Schools fear ‘dire situation’ due to vaccine mandate

Southern school principals are expecting a ‘‘dire situation” next week as they wait on tenterhooks to find out if they will have enough staff to teach their pupils.

All school staff need to have had their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by November 15 and be fully vaccinated by January 1 next year to have contact with children and pupils.

Donovan Primary School principal Peter Hopwood said the mandate put Otago and Southland in a dire situation.

He could not disclose how many teachers the Invercargill school would lose next week, for privacy reasons, but he hoped they would reconsider their position.

There was already a shortage of relief teachers and finding suitable replacements for four weeks of schooling was going to be tough.

Classrooms might have to be merged and the impact on the children would be huge.

There was a possibility that he and the deputy principal would end up teaching, which would cause a backlog of work and disrupt many vital parts of the school.

Realistically, schools across Otago and Southland would start losing teachers when the South Island was already suffering a teacher shortage, he said.

Although the timing of the mandate was made with public health in mind, it did not make sense from a schooling perspective.

Schools had worked through Covid-19 in the past two years and cases in the South were low, so waiting until the end of the school year would not make much difference, he said.

Mr Hopwood was not the only principal struggling with the mandate.

Other principals spoken to by the Otago Daily Times would not speculate on the number of teachers who remained unvaccinated nationwide.

Ascot Community School principal Wendy Ryan said it was possible staff would not be able to come in next week.

However, it was impossible to know for sure until next Monday.

School staff had until November 15 to get vaccinated and did not have to disclose their vaccination status to principals beforehand.

‘‘We’re all nervously waiting.

‘‘It would be different if there was a big pile of reliever staff out there, but there isn’t.’’

Teachers were not the only staff schools would be replacing.

There was no pool of reliever teacher aides available and it was likely any schools with unvaccinated support staff would have vaccinated staff working extra hours.

Otago Secondary Principals' Association president Lindy Cavanagh-Monaghan said the timing of the mandate was a challenge.

Secondary schools were already stretched for staff with school camps at the end of the year, and schools losing teachers would be in a difficult position.

The Government had made the decision ‘‘well above our heads’’ and principals were left to navigate a ‘‘minefield’’ by themselves, she said.

The mandate also put strain on the personal relationships of school staff.

Staff were ‘‘already working overdrive on our kindness and empathy’’ and the vaccine

mandate would add to that tension.

Other principals spoken to by the ODT would not comment on the vaccination status of their staff, citing privacy reasons.




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