Coronavirus (COVID-19) information for NZEI Te Riu Roa members
[Last updated: 11 October 2021]
Please note, we can only give general advice online. Our Member Support Centre is fully operational to assist members. Please contact us at email@example.com or 0800 693 443. Principal members can call the Principal Helpline on 0508 774 624 725.
NZEI Te Riu Roa supports the Government’s public health advice mandating that all staff in schools and early childhood centres are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by 1 January, 2022 and receive their first dose by 15 November 2021. We have always encouraged our members to get vaccinated to help protect themselves, their colleagues and in particular our younger tamariki who are currently unvaccinated.
NZEI Te Rui Roa will represent members who need employment support to be able to comply with this health order.
The Auckland region is currently at Alert Level 3. At this level, most children will still be learning at home, but schools are open for children whose parents or carers need to go to work and there is no alternative person who can supervise them.
Early childhood education have reopened with a limit of 10 children in a bubble, and teachers will need to be tested for Covid-19. There is no firm date for when Auckland schools will reopen and students will return to online learning on the 18th of October when Term 4 begins.
Northland is at Alert Level 3 until 11.59pm on Thursday 14 October. Cabinet will review these settings on Wednesday 13 October.
Parts of Waikato are at Alert Level 3. These include Waitomo District, including Te Kuiti, Waipa District, Ōtorohanga Distrcit, Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Huntly, Ngāruawāhia, Hamilton City and some surrounding areas. Waikato will remain at Alert Level 3 until 11.59pm on Thursday 14 October. Cabinet will review these settings on Wednesday 13 October.
All other regions outside of Auckland remain in Alert Level 2. Schools and early learning services in these regions are open.
You can find the Ministry of Education's most recent bulletins here:
Latest Government advice for Auckland ECE services at Alert Level 3, applicable from 6 October:
- Early learning centres can reopen to all children, with a maximum of 10 children in each bubble.
- Parents and caregivers must wear a face covering when picking up and dropping off their tamariki.
- Early childhood teachers must wear a face covering.
- The Ministry of Health is asking early childhood teachers to get tested for COVID-19 even if they do not have symptoms. This testing is not a requirement, but is encouraged. Regular testing helps us to identify any undetected chains of transmission in the community.
Key information for Level 3
- Do I have to go to school or my ECE service in Level 3?
The Government’s Level 3 guidance is that people should continue to work from home wherever possible. Students will be encouraged to learn from home unless, for example, their parents are essential workers or the students cannot learn from home. This, combined with worksites’ capacity when bubbles are in place, means that only those staff needed should be onsite.
- Can I be asked to go onsite before Level 3?
You are able to enter early learning centres and schools during Alert Level 4, in order to prepare for opening to limited numbers of tamariki who need to attend from Wednesday 22 September. Staff going on site should have a letter confirming their authority to travel from the service provider or manager / Board Chair or principal. In Alert Level 3, teacher aides can go into homes to support learners with additional needs by mutual agreement between the family, the teacher aide, the principal and the school board. The teacher aide will effectively become part of the household’s family bubble (a slightly enlarged bubble). It means they cannot join any other school bubble.
- What if I am a person with vulnerable health issues?
Ministry of Education advice from 2020 was that vulnerable staff should work from home. The Ministry's latest advice is that staff with higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 can be onsite if they are fully vaccinated. If you believe you cannot work onsite because you are higher risk and not yet fully vaccinated, the Ministry has said you should provide your employer with appropriate medical evidence to support this, such as a medical certificate, and that this must be at your own cost. Please talk to your GP in the first instance
- What if I have a vulnerable family member?
Again - Ministry of Education advice from 2020 was that vulnerable staff should work from home. Please talk to your GP in the first instance.
- What if I care for children who are under age 14?
Employers should provide flexibility so that staff members can care for children under 14 and continue to work safely, such as providing flexible start and finish times.
- Will I get paid if I cannot work onsite under level 3?
There are Ministry of Education guidelines on the Ministry of Education website about paying staff who are self-isolating or caring for dependents who need to self-isolating in line with Ministry of Health expectations. NZEI Te Riu Roa advises that all such staff should be paid as normal. These staff can be asked to work from home.
- What if I have not had the vaccination – will I be expected to work onsite?
The Ministry of Education encourages everyone to get vaccinated. NZEI Te Riu Roa recommends you follow public health and Ministry of Education guidance about returning to work if you have not been vaccinated and consult your GP if you have concerns.
- Can I refuse to work onsite if I haven’t been vaccinated?
There is no public health advice currently that indicates vaccination is required in order to work in schools and ECE centres. Unless you are a vulnerable person, or you have whānau members who are vulnerable, then you can be expected to work onsite if required.
- Will we work in bubbles?
Schools and ECE services will operate in bubbles of no more than 10 tamariki.
- Will I need to wear a face covering while at work during Level 3?
The question of whether face coverings must be worn under Alert Level 3 in schools and early learning services has been the subject of detailed investigation by Public Health. They have advised against the use of face coverings for a range of reasons, most particularly because face coverings that are handled incorrectly or are moved around can present a greater risk than no covering. However, the Ministry has also advised that those who choose to wear a face covering will continue to be supported to do so. Update: as of 20 September 2021, in Level 3, it is now mandatory for secondary school staff and students to wear a mask indoors. It is recommended that staff and students from year 9-13 in wharekura and area schools in Level 3 also wear them.
- What year groups will be at my worksite?
Students in Years 1-10 and all ages attending ECE sites can attend if necessary. There is also limited discretion for some senior secondary students to attend at a school’s discretion.
- Can my employer ask if I am vaccinated? Can I refuse to answer my employer if they ask if I am vaccinated?
Any employer can ask an employee if they are vaccinated, but the employee is not required to answer. If you choose not to disclose your vaccination status, your employer may assume that you are unvaccinated but should inform you of this assumption. Your employer cannot share information about your vaccine status without your consent. NZEI Te Riu Roa recommends that people seek health advice from trusted public health experts as to why vaccination contributes to the collective good of Aotearoa New Zealand. Vaccinations are not mandatory in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- Are schools going to be used as vaccination sites?
In general, the Ministry of Education has said that schools are not part of the DHB-led vaccination programme. However, schools may be approached by local health providers to act as vaccination sites. This is a decision for the school board. As there are health and safety issues involved, NZEI Te Riu Roa expects boards to consult with staff before making a decision.
- I have heard that teachers are not allowed to discuss with ākonga their personal views on vaccination or Covid-19, is this true?
NZEI Te Riu Roa holds the view that teachers are professionals and will uphold the Code of Professional Responsibility Ngā Tikanga Matatika. Teachers should be especially mindful of their ethical obligations to ākonga, whānau and society when dealing with or talking about sensitive issues such as vaccination.
Key information for Level 2
The rules for Level 2 have changed due to the infectiousness of the Delta variant.
You legally must wear a face covering if you are aged 12 or over when:
- on public transport and at departure points — for example, airports, train stations and bus stops
- on flights
- in taxis or ride-share vehicles
- visiting a healthcare facility
- visiting an aged care facility
- inside retail businesses — for example, supermarkets, shopping malls, indoor marketplaces and takeaway food stores
- visiting the public areas within courts and tribunals, local and central Government agencies, and social service providers with customer service counters.
The ministry advises that in schools and early learning centres, face coverings for everyone aged 12+ are recommended but not mandatory. School and ECE services should work through a H&S plan as a team and may decide to wear face coverings. If there is no protocol to wear masks, staff can still do so if they wish.
Can staff work across different sites and for different employers at Alert Level 2?
Ministry advice: Staff can work in different locations on the same day, week etc. and for other employers. Everyone will need to ensure they are recorded as being on site (through the timetable and/or visitor register) and following appropriate hygiene and other health and safety measures required by that school.
A reminder that for schools, physical distancing at Alert Level 2 means: if you can smell the person’s breath or feel that you are in that “moist breath” zone, move a little further away. Avoid touching others and for adults, it is recommended that where practicable you keep a metre distance between you.
Disclosure of vaccination status
Ministry of Health advice is for everyone to get vaccinated, however you cannot make it a requirement that anyone get vaccinated.
You can ask a staff member whether they have been vaccinated if you have legitimate reason to do so, but they do not have to disclose their vaccination status. Justifiable reasons to ask for this can include health and safety concerns. If they choose not to disclose their vaccination status, you may assume that they are unvaccinated but should inform the staff member of this assumption. In this instance you should work with the employee to accommodate any needs at Alert Level 2.
If you do ask about vaccination status, you must take reasonable steps to ensure the information is collected lawfully, including that staff members are aware of how this information will be used, and why it is being collected. Personal information about vaccine status must be protected and cannot be shared without the staff member’s consent.
It's natural to have concerns about the health and safety impact of a return to work. One of the best ways to mitigate concerns and anxiety is to work collaboratively as a team to make decisions for how your school or centre moves to and operates under Level 3 in a healthy and safe way. The Health and Safety at Work Act mandates this approach.
After all, risk management is most effective when a collaborative approach is taken. (And we acknowledge that many of you will be on this journey already!). We have used some of the ideas from Worksafe to help put this together.
In particular, the "Person Conducting A Business or Undertaking" (PCBU) -- generally your employer/the principal -- should assess the ability to operate safely at Alert Level 3. This includes working out how to manage risks and protect staff, whanau and students at Level 3. Each PCBU should have a return to work safety plan that is shared with staff and engages staff in genuine consultation. It greatly helps if the PCBU has information about how many students/tamariki are expected to return. Hopefully you’ve already got a good sense from your community about how many children you’re expecting through the door.
It’s important we start with the fact that this will not be anything like business as usual, and that fighting the spread of Covid-19 is the number one priority. That means as many staff as possible should still be working from at home at Level 3.
Principals and ECE service managers/head teachers are likely to have been in contact with staff and identified the risks that are presented in your context when moving to Level 3. If you are new to the leadership role since previous lockdowns, you may not have done this before.
With that starting point in mind, there’s a simple process for building a safety plan that can be followed:
1. Bring people together (virtually) and work as a group
If there is already a health and safety rep and committee in place, they can be asked to lead this process. If there is not one, staff can simply be brought together (online!) to work through a basic process. Be sure to work with your NZEI worksite rep.
2. Identify and define the risk(s)
It helps to be as clear about this as possible as that will help identify factors that need to be addressed. As part of this, it is important to also assess the likelihood of the risk occurring and the impact if the risk did happen for both staff and students.
3. Identify the possible options for mitigating or eliminating the risk
This includes identifying sources of information and support. The possible options will obviously need to take into account the public health requirements and information provided by the Ministry of Education. Options, such as wearing masks, should be specific to the risks defined above.
4. Develop a plan that will address the issues. This should include assessment of effectiveness
Assess the options identified and their likely effectiveness to address specific risks. Agree who will be taking specific actions and how they will be supported if necessary. Agree how the group will monitor the identified risk(s) and the effectiveness of the plan.
5. Implement the plan and monitor effectiveness
Ensure that regular and effective communication amongst the group takes place to ensure that the plan is effective. If people have specific tasks, they should report progress against these.
For the latest COVID-19 guidance, please check covid19.govt.nz
All advice on this page is based on current information from Government agencies. For the most up to date information about COVID-19 and its impacts on your work, please visit the Ministry of Education website directly here.
Now more than ever is a time to pull together and support one another. Stamping out COVID-19 requires all our effort! Some of this is basic – remembering to wash our hands thoroughly and regularly – and some of it has been more challenging, like self-isolation. Ultimately, we can get through this together – but we need to be careful, intentional, and remember to look after one another.
Important links and key contacts
- For overall COVID-19 information visit covid19.govt.nz
- For details about how recent developments around COVID-19 will affect you and education services, please check the Ministry of Education’s advice in the first instance.
- For COVID-19 clinical advice and information contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453.
- If you need to contact your public health officer, here is a list of Public Health Unit Contacts via the Ministry of Health.
- If you’re a principal or executive officer and have questions about how COVID-19 affects your school or kura, contact your local Ministry of Education regional office.
- If you need help with COVID-19-related employment issues, contact our Member Support Centre on firstname.lastname@example.org 0800 693 443. Principal members can call the Principal Helpline on 0508 774 624 725.
Mental health support
With a return to higher alert levels, each of us will be responding differently. It's important that we each take care of one another and ourselves, including our mental health. Here are some options for mental health support:
EAP (Employee Assistance Programmes)
Employers often sign up to employee assistance programmes as part of meeting their health and safety in employment obligations. EAP is confidential counselling and support, delivered via counsellors nationwide – sometimes in person, but also via phone or video chat. You should check to see if your employer is signed up to a provider. The main provider used by schools is EAP Services Limited - www.eapservices.co.nz 0800 327 669.
Community based support (phone based)
- Anxious/depressed: text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor 24/7
- Depression Line: 0800 111 757
- Alcohol and Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797
- Family Violence info line: 0800 456 450
- Health line: 0800 611 116
- Lifeline Aotearoa nationwide: 0800 543 354
- Warmline (Mental Health Peer Support): 0800 200 207
- Victim Support: 0800 842 846
- Outline: LGBTIQ- affirming support line and face to face counselling- 0800 688 5463
- Suicide crisis helpline: 0508 828 865
- Anxiety phone line: 0800 269 4389
Useful websites/ online support
NZEI Te Riu Roa events and hui
If you’re uncertain about the status of the event you were intending to attend, please contact the organiser directly.
We will give as much notice as possible where we've had to cancel or postpone. For events and hui that we've had to cancel we've done our best to contact those affected directly. Refunds will be offered for any paid events that have been cancelled.
We are actively reviewing all of our later upcoming events and hui in light of COVID-19 and will make decisions on future events based on the Government’s guidelines for gatherings of people.