An early childhood education company told parents of children the daycare manager was HIV-positive to dispel any "fear" they might have over possible "danger" to their children.

Evolve Education chief executive Mike Finlay said the decision to tell parents about Gayle Jonker living with HIV was made to educate and inform parents before they read an article about her in the media.

"We just have to discount any potential fears before they might arise."

Jonker was fired yesterday from her job as manager of Learning Adventures daycare in Cobden on the West Coast.


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It was the 89th day of her employment and a month after she told her staff she was appearing in an upcoming article about living with HIV.

Finlay said the sacking was not connected to Jonker's HIV status but would not talk about why she had been fired.

But he defended the decision to tell parents - which apparently included knocking on their doors at 8pm on a Friday night - so they were "fully informed of the absolute situation and, if anything, the fact their children aren't in any particular danger whatsoever".

Finlay said the company's perception there might be "fear" in the community was made on the belief parents had "a lack of information".

"We want to give absolute comfort and assurance to families that there are no issues here."

He defended the company's decision to act on Jonker's upcoming appearance in the media.

Finlay said the decision to inform parents was "not specifically (related) to HIV" and noted that it was against the law to discriminate against someone because they were HIV-positive.


However, he said he was unaware of the company doing the same for any other employee having any other illness.

Finlay said he believed the company had Jonker's consent to tell parents and was surprised to receive an email from her a few weeks later in which she spoke of the distress and hurt it had caused.

"My understand was that she was consulted through that process. We're reviewing everything that has happened as we speak."

Left feeling like 'a leper'

Jonker told the Herald losing the job she loved left her feeling like "a modern day leper".

She had started work as teacher and manager of the Learning Adventures daycare in March.

Gayle Jonkers with partner Ken Manson.
Gayle Jonkers with partner Ken Manson.

Jonker had no obligation to disclose that she had HIV, contracted in 2011 while single, and said she did not. It was well-managed through medication, meaning it was suppressed in her system, undetectable and she was not contagious.


But she also wasn't hiding it.

In early May, she agreed to speak in a newspaper feature about life with HIV and how much perception and reality changed in relation to the virus, she was happy to do so.

Ahead of publication, she told her staff as a courtesy and was also planning to let her manager know.

Before getting a chance to make that call, the manager rang, having been told by another of the company's employees.

She was told the company wanted to send a letter informing parents with children at the centre, along with its child illness policy and a pamphlet on HIV.

"As an organisation we do not discriminate against staff with disabilities, in fact we encourage diversity. However, it is our responsibility to advise you how this is going to be managed. Our staff will be given support," it read.


'Hurt and upset'

Jonker said she was deeply hurt and upset. "I felt completely discriminated against and stigmatised by my company. I was just embarrassed and humiliated.

"I didn't want to go into work on Monday and couldn't sleep for two weeks.

"The first thing about HIV is shame and guilt. You just feel like a freak, the outcast in society - like a modern-day leper. And you think you're going to die."

After two weeks of anguish over the process, Jonker said she wrote a lengthy email to the company's senior management explaining how upset she was by its actions.

The following Monday - May 28 - Jonker said her regional manager visited the office and raised concerns about issues with her role at the daycare centre.

But Jonker said the issues raised were from her first month or so in the job and hadn't been raised during an earlier meeting with the manager.


The issues were also third-hand complaints and included matters she believed had been resolved among staff, she said.

The performance meeting

Ten days later - June 7 - she was given less than 24 hours' warning of another meeting to discuss performance.

Jonker sent an email ahead of the meeting raising concerns about the suddenness of the meeting and her inability to have a support person present.

She also questioned whether she had received - as her employment contract said she would - "support and guidance" in her role as manager.

The meeting took place yesterday, lasted four minutes and during that time Jonker was fired.

Jonker said one of the reasons given for the sacking was the email she sent in the time between being told of the meeting and the meeting taking place.


She said the company told her there had been a breakdown in the relationship between her and her managers.

Jonker said she believed one reason for the sacking yesterday was that it was her 89th day since starting the job.

The 90-day employment rule gives employers the right to fire staff without giving reasons if the sacking takes place within 90 days of the person starting a job.

"I did my job. I gave it every ounce of energy and time I could. I love working with children. I was so determined to be such a great professional."

Jonker said she had spoken out because she believed any teacher sacked from a job had to declare it at future job interviews and it had to be declared to the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand.

"I'm not going to have my career ruined because of that."