Challenging times . . . South Canterbury Principals' Association president Steve Fennessy says the Covid-19 vaccine mandate will cause challenges for staff in the future. PHOTO: HELEN HOLT

by Helen Holt

The vaccine mandate has affected staff at half of South Canterbury’s primary schools.

Staff in the education and health sectors were mandated to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by Monday this week. Staff who chose to be unvaccinated were no longer allowed on site from Tuesday morning.

South Canterbury Principals’ Association president Steve Fennessy said a survey on Tuesday morning found 50% of South Canterbury primary schools had been affected.

“I know of one school which had three staff who chose not to be vaccinated, so they can’t be on the grounds from now on.

“It hasn’t just been teachers, but support staff, teacher aides, property managers, and office staff.

“We’ve had challenging conversations with staff regarding their vaccination status.

a lot of anxiety for our staff.

“A lot of the anxiety has been around the knowledge that they have to get it.

“Some are reluctant to get it, some have beliefs, so that’s caused an extra layer of stress.

“We’ve also had to be respectful of their privacy, while we prepared for this week.”

He said many of the positions left empty were ones hard to fill, regardless of the mandate.

“This is certainly going to be a challenge. There will be a lot of schools affected by this.”

Mr Fennessey said the schools would be working to abide by Ministry of Education regulations.

“From now on, any paid employees are not allowed on site without at least one dose of the vaccine.

“From January 1, they must’ve had their second dose or there will be a process to work through and decisions made for termination.”

He said he felt for all schools and staff.

“This situation has been very consuming for everyone. We’re doing our best to go back to being kind, and providing support for the staff who are left at the schools.”

Geraldine High School principal Simon Coleman said the school had some staff who had chosen to not meet the Government’s requirements in relation to the vaccination mandate.

“We appreciate it has been a difficult time for these staff members and consequently our students and whanau.

“We are grateful to our relieving staff who will cover the areas needed so our students can continue to get the high-quality education they are used to.”

A protest in Geraldine on Monday afternoon was one of many around the country this week, opposing the mandate.

A New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) spokeswoman said many people had called in the leadup to the mandate.

“We are getting a high level of calls from members asking about their rights and responsibilities in regard to the mandate, both as employers and employees.”

She said the majority of NZEI members supported the mandate to keep schools safe and protect tamariki.

Post Primary Teachers’ Association Te Wehengarua (PPTA) president Melanie Webber said the union was aware of members who chose not to be vaccinated.

“PPTA supports mandatory vaccination for school staff as we believe it is the best defence against the Covid-19 pandemic and the best means of keeping everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities, safe.

“PPTA field staff are providing on the ground support to those members who are choosing not to get vaccinated.

“This includes helping them work through the options with their school management,” Ms Webber said.