Schools in the Australian state of Victoria are struggling with temporary closures due to staff testing positive to COVID-19 after the government terminated over 120 unvaccinated teachers in April.
In one particular case, year eight students at Greater Shepparton Secondary College in the north of Victoria had to learn from home on May 16 due to a lack of teaching staff.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said that staff absence caused by positive COVID-19 testing was the most significant challenge for the state’s school system.
“That’s going to be the issue of 2022,” he told a budget estimates inquiry on May 16.
He further said that in most cases, schools were able to maintain operation with casual relief teachers and nearly 1,000 retired teachers who were recruited back into the workforce to alleviate staff shortages.
The education minister said that as of April 30, the Victorian government removed 300 teaching service employees, including 121 teachers, from their positions because they did not meet first and second dose COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
He added that those employees had not worked since October 2021 and were placed on “unauthorised absences.”
In addition, Merlino mentioned that another around 200 teaching staff had not received the third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as mandated by the state government.
Among the jurisdictions in Australia, only Victoria and the Northern Territory require teachers to be vaccinated with a booster dose.
However, the education minister defended the policy.
“But I again reiterate to this community and to anyone watching this hearing, the vaccination requirement was an incredible success … to the extent that 99.4 per cent of the government teaching service staff have met the vaccination requirement,” Merlino said.
“This will have no impact whatsoever on the operation of Victorian government schools.”
Meanwhile, Liberal MP Beverley McArthur criticised the Victorian Labor government, saying that the teaching staff failing to satisfy vaccination requirements could still be able to go to other venues without being hindered.
“They can attend religious services (and) events,—they can even go to brothels—but they can’t work to earn a living,” she said.
“Why wouldn’t you make use of this available workforce?”