“There is a compelling proposition to further support and encourage school staff in NSW to access vaccines at various sites across NSW in a time frame that allows them to safely prepare for term 4,” wrote Mr McInerney, who has told his schools to prepare for remote learning to continue for the rest of term 3.
“Identifying enhanced or dedicated vaccination venues, particular days of the week or scheduled times set aside for schools staff in NSW will allow these committed professionals to more easily and readily receive their vaccinations in greater numbers than might be the case.”
The principal of St Clare’s Catholic High School, Hassall Grove – which is in one of the hotspot areas – said vaccination appointments were not readily available for many of his teachers.
“We allow our staff to broadcast email if they become aware of medical practices where they can book and access vaccinations,” he said. “Our staff are very concerned that their safety is not being taken seriously and that decisions are being made with no regard for them and their families.”
Some private schools have organised vaccinations themselves, such as Barker College, which contacted a local medical centre to set up appointments for teachers.
“It is offered in recognition that schools provide an essential service for the community and participation in the vaccination program is completely voluntary and a way of supporting the national effort in our fight against COVID-19,” said Principal Phillip Heath.
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the union would be keen to discuss a plan that prioritised teacher vaccinations. “There is no plan for the vaccination of students [outside year 12 in hotspot local government areas],” he said.
The Catholic sector has also commissioned legal advice for its schools as to whether principals can ask staff whether they are vaccinated, an issue that raises legal questions around discrimination and privacy.
The advice says principals can request the information as long as it is given with consent, and only if they explain that the information would be used to make health-based decisions such as who can work on the school site.
Public school principals have not yet been provided with advice on this issue, but some say their staff are volunteering the information.
Vaccination of teachers has become a thorny issue overseas as countries lift restrictions. California has mandated that teachers must be vaccinated or face regular testing, and Italy has made vaccination mandatory for teachers.
The government has not yet revealed its back-to-school plan. The NSW Department of Education has hired four consultants from KPMG to help manage the project, which will include reviewing back-to-school strategies overseas, on a contract of up to eight weeks.
Meanwhile, the Independent Education Union has rejected a push from independent school principals to be given more autonomy when deciding their school’s response to COVID-19 within NSW Health guidelines.
The union held an emergency meeting on Thursday, saying health-related decisions should not be left up to individual principles. “Other school sectors and other sectors of the economy are operating under strict, consistent guidelines and there is no reason independent schools should be exempt,” he said.
When the Herald asked Mr McInerney about the suggestion, he said: “The best response the school sector can put to the government and ministry of health across these matters is a united one.”
The Department of Education was contacted for comment.