As a group, NZDSOS aligned with our teaching colleagues (NZTSOS) and undertook a combined court case (Mar 2022) challenging the legality of the vaccine mandates. This focussed particularly on the right to decline medical treatment and whether New Zealanders could count on our Bill of Rights to protect this right. The outcome of the NZTSOS appeal (April 2023) is awaited and has ramifications for all New Zealanders. Below we publish the story of one of our NZTSOS colleagues describing that fateful day in Nov 2021 that many of us remember so well.
The author has captured the intense emotions of that time and the lingering unease that is now pervading NZ society. How many other similar stories are out there – Kiwis passionate about their work and roles in education, health, other fields – who were cast aside?
Surely this is the sort of teacher we want in front of our children?
A mandated NZ principal mentally said goodbye to every child as they exited the school gates.
November 15th, 2021 marked a day of profound heartbreak for me, a day I will never forget. On this day, a profound shift occurred; a juncture where former allies in leadership transformed into arbiters of my exile, classifying me as a ‘safety risk’.
Just one week prior to this day, I received my Master of Educational Leadership certification via post with mixed emotions. I was elated to have attained such a credential bringing an end to four years of weekend-filled study, combined with a heavy full-time workload as a primary school principal, while additionally supporting my family in a sole parent capacity. Despair intensified as I grappled with the prospect of being denied the right to attend my own graduation, a poignant consequence of prevailing COVID rules and evolving University restrictions.
I cannot express the pain I felt on that fateful date when I stepped away from the grounds of my cherished school, a place that had been the centre of my purpose, identity, and passion for six years. A place where I had invested significant positive influence – shedding light and love in a tough community space, strewn with complex layers of multigenerational distrust. It took time to foster strong interconnected relationships in a community entrenched in considerable social challenges, but I remained dedicated and eager to build on the work that had yielded multiple positive outcomes.
Instead, I mentally said goodbye to every child as they exited the school gates, holding back tears knowing I may never see them again. Mandated out of a job I loved. Silenced, I pondered how they would feel in the coming days and weeks regarding my sudden unexplained departure. My intense distress focused on the feelings of abandonment that my students with high behavioural needs would suffer – the very children who were familiar faces in my office. These young souls with whom I had painstakingly cultivated trust over the years, striving to anchor them in our school after suspension from other institutions, knowing we provided their final opportunity for a transformative schooling journey.
Schools represent the very heart of a community, an essence particularly pronounced within intimate rural and regional environments. Within this context, the role of a school principal takes on profound importance. Like leading a business, the position entails property and relational safety, financial allocation and resource management, the fostering of professional growth for personnel, with a heavy emphasis placed on producing valuable educational outcomes. Yet it is so much more than that. Of utmost importance are relationships and the adhesiveness of trust which binds those connections to form harmonious, nurturing, and supportive webs of influence that empower.
During my tenure as a primary school principal, I undertook these responsibilities with acuity while grappling with substantial social challenges. Responsibilities extended beyond my pedagogical sphere, to encompass the provision of essential and crucial social impact despite limited resources. My role comprised not only the cultivation of an engaging and specialised academic environment to meet a wide range of learning and behavioural needs but also a strong commitment to nurturing the holistic well-being of the attending children, advocating for them to receive the best services I could source. We were praised regularly by a host of Ministry of Education advisors as a model school for inclusive policy. Our focus on well-being transformed our school culture.
It was crucial to me that our children’s experience of school was warm, engaging, positive, and supportive and that each day they attended school they felt secure, connected, and valued – ready to learn. My passion to achieve this was rooted in the multi-faceted collection of responsibilities that presented each day; assisting illiterate parents to navigate school systems, responding to incidents of domestic violence and its effect on impacted children, offering solace in the face of growing numbers of mental health challenges including sexual harm, self-harm, and suicide ideation, whilst administering provisions for a wide range of basic necessities. In the midst of these profound challenges I remained dedicated to fostering a nurturing and loving environment so our students could flourish and appreciate the value and purpose of a quality education.
Working from home naturally limited my zone of influence but the media’s cold notification hung heavy in the air – a chilling decree that any presence of mine on school premises would be met with a call to police. The irony was palpable; while I was barred from setting foot on the campus, numerous unvaccinated parents continued their daily interactions in classrooms on school premises. There was no logic to this government-directed ruling. The pain of it all was inexpressible.
How is it ever acceptable to be coldly expelled from a place of dedicated and committed service for presenting with an incurable medical condition? The medical truth of my anaphylaxis, the very real danger posed by undiagnosed triggers, was powerless in the face of a governmental decision. The medical exemption my doctor had granted me, safeguarding connection to my school, an integral part of my being and existence, was rendered null, leaving me with a sense of grief and loss that eclipsed any words. Axed overnight! Impeccable work history and services rendered irrelevant. Dedication and passion for my school community instantly futile.
I mulled over the recurring memories of seven previous life-threatening episodes. Each one leaving a traumatic imprint – the horrific swelling of my face and throat leaving me unrecognisable. The intense fear that gripped from an inability to draw air. Could I put myself through the only medical option offered to me – administering the vaccine in a hospital emergency unit with a resuscitation team on standby? The mere suggestion of this evokes tears – the callousness of such an offer.
Enveloped in a cocoon of solitude, I attempted adjustment to a change in everyday activities that once formed the backdrop of normalcy; a leisurely visit to a café, a simple trip to the store, or even seeking medical attention became off-limits, casting me into an existence marked by isolation and constraint. The swift transformation was nothing short of a tumultuous whirlwind, as the world outside of my bubble, saw fit to brand me with labels that stung deep – a conspiracy theorist, an anti-vaxxer, a discordant voice swimming against the ‘one source of truth’ tidal wave.
In the midst of this emotional tempest, the loss of my job stood as a stark reminder of the shifting sands beneath my feet. As the walls of isolation closed in, I grappled with not only the weight of unemployment but also the pressing urgency of financial security. The need to generate income loomed large, a necessity that couldn’t be ignored, especially considering my solitary journey in this struggle. With no partner or spouse to lean on, and having already weathered the challenges of single parenthood for over a decade, the safety net of assets to fall back on was a distant dream. The emotional and financial labyrinth that stretched before me was daunting, and yet I held onto hope, determined to navigate this uncharted path with resilience and unwavering resolve.
What was hardest I could not say, but I still carry the burden of being stripped of the chance to bid a proper farewell to my beloved students, even after the mandate was dropped, denied the opportunity to provide a heartfelt explanation to the parents and community I held so close. There is no closure. As if losing my job weren’t enough, I now stand to lose my teaching registration, for daring to question the narrative and accompanying ‘science’. Once upon a time, critical thinking was valued in our country. Now it seems desirable norms are conformity and the silencing of free speech.
Support from unexpected places, such as new friends in the BFD Sump, has assisted my grief journey, but there are days when I awaken and question my sense of belonging within my country of birth. Amidst the backdrop of a seemingly unchanged routine for the majority, my personal journey has been profoundly affected, leaving me uncertain about the possibility of full restoration. It has placed a heavy cloud of doubt and mistrust over my being. While I hold onto the optimism that our nation can rediscover the liberties that defined its past – a time when fundamental human rights remained inviolable – the principles for which my two great Uncles made the ultimate sacrifice – I find myself grappling with the question of attainability in today’s context.
I am one of the undecided voters, disillusioned by the continued and accepted ‘praise for the Covid response’ and denial of its harm to thousands of New Zealanders. Trusting none of our politicians, those in power or those in oppositional positions I continue to proclaim, “God of nations at thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet, hear our voices we entreat, God defend our free land.”