The department has offered to cover transport and accommodation for those willing to work in regional schools.
Since students returned to face-to-face learning on Monday, less than 3.5 per cent of schools required extra staffing support. “This is an excellent effort both from schools for their preparation and the teaching workforce for achieving such high vaccination rates,” a department spokesman said.
Schools in regional areas with low community vaccination rates are the most likely to have staffing problems. Virginia Moeller, the chief executive of Steiner Education Australia, said she wrote to Education Minister Sarah Mitchell warning that mandatory vaccination would have a big impact on Steiner schools, “and it has”.
“The schools that are affected are generally located in areas where there is low vaccination of the general population, it’s reflective of the community,” she said. “It varies from school to school. There are a third of teachers [that are non-compliant] in one school, and it goes down to none at another school.”
Mark Spencer, the Director of Public Policy for Christian Schools Australia, said big organisations such as the public and Catholic systems could manage staff shortages better than small, independent schools.
One school in his system has had both its year 4 teachers refusing to be vaccinated. “They’re hard to replace at this time of the year in a regional area,” he said. “Without the scale of the Catholic and government systems, just a few people in key roles can create challenges.
“It is not going to shut down any of our schools, it will not stop the education, schools will find ways of working around issues.”
Some reluctant teachers believe that if they hold out until the Public Health Order expires in late December, they will be able to keep their jobs. However, Mr Spencer said he and other system leaders expected the order would be continued into next year.
Under NSW Department of Education policy, those who are not vaccinated by the November 8 deadline will be investigated for non-compliance, which will take about two weeks, and will have to apply for leave until they are notified of disciplinary action.
If they don’t apply for leave, they will be removed from the payroll. During disciplinary action – which in most cases would result in termination – they will be suspended without pay.
If an unvaccinated teacher turns up at a public school from November 8, they will be asked to leave. If they don’t, the principal has been told to call security, notify police and alert the Professional and Ethical Standards department.
One high school science teacher from an independent Catholic school, who did not want to be named, said the department was taking a tougher stance than non-government schools.
His employer is willing to allow him to work remotely for a month, teaching from home via Zoom to students in a classroom with a supervisor. “[Non-government schools] are handling staff on a case-by-case scenario,” he said. “They’re being more accommodating. It’s probably not as hard a stance.”
The teacher is one of those who hopes the public health order will change. “I’ll probably be out of a job if it doesn’t,” he said.