Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Teachers face D-Day as no jab no job mandate comes into effect

It is back to school for thousands of children in Auckland and Waikato this week.

But it is also crunch time for teachers who will have to decide whether or not they will get at least their first Covid jab – or face an uncertain future that may risk losing their job.

Today is the day teachers nationwide will have to have at least their first Pfizer vaccine – or they will not be allowed to enter childcare centres or school grounds from tomorrow.

Principals’ Federation president Perry Rush said it is a tough day at the office today.

“It’s D-day today, really. It’s not an easy task having to stand down some staff who tomorrow won’t be in face-to-face contact with their children.

“But there’s no escaping the fact that it’s going to be a difficult day,” he told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning.

Asked how many schools will be affected, he said he did not know. But anecdotally, larger schools faced losing six or seven staff members while smaller primary schools could see one or two staff members affected.

Children from years 1 to 10 will be allowed back at school in Auckland and Waikato on Wednesday – albeit part-time for youngsters at primary and intermediate.

Rush said some schools in rural and isolated communities would be significantly impacted by the new rule. But that without any data to show, there was simply no way of knowing how many kura would be affected at this stage.

Given there’s only four weeks left of the schooling year, Rush said he expected schools will be able to “limp through”. However it won’t be until January 1 when the real impact of the no jab, no job mandate is revealed.

“However, the hard date is 1 January. That is the date when we will absolutely see the impact of this policy and we just don’t know if there’s sufficient teaching resource out there to backfill the absence of these teachers in a face to face context.”

Asked how so many people can quit their job over the mandate, Rush said the numbers weren’t high.

“I think we have to remember that it’s not the case there are huge numbers that are opposed to this in the teaching workforce… it largely reflects the general population, there’s been high compliance from New Zealanders.

“I think there is a real care and concern to make sure that teachers do get vaxxed. However, it’s a huge workforce and in that respect there are some numbers that are opposed to this, so we have to keep those numbers in balance.”

Schools were a close contact enterprise and it was “critical” to ensure that safety was front and centre, he said.

Trepidation among staff returning to school as Covid community cases still high

Yesterday saw a record 207 Covid cases identified in the community – the most cases recorded in a single day since the pandemic started.

Post Primary Teachers’ Association Auckland regional chair Paul Stevens said there was still an ongoing trepidation about being back in the classroom because case numbers were still going up, even if it wasn’t as fast as people thought.

On the other hand there was real joy about being back in the classroom with their students, especially being able to push the seniors through to the end and making sure they could do as well as they can under the circumstances, he told Three’s The AM Show.

Waerenga School deputy principal Gina Rosendaal said the workload had been intense and had not lessened.

“We are really looking forward to having our tamariki back with us, but we are still going to have not all of us on the shop floor which is really sad.”

She said they were ringing parents to check in with them trying to keep a connection going as the main focus was their tamariki and their families.

“Not only are we counsellors, but we are going through this too with our own families.”

Stevens said the mandate was only affecting a small number of staff in schools, but that did not mean it wasn’t impacting on people’s wellbeing and relationships.

“At the same time, this is the tough point and principals are having those conversations and we are potentially having to say goodbye to some of our colleagues over this.”

Rosendaal said at the end of the day, they had children coming back who were not going to have their teacher in their class due to the mandate.

It also “sickened” her that schools would be made to turn away unvaccinated parents who wanted to go to school camps.

“How is that being kind? It sickens me that schools are going to be made to do this. I don’t believe it’s right.”

Stevens said some members had complained about having to pick up the workload due to unvaccinated teachers not being in the classroom. The extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures and the facts were that the vaccine made a difference.

He said there had been fears that schools could be the breeding ground for super spreader events, but because they hadn’t, it showed the vaccine was working.

“Our school communities are safest when we only allow vaccinated people onsite. It is hard, but I think we need to stand on the science.”

Te Kauwhata Primary School principal Brian Martin said around 95 to 96 per cent of his approximate 37 staff would be back at school, fully vaccinated.

“I haven’t had any issues there with the vaccinations, but we’re doing okay.

“I believe in the mandate myself, for myself and my family but it is hard on schools but we will work our way through it as we always do.”

He said they would “definitely” be able to get through this year and as a principal, he was always planning ahead.

Martin, who has been principal for the past three years, said he’d spoken to several other school principals and most of them said they’d be “okay”.

“The principals that I connect with most of them, they’re okay. It’s not like what you read on the [news].”

Some people thought the Ministry of Health could have given schools more guidance around the mandate and how it would affect them, however he was “impressed and happy that they gave us the power to do it ourselves”.

“I know that two weeks prior through our conversations and meetings that this might have been an outcome so I had a plan prior to … and making sure that all our kids get time back at school prior to the end of the year.”

He had also synced in the returning of his primary students with siblings who attend the nearby Te Kauwhata High School to help alleviate some pressure on parents.

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