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Govt orders mandatory vaccination for all SA school staff and volunteers

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Anyone who works or volunteers at South Australian schools, preschools and childcare centres – including teachers, support staff, parents, building contractors and bus drivers – will have to be COVID-vaccinated under new mandatory jab rules announced by the State Government.

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Under a direction announced this afternoon and which applies to all public and private schools, people must have had at least one vaccine and a booking for a second by December 10, the last day of the school year.

The direction applies to:

Only those with a medical exemption endorsed by chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier will be allowed on school grounds without being vaccinated.

The direction does not apply to students, parents dropping off or picking up their children, play groups, delivery drivers and people responding to urgent maintenance tasks or an emergency situation.

Education Minister John Gardner told reporters this afternoon: “This will ensure that we are able to keep our children and our education workforce safe, our schools and our preschools and our early childhood settings are open and indeed the health advice is very clear that this is necessary to provide the best outcomes for the people of South Australia.”

Education Department chief executive Rick Persse said the decision to make vaccinations mandatory “hasn’t been taken lightly”.

He anticipated most people affected would be supportive “but we acknowledge it’s going to be stressful for a small subset of our community”.

Persse said based on internal information, he believed “only a tiny fraction” of school staff would resist the vaccine mandate.

When asked to clarify how many staff that meant, he said he thought about 600.

“We have taken this decision based on the expert health advice of our chief public health officer which indicates this is the best approach for our students, staff and education system and I absolutely support this decision,” he said.

“We’re following in the footsteps of other jurisdictions.”

Perrse said “this decision has the complete support of independent and Catholic schools”.

“The reason why we’ve set the last day of term is we want to finish the school year strong,” he said.

“We’ve had a fantastic run across all schooling systems and we don’t intend to change that.

“If somebody on the 11th of December has not been vaccinated or does not have an approval or an exemption or is in the process of that, they will need to be taking their own personal leave.”

The vaccine mandate was revealed this afternoon as part of plans for schools once the borders open next Tuesday and Delta enters SA.

Gardner and Persse said schools wouldn’t automatically close down for a deep clean if there was a positive case, but rather they would be directed by SA Health about what to do on a case by case basis.

“We are working through that with SA Health at the moment,” Persse said.

It comes after an Education Department spokesperson told InDaily last month there would be “no change” to the current practice of closing the whole school for at least a day to enable a deep clean, as soon as a student tests positive.

Gardner today said the Education Department would have a centralised contact tracing team to work with SA Health’s Communicable Disease Control Branch in the event of a confirmed case.

He said authorities would take a considered approach about who to direct into quarantine so that “only the ones who are absolutely necessary” will be taken out of the school system.

“We don’t want to see entire schools worth of students or staff sent into quarantine at the same time,” Gardner said.

“It’s very difficult to run that learning from home in that environment.”

Gardner said masks would “remain optional” on school grounds.

Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens said the December 10 deadline was “ample time” for people affected to ensure they were vaccinated.

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