Covid-19: teachers “need more sick days”

A group of health experts is urging the government to draw up a covid-19 action plan for schools, but teachers say they lack paid sick leave.

Photo: 123RF

In a article on the University of Otago Public Health Experts Blogthey say the government should take more precautions against the virus during the winter.

The group, which includes Amanda Kvalsvig and Michael Baker of the University of Otago, said actions should include requiring the use of masks indoors and ensuring classrooms are well ventilated. .

They also want push for high vaccination rates among teachers and students, isolation of all close contacts of positive cases, and a commitment to close schools if the number of cases reaches a particular threshold.

The group says the UK’s experience shows that trying to keep schools open leads to high caseloads and absenteeism.

The primary teachers’ union said teachers would need more sick leave to meet proposed Covid-19 isolation requirements.

Union president Liam Rutherford said teachers were already struggling to take the mandatory family contact leave.

Professor Michael Baker.

Professor Michael Baker
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

“What we’re starting to hear regularly from the education sector, both in schools and in childcare centres, are some of the shortcomings of sick leave. We’re only a quarter of the way through and we have people already using their sick leave.”

Rutherford says the union would ideally like to see special pandemic sick leave introduced for the next 12 to 18 months.

He also said the proposed school action plan against covid-19 should be applied more widely than schools. “It doesn’t make sense that we only have these restrictive supports in schools.

“It’s something we need to see echoed across the country.”

The director of the Association of Secondary School Principals, Vaughan Couillaut, said schools were struggling to cope with high numbers of absent staff.

“When the adults fall down then they have to stay home and look after their own children or self-isolate or whatever, well replacing them proves to be very problematic because the rescue pool is very shallow. We have quite a shortage, especially in the secondary sector,” he said.

Couillaut told his school on Friday that 20 staff members were absent due to illness and that they were considering moving some classes back online to cope.

He said there were other schools across the country also using a hybrid learning model.

Meanwhile, the Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) has expressed concern that teachers are suffering from burnout and post-virus illness.

President Melanie Webber said it was difficult for teachers to get back to work slowly after infection, especially if they don’t have a lot of sick leave.

“I really worry that teachers who try to do everything they can for their students will burn out and that will have huge implications on the track.”

She calls for clear advice on how to manage Long Covid within the workforce.

Webber said a teacher shortage has exacerbated the problem.


Norma A. Roth