School disruptions likely if staff are not vaccinated – union

School disruptions likely if staff are not vaccinated – union

The peak body representing Victorian teachers says that the education system risks further disruptions unless staff are vaccinated as a priority.

In February, COVID-19 vaccinations began rolling out to high risk “priority groups” kicking off the first phase of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 vaccine national rollout strategy.

Under the first part of ‘phase one’, priority groups included quarantine and border workers, frontline health staff and aged care and disability care staff and residents. The second part of phase one included defence force workers, firefighters, police, meat-processing workers and emergency services.

However, teachers’ unions are concerned that school staff, which were considered “essential workers” by the Health Department at the outbreak of the pandemic, have been excluded from the priority groups now receiving the vaccine and have subsequently been put at risk.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have encouraged our members and the broader community to adhere to restrictions and to follow public health advice,” Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian Branch president, Meredith Peace, said.

“This has helped ensure the safety of teachers, support staff, and principals, as well as the safety of students and their families. This continues to be the AEU’s position and, in line with public health advice, we are encouraging staff in all education settings to get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as they are eligible”.

Peace said that while the union acknowledges that community members who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 must continue to be prioritised, as well as workers in priority groups, there is an “immediate need” to broaden the eligibility of priority groups to include education staff.

Earlier this year, the AEU wrote to the federal and state health ministers seeking that all education workers in schools, kindergartens, TAFE and disability services be considered a priority group for the COVID-19 vaccination.

The union says prioritising these essential workers for vaccination would be an effective way to reduce the disruptions that inevitably arise during periods of lockdown.

“Unfortunately, there has been no decision to prioritise the vaccination of education workers,” Peace said.

“Unless education staff are able to have priority access to a vaccine, we continue to be at risk of more disruptions to the on-site education of our students, especially in schools and TAFEs”.

The push to have school staff vaccinated is also continuing at the national level.

The Australian Education Union (AEU) has written to Health Minister Greg Hunt about the need for teachers and education support personnel to receive priority access to COVID vaccines.

“As the Federal Government acknowledged at the height of the pandemic, teachers and support personnel working in schools and early childhood settings play a critical role in keeping society functioning," AEU federal president, Correna Haythorpe told The Educator.

“Yet they have not been given any priority under the proposed vaccination plan. People working in education settings are collectively exposed to millions of other people from across the community every day".

Haythorpe said the "demonstrated critical importance" that school staff have to society, the economy and the nation's future prospects, mean they should be treated as a priority group for receipt of the vaccine.

“With the movement of millions of students, teachers and parents on a daily basis, priority access to vaccination would reduce the risk of transmission and provide significant health, social and economic advantages for children, the education workforce and the broader community".