Some Northland school principals feel the mandatory vaccination against Covid-19 for the education workforce will do more harm than good.
The criticism comes following Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins' announcement on Monday that suggested education workforce - including home-based educators and support staff such as teacher aides, administration, and maintenance staff - will be required to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
"From January 1, 2022, schools and early learning services and providers will need to maintain a register, and ensure only vaccinated staff and support people have contact with children and students," Hipkins, who is also the Education Minister, said.
"They need to have their first dose by November 15."
Secondary schools and kura will also be required to keep a Covid-19 vaccination register for students.
"Students that do not produce evidence of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated," Hipkins said.
If Northland is to remain in level 3 for the start of the new term, all school employees will also be required to return a negative test result before they can return to work on-site.
Further, all staff who are not fully vaccinated in the period leading up to January 1 will be required to undergo weekly testing.
"Work is continuing on whether mandatory vaccinations will be required in the tertiary education sector."
Kaitaia Primary School principal Brendon Morrissey said mandating the vaccination wasn't the "nicest tool" to use and would probably cause more problems.
"A lot of people are going to see this as an infringement of their rights.
"With our country's history of things being forced on people, especially with our Māori community and other minorities who have lost so much, this is just another thing forced on them. So, it will add to the trauma.
"It may do more harm than good."
Morrissey said the mandate could even slow the pro-activeness of many iwi who were leaning towards getting vaccinated.
"Incentivising things is a much more positive way to get things done, which I think is something the Government should have done.
"The decision to make vaccination mandatory may cause more kickback from the activist communities. This is going to polarise it for everybody."
Te Tai Tokerau Principal's Association president Pat Newman said mandating the vaccine was the worst decision and was not properly thought through.
"I believe very strongly that everybody should be vaccinated and that we have a social responsibility to be vaccinated, but I absolutely appall the mandatory reaction to it.
"The implications on Northland would be horrendous."
Newman was concerned about the existing issues with getting teaching relievers in Northland and this would have a negative impact on it.
"If a teacher refuses to do the weekly testing, then who will find me the relievers if I can't find them? Do I then send the class home?"
Hora Hora Primary School principal Newman said the Government had made the education workforce the escape route.
"I understand the pressure our Government will be under and we are being made the escape route to show that they are doing something."
Newman agreed that it was their responsibility to take good care of the students but the tool was not accurate.
"Every principal has been inundated by staff asking them what are the employment law around this, the ramifications and what it meant for them. We have no answers to give them."
Whangārei Girls' High School principal Anne Cooper, on the other hand, believed it to be a good decision.
"The strong message from our Government (and all governments around the world) is that we need high rates of vaccination to be able to get back to any kind of normal life."
The school did not have an up-to-date vaccination register yet but anecdotally the vaccination rate looked good – especially for the first jab, said Cooper.
"A lot of teachers were in the last group who were eligible for vaccination and are just having their second jabs around now.
"Many of our students are vaccinated and as educational professionals, we need to be role models.
"We must protect our students, colleagues, and others in our school communities as much as we can. It is about so much more than the safety of vulnerable students – that's why it has been mandated for everyone working in schools."
The school was planning to find out what the level of demand for vaccination there was among the students and would then work with Kensington Health to look at the best way of assisting those who wanted it (and have parental permission if under 16).
Northland Kindergarten Association chief executive Richard Storey said as an organisation they would continue to work according to the rules and instructions mandated by the Prime Minister and Ministry of Health.
The New Zealand Principals' Federation (NZPF), New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa, and New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association Te Wehengarua too fully supported the decision of the Government to mandate vaccinations.