We rely on our school teachers to help educate our children – five days a week we send them off before 9am and don’t see them again until after 3pm, trusting that they have nurtured thousands upon thousands of little minds, bodies and hearts.
For the absolute most part, Australia’s teachers are a bunch of stellar guardians of future generations – and we are always indebted to them for that – but last week many teachers felt betrayed after the announcement that New South Wales teachers will need to be vaccinated as part of the ‘road map’ to getting students back in school, and some teachers are feeling terribly let down and bullied.
There was little detail to the announcement apart from it being implemented from November 9.
The Echo spoke to secondary, primary school and TAFE teachers in both the public and private sectors. These people teach in the Ballina, Byron, Kingscliff and Lismore areas and we also spoke to a teacher from the Sydney area.
All of the teachers chose to remain anonymous.
Confidence in vaccinations
One of the teachers said they have confidence in vaccinations generally. ‘Especially when they have been rigorously tried and tested over a number of years – around ten years of research and clinical trials used to be the norm for new vaccinations before the pandemic hit. My three school-aged children have had all the usual vaccinations.’
Three of the teachers said they were not happy about the prospect of the COVID vaccination being made mandatory for teachers.
‘I don’t feel good about it at all,’ said the Lismore teacher. ‘Teachers have been routinely disrespected by the NSW government, and this is another case in point. Teachers should be relied upon to use their own judgement to determine what is best for them, their families and their community.
‘Anecdotally, the percentage of teachers who have already availed themselves of the opportunity to get vaccinated is quite high, and this decision appears to have been made without consultation with teachers or knowledge of what that proportion is.
‘It’s another knee-jerk decision by a government struggling to come to grips with its own poor handling of the situation.’
‘Disgusted, replaceable and appalled’
One of the Byron teachers said they felt disgusted, replaceable and appalled. ‘The Department of Education’s Core Values include, Trust, Integrity and Equity. Within these they state that: “We are transparent with information and our decisions. We respect others’ expertise, experience and points of view and listen with an open mind. We respect diversity and the views and contributions of others. We treat people fairly.” I suggest you put the idea of terminating someone’s job due to their valid concerns with the vaccine options in your mind, and re-read the values the Department of Education prides itself on.
‘I cannot see how they are representing themselves, let alone their employees with any sense of pride whilst mandatorily forcing individuals to have a vaccine they do not want injected into their bodies.
‘There are experts within the fields of medicine, immunology, virology and so forth, who warn against the particular vaccines that we have available to us in Australia between now and the cut off date for the mandatory injections. Not only that, but our own government’s database for adverse event notifications has several hundred reported “cases where death was the reported outcome” amongst several thousand reports of other adverse events.
‘How dare our government force us to choose between taking these risks ourselves and keeping our jobs.
‘There are vaccinations such as Novavax or even an Australian company Vaxine, still in developmental stages – that show promising signs of being safer alternatives.
‘It is unfair that under duress, we will have to make our decision before these options become available.’
Not enough time to have their opinions heard
Many teachers heard the news in an email from the Department of Education on Friday. One teacher said they heard through the media when it was announced. ‘Then the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, Georgina Harrison, sent a tokenistic email to all staff. Better late than never, right?’
On teacher said there was a staff survey sent out the day before, which they responded to on Friday morning. ‘There is no way that the results of this survey could have had any bearing on the government decision.’
Not against vaccination
For the most part, the teachers we spoke to were not against vaccinations per se but were not happy about this vaccination regime at this time. ‘I have been weighing the pros and cons, and for now, have decided to be cautious and not risk vaccination at this time,’ said the Lismore teacher. ‘I am in good health generally and trust my immune system. I may change my mind down the track when we have more data about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.’
One of the Byron teachers said they were open to potentially getting vaccinations that will be available at a later date. ‘I will not have Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines injected into my body, no matter how much they try to control my life or coerce my decisions, I will not cave into their demands.’
A Kingscliff teacher who is fully vaccinated said they didn’t think mandatory vaccination was necessary. ‘It’s easier though. It’s going to be quite the logistical nightmare for each student or parent to have to be consulted about whether or not they want to be in a class with a non-vaccinated teacher.’
A Sydney point of view
The Greater Sydney area certainly has more to worry about than the regions as far as the number of cases they are seeing each day. We spoke to a Sydney high school teacher who says for their part they feel teachers are not supported enough. ‘Having children at home who are studying online and trying to teach online classes all day is an impossible task.’
They also said that they think vaccinations are a privilege. ‘I think mandatory COVID vaccinations are critically important, excluding people who have genuine health issues to not vaccinate.’
This teacher said they found out through the NSW minister’s announcement to media about the mandatory jab and there had been no prior consultation or surveying before the announcement.
They said a lack of equity in the vaccine rollout is unfair. ‘Mandatory vaccination itself is not an issue of fairness. It is a moral issue, in the sense that if I were not vaccinated and a child in my care became sick because of my actions, that would be devastating. If my own child was at risk because a teacher was unvaccinated, then that teacher – putting aside the few who are genuinely unable to be vaccinated – has placed the value of their own life and their personal beliefs over the welfare of others.
‘My biggest worry in regards to the news is the lack of consultation. It feeds fears and conspiracy theories. My greatest annoyance is the inconsistent messaging such as the ill-considered proposal for year 12 to go back to face to face learning before both teachers and students could be fully vaccinated.’
Prepared to lose their jobs
Two of the North Coast teachers we interviewed said they were prepared to lose their jobs rather than be made to have the vaccination. ’It’s a tough call. I love my job and have to support my family. But on principle, I am seriously considering leaving the profession if it becomes “no jab, no job”’. Not good news for a profession that is already experiencing chronic staff shortages.
The youngest teacher in the group said that against their will, they [the Education Department] will terminate their permanent job on November 9. ‘This will happen through no fault of my own. I have no one standing by me to fight this fight. I signed, what I thought to be, a legally binding contract to accept my position with the Department of Education. I can assure you that, nowhere in this document does it state that I need to be fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines to fulfil my role.’
One teacher said that enforcing mandatory vaccination feels like an incremental step towards coercing the entire population to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which may not be a wise move. ‘The vaccines are not a silver bullet and we are still in the very early stages of research and development. There are valid concerns about serious side effects – including risk of death, the unknown long-term effects, and the concern that vaccinating everyone will just make things worse by causing the proliferation of virulent new vaccine-resistant mutations of the virus.’
Another said their fears regard the actual efficacy of the two current vaccine options vs their ability to potentially recover from a COVID-19 infection. ‘I am not, in any way, saying I will not be open to vaccination. I am asking for more time, more transparent information, and more long term data on the impact these vaccines can have. My fears now are also centred on my future. My plans for a family, my plans to live in the house that I own and my future with financial and job security.
‘My reality now, due to this mandate, is that I will need to move in with my family as I can not afford my mortgage when my employment is terminated. My dreams of starting a family are pushed back until, if ever, I am in a financial situation to again live in the house I worked so hard for. This has set a disgusting example for our students.
‘I do not feel supported. Not by my Principal, not by the Department of Education, not by the Teaching Federation and certainly not by the government. My cries for mental health support to my superior at my school have fallen on deaf ears.’
A TAFE teacher said they were unsure about taking the risk of getting the AstraZeneca vaccination. ‘I was relieved when I was offered the Pfizer, when the age bracket changed to cover people in their 50s. My partner works in a quarantine hotel so I was keen to be vaccinated, but still put off by the AZ blood clotting story. I know the risks are higher of dying from COVID, but was very glad about getting the option to have Pfizer.’
A very difficult time for teachers
A Lismore High School teacher said it’s a very difficult time for teachers, as it is for everyone. ‘We feel disconnected from our students and from each other. Remote learning is not optimal, and we are painfully aware that it is the students who are most in need of our guidance and support who are dropping off the radar and not engaging with their school work at all. We are getting by the best we can, but no, I don’t feel we are adequately supported.
‘As teachers, we are trained in how to support the mental health of young people, and agency – the ability to make their own decisions about important matters affecting their lives – is key. So whatever the relative merits of vaccination, taking this decision out of teachers’ hands will foster feelings of powerlessness and consequent poor mental health – the last thing we need during these tough times.
‘I also add that confidence in the current state government could not be any lower. Every day at official press conferences we see Brad Hazzard – many of us in the Northern Rivers remember him as the guy who attempted to force CSG and fracking on our region, and Gladys Berejiklian – who failed in her duty to declare the conflict of interest of her intimate relationship with disgraced colleague Daryl Maguire. These are not the people you want to be trusting with such important decisions during these challenging times.’
Protests and strikes
Some of the teachers we spoke to said they were prepared to take part in actions, including protests and strikes up to and including losing their jobs rather than be forced into getting vaccinated. ‘Yes I would join in, depending on the nature of the action. I would certainly take strike action, and I hope the NSW Teachers Federation comes on board to support the right of educators to make this important decision for themselves,’ said one teacher.
Another said they would like to join in an action planned for Tuesday but they already had something special planned for their students at that time. ‘I won’t let them miss out, so I will, unfortunately, need to skip this action. Our federation has wiped their hands clean of us so they won’t be supporting or organising any type of protest.’
Since the announcement was made on Friday the premier has been asked on several occasions if teachers who refuse to be vaccinated will lose their jobs and each time she has repeatedly sidestepped the question, saying ‘we are working through those issues’.
Support from the community
One teacher asked for support from the community. ‘If any of this resonates with you, make sure your voice is heard. It is not just this industry that will be impacted, this will continue to happen until we stand up and fight. Even if your stance on these vaccinations differs, it is worth considering what the implications of these mandates are for your future.
‘I implore you to fight against mandatory vaccinations – since when was coercive behaviour accepted in our society? The Department of Education Stage 3 PDHPE Child Protection unit teaches our students that “getting permission to do something to someone is called consent. If someone does not get consent, then they are not respecting that person’s rights.” This is what we are told to teach our students, yet it is not what is being shown to their teachers.’
‘I can wholeheartedly say that I work to the best of my ability every single day,’ said one teacher. ‘But now, the only thing that my effectiveness as a teacher is compared against, is my vaccine status. I feel not only heartbroken for myself, but my students, who I will not get to stand beside whilst they graduate from Primary School. It is unfair to us all.’
A Change.org petition, which at the time of writing has around 42,000 signatures, says that teachers believe it is not only unlawful but unconstitutional to impose mandatory vaccinations. ‘People should be able to choose what medical procedures and interventions they have without the risk of losing their job,’ says petition author John Mack. ‘We ask all parents and teachers who are concerned with these mandates to sign this petition and protect the basic human right to freedom of choice.’
Recent stories, information and updates regarding COVID-19
Police say a woman has been charged and four Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) issued following a beach party in the Byron Bay area overnight. Councillors and members of parliament from across the region are calling for greater restrictions on who can come to the Northern Rivers and other vulnerable regional areas from COVID hotspots in NSW. It may be confronting to hear there are more vaccinated people than unvaccinated people in hospital – but it’s actually a good thing. As the Northern Rivers goes back into lockdown once again as a result of people coming to the area from Sydney it has been revealed that the ‘Crisis Cabinet’ failed to meet during key crisis points. Northern NSW Local Health District has been notified of a number of new venues of concern associated with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the region. There have also been positive detection of COVID fragments at Ballina and Wardell sewage treatment plants. The Northern NSW Local Health District held a press conference at Lismore Base Hospital this afternoon. The Northern NSW Local Health District has been notified of a number of venues of concern associated with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region. The Northern NSW Local Health District has confirmed that there is a new case of COVID-19 in Northern NSW today, and they will be included in NSW Health’s official reporting tomorrow. In what is now a general press conference, the Premier spoke to media at 11am this morning about the pandemic and other business. The Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) have updated their list of venues of concern for the Lismore LGA.
Police say a woman has been charged and four Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) issued following a beach party in the Byron Bay area overnight.
Councillors and members of parliament from across the region are calling for greater restrictions on who can come to the Northern Rivers and other vulnerable regional areas from COVID hotspots in NSW.
It may be confronting to hear there are more vaccinated people than unvaccinated people in hospital – but it’s actually a good thing.
As the Northern Rivers goes back into lockdown once again as a result of people coming to the area from Sydney it has been revealed that the ‘Crisis Cabinet’ failed to meet during key crisis points.
Northern NSW Local Health District has been notified of a number of new venues of concern associated with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the region. There have also been positive detection of COVID fragments at Ballina and Wardell sewage treatment plants.
The Northern NSW Local Health District held a press conference at Lismore Base Hospital this afternoon.
The Northern NSW Local Health District has been notified of a number of venues of concern associated with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region.
The Northern NSW Local Health District has confirmed that there is a new case of COVID-19 in Northern NSW today, and they will be included in NSW Health’s official reporting tomorrow.
In what is now a general press conference, the Premier spoke to media at 11am this morning about the pandemic and other business.
The Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) have updated their list of venues of concern for the Lismore LGA.