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Nearly 700 Education Department staff refuse mandatory schools vax jab

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The teachers’ union is “analysing the industrial implications” of a new COVID vaccine mandate for all school staff, as the Education Department confirms 685 employees are “declining” to get the jab.

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The State Government yesterday announced that anyone working or volunteering in schools, preschools and childcare centres will need to be vaccinated.

The direction applies to all public and private schools and stipulates that 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 mandate applies to anyone working or volunteering in schools including teachers, support and canteen staff, parents, building contractors, school bus drivers and OSHC staff.

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

Australian Education Union state president Lara Golding said the union “supports following the professional health advice”.

“We have been encouraging eligible members to get vaccinated to support the health and safety of education settings and the community as a whole,” she said.

“We are analysing the industrial implications and other impacts on the workforce of the updated health advice and emergency direction issued.

“It is our understanding that there are provisions for those who have an approved medical exemption, which has been one of our key concerns.”

Golding said the union’s elected delegates would meet on Saturday to consider the impacts on the education workforce, including the availability of relief staff “to ensure safety for children and students”.

“In addition to vaccinations, it is important that the government adequately fund and support other control measures including appropriate ventilation and social distancing,” she said.

“Following our calls, the government has now nearly completed a ventilation audit and it is imperative that schools are provided with all the resources necessary to reduce the risk of COVID-19.”

Education Department chief executive Rick Persse yesterday told reporters that 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.

The Education Department last night said that at this point in time, 685 of its 31,000 employees had told the department they were “declining to be vaccinated”.

The department said that could be for a range of reasons.

Perrse said the vaccine mandate had “the complete support” of independent and Catholic schools.

Association of Independent Schools of SA chief executive Carolyn Grantskalns told InDaily the sector was supportive of the mandate “because it keeps children and staff as safe as you can be during a pandemic”.

“That has to be our main concern, particularly in primary schools where primary school students can’t yet be vaccinated,” she said.

“The best protection for them is that the adults that they are with are vaccinated. We have an obligation to look after those children.”

Grantskalns said she expected only “a very small number” of independent school staff would refuse to comply.

“I suspect that it might be hard for some schools to find replacement teachers if they have to,” she said.

“It’s often difficult to place people in country schools for example so I suspect that some schools will have difficulties.

“But the direction is the direction and they will do what they are required to do.”

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

Authorities said entire schools wouldn’t automatically close down for a deep clean if there was a positive case.

Instead, they would take advice from SA Health about any closure required as well as tracing and testing contacts on an individual basis.

The Education Department last night said unvaccinated parents would be allowed on to school grounds to drop off and pick up their children, and for events like parent-teacher interviews “so long as COVID Safe measures are in place and followed”.

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