Open Letter to the Mahurangi College Board

Dear Mahurangi College Board,

Parents of students at Mahurangi College received an email from the principal on the 9th of November stating:

We would like to assure you that your child will not be discriminated against in any way by the school and we do not intend excluding students from any activities or trips that we have control over. However, in these ever changing times we have no control over the requirements that an outside organisation might place on us if we were to visit somewhere, eg. the museum. We also have no control over requirements that the government might place on us in future.

T. Giles, Mahurangi College, email, 2021-11-09

I am extremely disappointed that the school has chosen to take this stance. The language used here is very clearly that used by the vocal minority of people who are anti-vaccination. It is absolutely inappropriate for communication from the school to use this language.

Specifically: the emphasis on safety requirements being imposed on the school by “outside organisation”s or the government mirrors the anti-health protests of tiny numbers of people in Aotearoa. The school should welcome every additional safety requirement, whether it is ones that it adopts through internal development, through third-party organisations, or from the government. These are not being “place[d] on us”, they are being adopted to maximise the health & wellbeing of our students.

The school should absolutely be considering treating vaccinated and unvaccinated students differently, including potentially not including unvaccinated students from activities and trips where their unvaccinated status would put their own or their fellow students or the general public’s health at risk. The evidence that this should be done is extremely clear through all of the measures that are being adopted in the COVID-19 Protection Framework.

Tellingly, the email did not encourage vaccination at all. The sooner the 12+ population of the school is fully vaccinated, the safer the school environment is (as well as the rest of the country, through interactions with members of the school community), and the faster pre-pandemic activities can resume. The school has a moral duty to encourage public health measures, particularly ones that impact the local community. Since the school caters to primary students, there is an additional obligation to ensure that those that are currently too young to be vaccinated are as well protected as possible.

The board, and therefore the school, has a duty to provide a safe and healthy environment for its students’ education. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health – as well as all reputable medical professionals – are clear that receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination is the strongest element of our multi-layer approach to providing a safe environment. The board also has obligations to its Māori students through Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and as those students are (in general) at higher risk from COVID-19, you have a responsibility to ensure that you do everything possible to keep them safe.

My assumption is that the language used in this communication does not reflect the position of the board, and that the board does, sensibly, support and encourage vaccination, and discourages all anti-science, dangerous, anti-vaccination language – and that you have been let down by inappropriate communication from a staff member (if it was actually Mr Giles’s own words, then regrettably also by one of the board).

Please send a corrective message to all recipients of the original email. The message should clearly state that vaccination is scientifically proven to be extremely safe, is the best possible protection against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, and helps safeguard our children against not only short-term health issues (including death) but also the effects of long-COVID, which are still being determined. You should provide links to covid19.govt.nz and other reliable material so that parents are helped to be well informed (I suggest that these are links rather than attachments, as the school seems to have great difficulty in attaching files to emails). Ideally, you would also explicitly apologise for the earlier language, and explain that it was a mistake and is not the school’s position.

I suggest that for critical communication like this, you may also wish to have someone (perhaps the board chair) vet communication before it goes out to parents, so that mistakes like this are less likely to occur in the future.

Noho ora mai rā,

Tony Meyer

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