Covid-19 vaccine mandate: Teacher aide for boy with learning difficulties among seven barred from school

The teacher aide of a Hastings boy with learning difficulties has refused the Covid-19 vaccine and is one of seven staff at the same school now not allowed on school grounds.

Nine-year-old Hastings Christian School student Tyronne Lambert is confused and upset, his mother Amber Lambert says.

But she says, in spite of this, she backs the decision of teacher aide Karen Spurgeon.

Education, healthcare and corrections staff were required to get their first Covid-19 vaccination by Monday.

Those that didn’t are either being stood down or have resigned.

When the mandate was announced, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said it was about leaving nothing to chance.

“It’s not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who haven’t yet been vaccinated to take this extra step.

“Vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 are not yet approved.”

Close to one per cent of school teachers – just under 700 – had refused to get the vaccine, according to one survey, National president of New Zealand Principals’ Federation Perry Rush, said.

“I think that signals there’s a high rate of compliance among teachers.”

The survey covered nine regions across the country, and about three per cent of the whole education workforce.

In Hawke’s Bay, exact numbers remained unclear yesterday but some schools have lost multiple staff.

Rush told Hawke’s Bay Today that most small schools had one to two ancillary or teaching staff who were unwilling to be vaccinated and larger schools might have a few more.

Hastings Christian School principal Gavin Clark said the school, which teaches both primary and secondary students, would lose seven of its 50 staff.

Three were teaching staff and four were support staff, Clark said.

He had hoped for alternative options for those with “strong convictions” who chose not to get vaccinated, as it was going to have a significant impact.

“This has been really upsetting. It’s devastating, actually.”

Clark had a plan for the school to get through the next four weeks thanks to an “incredible effort” by his remaining staff.

One class has three teachers covering it in shifts, which is not ideal as it’s disruptive to younger students who needed “consistency”, he said.

However, he was unsure about what next year would look like.

“I don’t want to think about how next year will pan out.”

Hastings Christian School student Tyronne Lambert, 9, was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and sensory processing issues about two years ago.

Amber said the diagnosis had enabled Tyronne to get the “one-on-one support” he needed to catch up to his peers.

Having Sturgeon as his teacher aide had really helped with his confidence.

Tyronne didn’t take the news he’d be losing his teacher aide well as he doesn’t like change, Amber said.

“He needs that one on one support.”

She said she wouldn’t be worried about support being provided by unvaccinated staff, and Tyronne now faced a huge task trying to build trust with a new aide.

“I want [the Government] to consider the higher needs and special needs students who are losing teachers,” Amber said.

Teacher aide Karen Spurgeon, of Hastings, said it was “devastating” to not be able to continue as Tyronne’s teacher aide, but she did not want to get the vaccine.

She said the Lamberts were like family to her after two years together.

“We’ll never lose that.”

Spurgeon said a new teacher aide had been found who was “amazing” but it would still take some time for Tyronne to feel comfortable.

While she was still working with the school and helping with the handover, she was unable to be on the school grounds. From mid-December, she will be stood down.

She said the way the school had fought for her to stay was “humbling”.

“They did everything they could.”

Hastings Youth Council chair Keelan Hesterman, speaking in his capacity as a Karamu High School student, told Hawke’s Bay Today earlier the health of those being educated had to be “paramount”.

“I’m sure there have been some tough conversations over the last few weeks about this, but showing kindness and compassion in dealing with this is so important, particularly when encouraging the vaccine-hesitant to get the jab.

“Young people just want to feel safe at school, and knowing their teachers are vaccinated against Covid-19 plays a big part of that.”

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