Some teachers have already handed in their resignations after being told they will have to get the Covid-19 vaccine to continue working.
All education staff who have contact with children must have had their first jab by November 15 and be fully vaccinated by January 1, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Monday.
Principals’ Federation president Perry Rush said he’d heard of a teacher and a teacher aide quitting on Tuesday morning.
Principals were “flying in the dark” about what to tell staff who didn’t want the vaccine, he said, saying they needed clear guidance from the ministry.
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Any teacher feeling their job was under threat would be “incredibly distressed”, he said, and getting information to them quickly was vital.
He called the idea of redeploying teachers who refused to get vaccinated “a nonsense”.
Even if teachers could take their classes off-site, so much of the job involved in-person interaction, from staff training to sports coaching, he said.
Rush met with ministry officials on Tuesday afternoon and said there was an “information void” over what would happen with unvaccinated teachers.
He said he was surprised to see the mandate come in “without a clear understanding of the implications of the decision”.
Sector leaders would join the Ministry in a working group to “put shoulder to the wheel”, but he said it would be a challenging piece of work, with few options for unvaccinated staff.
The mandate comes under the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021.
A recent High Court decision found in favour of the Government when a Customs employee was dismissed for refusing to be vaccinated.
That indicated it was likely teaching staff who refused a vaccination would have their jobs terminated, Rush said.
Most of the sector is in favour of the mandate, with teachers saying it is their job to model safe behaviour for children.
Teachers’ unions the Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) and NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) will work with teachers who do not want to be vaccinated.
NZEI president Liam Rutherford said that would come down to “making sure they know what their rights are and making sure they have access to fair and just process”.
He disagreed with Rush’s take on redeployment, saying while people jumped to the “end point” of termination, all the options for redeployment needed to be explored first.
With online teaching likely to form a large part of the education sector in the short-term, this shouldn’t be dismissed as an option, he said.
PPTA president Melanie Webber said the union was seeking a legal opinion on behalf of its members, but understood the mandate was legal based on the Customs case.
It was “very hard” to work out how many teachers would refuse the vaccine, she said.
While the union had been contacted by some members who were vaccine-cautious and sounding out their options, it also had its inbox flooded by anti-vaxxers who were not members.
There would be some teachers who say no to the vaccine and walk away from teaching – a “limited number”, Webber predicted, but enough to have an impact on an already stretched workforce.
“We do have a major teacher shortage in New Zealand,” she said.
However, she stressed that wasn’t a reason not to introduce the mandate.
The Ministry of Education has been contacted for comment.