The majority of NSW Department of Education staff will no longer have to be vaccinated for work under a proposal to be taken to key stakeholders today.
Staff who work in Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs) or support units and classes will be required to maintain up-to-date doses of COVID-19 vaccine, as will Assisted Travel Support Officers (ATSOs) and drivers.
This means staff working in these settings will require a third booster dose to attend work.
NSW Department of Education Secretary, Georgina Harrisson, said the new policy followed a comprehensive independent workplace risk assessment.
The assessment factored in the latest health advice and role of various COVID-19 mitigation strategies in the current phase of the pandemic.
“With more than 120,000 staff, 850,000 students and 2,300 work sites it was important that as the Public Health Orders were lifted, we undertook an independent review of our COVID work, health and safety settings.” Ms Harrison said.
“We have taken the time that was needed in coming to this position to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff and students would not be compromised.
“As we move into Term 3, parents can be reassured that schools will remain safe places for their children and that face-to-face learning will be maintained.
“It is also important to recognise the vital role our teachers and school staff played last year, getting jabs in arms, so we could get our students back into classrooms in the middle of the Delta wave.”
Ms Harrisson said the new position would mean an additional 965 ‘active’ casual staff could return to working at school sites and teaching staff who resigned or were terminated for not complying with the vaccine mandate could apply for advertised roles if they chose to do so next term.
However, with a dramatic increase in the rate of sick leave among teaching staff in the first six months of the year compared to last year, Ms Harrisson said the mandate removal would have little impact on the current staffing stress the sector was experiencing.
“Like all employers right now we face unprecedented numbers of staff calling in sick due to COVID-19 and the flu,” she said.
“In the first six months of this year (to June 20) there were 430,351 teacher sick days recorded, up 145,491 compared to the same period in 2019 (pre-pandemic) and up 100,324 compared to the same period last year.
“This shows the impact that COVID and major winter illnesses are having on teacher sick leave.
“We will continue to support our staff to stay healthy through vaccine leave, free, office-based flu vaccinations and allow staff to claim back the cost of vaccinations where they cannot access it through work.”
The department will today begin stakeholder consultation on this proposed policy position, with the finalisation of the formal policy expected in a fortnight.
Under the proposed policy, from Monday, July 18, unvaccinated corporate staff will be able to return to corporate offices; schools can reengage unvaccinated or unattested active casual staff on a temporary or casual basis and unvaccinated staff who resigned or were dismissed will be able to reapply for advertised positions with the department.
Ms Harrisson said vaccination remained a key pillar of the department’s response to COVID-19 and the proposed vaccine policy forms part of the department’s COVID-smart measures for winter and Term 3.
These measures include the supply of rapid antigen tests, enhanced cleaning and ventilation, alongside the expectation that unwell staff do not attend work.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to review and update risk assessments to ensure they remain fit for purpose, and we will continue to do so as health and community settings change,” Ms Harrisson said.