DBE moves to clarify circular about teachers who won’t vaccinate
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Johannesburg - The Department of Basic Education (DBE) moved to clarify a circular sent to schools this week, saying it did not seek to compel teaching and non-teaching staff to be vaccinated.
On Monday, The Star reported that a circular which director-general Mathanzima Mweli sent to schools said the department reserved its right to “deal” with teachers choosing not to vaccinate on constitutional, medical, religious and cultural grounds.
Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), told The Star that the department was basically threatening to axe teachers choosing to exercise their constitutional right not to vaccinate.
Responses to the article were very strong with leaders including African Christian Democratic Party leader, the Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, saying the ACDP would not hesitate to take the matter to the Constitutional Court in support of workers who were threatened for refusing to take the vaccine.
“Teachers and all other employees have a right to choose not to vaccinate on constitutional, medical, religious and cultural grounds,” Meshoe said.
In response to the report, department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the article had created confusion and fear among educators.
He added that the department was also aware that an extract from the seven-page circular had been shared on social media platforms, resulting in “unnecessary anxiety and panic” among teachers who did not vaccinate.
“The purpose of Circular 4 of 2021 (dated July 23, 2021 and signed by Mweli) was to provide guidance regarding the operational requirements for educators employed in terms of the Employment of Educators Act of 1998 following the implementation of the Basic Education sector Covid-19 vaccine programme. The circular also serves as a guide to managing vulnerable employees in the context of the current pandemic,” he said.
The department said that when schools reopened for principals and management teams last week, the DBE issued the circular to assist in managing cases where some teachers did not vaccinate.
At the close of the vaccination programme in the sector, more than 517 000 education staff out of 582 000 had received their vaccines.
Those who did not get vaccinated included basic education sector employees who had illnesses, Covid-19 positive cases, those who had received flu vaccines and staff who were hesitant.
“The department has strongly recommended that education sector personnel should get vaccinated, but at no stage did the DBE seek to compel employees to be vaccinated. In fact, the circular says that ‘it respects the rights of educators who opt not to be vaccinated on constitutional, religious, cultural, comorbidity or medical grounds’,” Mhlanga said.
He added that educators who have had the vaccine or chose not vaccinate and were concerned about their comorbidity or other medical conditions should apply to the relevant provincial education department for leave. “These educators will be dealt with in terms of the relevant leave and sick leave provisions of the Employment of Educators Act,” he said.
Mhlanga said cases of educators who were not in a position to satisfactorily perform their duties because of a medical condition would be handled in terms of the Labour Relations Act in conjunction with the Employment of Educators Act.
“The circular seeks to provide steps that must be taken to accommodate teachers who are not able to vaccinate for a variety of reasons. The department urges everybody in the sector to apply the contents of the circular appropriately to meet the intended objective of assisting in creating stability in the schooling system under Covid-19 conditions,” he said.