Christine (65), Resource Teacher Learning & Behaviour (Rtlb). Canterbury, NZ.

My story – Covid vaccine mandates

As of November 2021 I was a Resource Teacher of Learning & Behaviour (RTLB) holding a Masters of Specialist Teaching Degree (Distinction). I had been a teacher in rural primary schools, both full time and part time, giving over 35 years' service during a 45 year period, including almost 9 years as a full time RTLB in primary and secondary schools. At this time I was in a leadership role in the RTLB service, with an office just 30 minutes from home and a car provided for my work as much travel between schools was involved.

When the covid vaccine mandate topic was raised in discussion I deepened my own research into the topic and relating this to my own family medical history, I decided that I would not take the vaccine. My husband and most of my children supported this decision and they made the same decision for themselves. One son and his wife, however decided that we were unnecessarily cautious and should just trust ‘the science.' Although we are a close family this caused tension in our family and it became impossible to discuss covid, or anything about the government interventions with this couple. As of April 2024 this continues to be an area where we are very careful about what we say.

I told three close colleagues that I would not be getting the vaccine and two of them indicated that they may not do so either, although ultimately for their own reasons they decided otherwise. I respected their decision and they respected mine. I also told my manager who questioned my decision but appeared to respect this anyway. In the meantime there was a growing culture of compliance to government requirements, and almost a pride or atmosphere of superiority developing in the offices where I worked and colleagues were getting their vaccines, promoting the use of masks and lockdowns and discussing these matters openly in the office while I kept quiet most of the time.

My manager was retiring at the end of the year and I was involved, as part of the leadership team, in employment of her replacement with interviews just 2 days before the date when I needed to have had the first injection. Some members of the appointment panel were aware of my decision while others were not which made this very awkward for me, especially when there was talk between school principals proudly stating how compliant their staff were!

When my employing principal approached me after I did not provide proof of vaccination, the process for termination began. I was called to a meeting with the BOT chairperson and the principal. I had been in contact with an employment lawyer when NZEI had proven to be of no support. This lawyer was present via phone at the meeting and the meeting was recorded. The outcome of the meeting was that I agreed to apply for sick leave to the end of the year and was required to hand in my computer, phone and car. Subsequently I was granted this sick leave.

In discussion with my lawyer I wrote to the BOT chair and the principal proposing that I work from home, particularly as a large portion of my work in leadership involved numerous meetings of various types as well as a significant amount of other office tasks. I had been mentoring RTLB in study, supervising the work of individual RTLB and groups of RTLB as well as participating in regular meetings of the leadership team. As we had already worked from home during lockdown I felt that this was a realistic and achievable alternative. I also made a number of suggestions of ways that I could support with the upcoming changes to the leadership team. The Board declined my request to work from home in a letter dated 23 November, 2021 stating that: ‘we remain unconvinced that this (RTLB work) could be done effectively remotely.'

And that: ‘This letter, therefore, regrettably serves as notice of our preliminary decision to terminate your employment under the Government vaccination order.'

I found it very interesting that by 23 February 2022 all RTLB were working from home anyway!

On my final day of work I was able to tell a few staff members in schools that I was not coming back and people expressed their concern for my decision but on the whole respected it and told me that I would be sorely missed. I visited one small school on the way home after work, talking to a small group whom I knew well. I told them that I was visiting before becoming a “biohazard” the next day. One staff member (new to the school) hurried away when he heard this while the others were kinder.

The termination process began and I did lose my position. Thus ended a lifetime in Education – no honouring retirement function or celebration of my service. Each time as I drove past schools where I had worked for the previous 40 odd years I would feel intense grief and loss, especially as I had been unable to say goodbye to staff, students and families with whom I had been working.

I was invited to meet with my team early the following year for a farewell. So on a wet, windy day we met outdoors for a picnic in a playground (not lunch at a café or restaurant as I did not have a vaccine pass). The team said lovely things and gave me some nice gifts to show their appreciation. I did appreciate this gesture, but was so weird to see everyone arrive in work cars, wearing masks. They removed their masks and most gave me a hug. However, when the principal arrived as I moved to give her a hug she moved away, stating that she must be careful because of the families that are at her school. I found this embarrassing and hurtful as she had given me hugs in the past.

Interestingly I applied for and was appointed to a fixed term position in the same cluster for Terms 3 & 4 of 2022. This was with the same colleagues, but not as part of the leadership team. My role was different in that I was no longer in the role of supporting and supervising colleagues, a role that I had loved and believed that I was very good at. I was required to use my own car for work, travelling 100km daily just to get to the office – a different office from where I had previously been stationed, closer to home. I requested some compensation for this difference in travel distance and time, but this was declined. At the end of these two terms I was encouraged to apply for a full time position but I decided that I would not do so.

It is now 2024 and two years have now passed since the termination of my role. Now, when I pass schools where I had worked in the past I no longer feel grief. With the significant changes occurring in schools and the reported deterioration in behaviour as well as the increase in stress experienced by so many I feel a sense of “rather you than me.” I am glad that I have stayed out of the system, but expect that I could have still been happy in the RTLB role and been contributing much to support students, whanau, teachers and principals.

I work with children two days per week on a voluntary basis. This consists of taking one maths tuition session for a 15 year old boy, providing child care for 2 children and teaching a group of 12 homeschooling children (ages 4-16) on a themed topic, weekly. I really enjoy these sessions as it reminds me of my time as a sole-charge teacher and principal in a local country school. The children are developing skills of working together and I am able to plan and teach topics that I love.

When people ask if I am still working I like to say that I was one of 3000 educators who lost our jobs due to the vaccine mandates. I like to see the reaction that this comment elicits!

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