to be left to explain to their school community why the start to the school year is so uncertain when responsibility for this rests with the state government.”
Department director-general Lisa Rodgers said there were measures in place to ensure schools were well prepared, including more than 5000 vaccinated casuals on hand to fill vacancies.
“Since the department began phoning school staff this month about their status, the number who are yet to upload evidence of vaccination has been falling every day,” she said.
She said she anticipated employees would be using this three weeks to receive their second dose and update their vaccination certificates.
State School Teachers’ Union of WA president Pat Byrne shared Mr Ripp’s concerns. Ms Byrne was due to meet with Education Minister Sue Ellery and Ms Rodgers from Wednesday to address these concerns as well as curriculum delivery and access to RATs for staff.
As of Wednesday, 87 per cent of the WA population over 12 years old were fully vaccinated, with the state due to reopen on February 5 after 90 per cent double-dose vaccination is reached.
The state government’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy was separated into two groups for government sector workers, with school staff making up the majority of the 69,300 employees falling under group 2.
Employers were able to take measures including disciplinary action and termination against impacted employees who are yet to meet the requirements, a government spokeswoman said.
There is a two-week grace period for employees to reconsider their position.
‘In-person schooling without delay’: health professionals
As WA parents scramble to get their children vaccinated a group of health professionals and prominent Australians has urged the national cabinet to negotiate a return to school as normal.
In the letter, published in Nine newspapers The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, they said Australian data confirmed COVID-19 was a mild disease in children, that the few hospitalisations were short-lived, and that the overwhelming majority of children recover from this virus without adverse effect.
“There is no medical case for face-to-face learning to be suspended awaiting the vaccination of 5 to 11-year-old children, although all children should be offered access as soon as practical,” they wrote.
The letter was written by child health experts David Isaacs and Fiona Russell, and psychiatry expert Professor Pat McGorry, with 31 other health professionals, academics and prominent Australians as signatories.
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