Canberra primary school principal criticises ACT government COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Facebook video alongside One Nation senator

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© Provided by ABC NEWS Charnwood-Dunlop School Principal Rob Lans has criticised the ACT government’s vaccine mandates for primary school teachers and early childhood educators.  (ABC Canberra: Adrienne Francis)

A Canberra primary school principal has labelled the ACT government’s vaccine mandate for school teachers “coercion” and said he was “ashamed” he had not spoken out against the measure sooner.

In a Facebook video alongside Queensland Senator Malcolm Roberts, Charnwood-Dunlop Primary School principal Rob Lans claimed some teachers at the school were “extremely worried” about their careers if they refused the vaccine.

The 45-minute video was posted to an Australian Facebook group that campaigns against vaccine mandates on Monday. 

The comments came a week after the ACT government announced returning primary school teachers were required to be vaccinated.

The public health direction mandating vaccination applies to early childhood education and care services, primary schools, out of school hours care, and specialist and flexible education settings.

Under the mandate, workers will be required to provide proof of vaccination and have their first vaccination by 1 November 2021, and a second dose by 29 November 2021.

‘I feel like the trigger has been pulled’

Mr Lans appeared in the video, shot inside Parliament House, alongside Senator Roberts, who has been criticised for sharing COVID-19 misinformation during the pandemic. 

Mr Lans said he chose to speak out about the mandate in response to the “supreme amount of fear” he claimed was permeating his school community, despite the ACT being on track to hit more than 99 per cent double-dose vaccination by the end of November.

“I’m not in this position because I want to be here. I’m accidentally here, but I also need to stand up for what is right and my values and my belief system, and my health,” Mr Lans said.

Mr Lans questioned the necessity of the vaccine mandate, given the ACT’s high vaccination rate.

“We are in a position where we have extremely high voluntary vaccination rates, so what is the mechanism needed to create that extra one or two per cent they are talking about here in the ACT?” Mr Lans said.

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

He also said he had been working with other teachers who were concerned about their employment if they refused to be vaccinated.

“The fear that is coming through at the coercion — I’ve been working with a group of teachers in the last week that are extremely worried about their livelihood,” he said.

“I’m working with teachers in my school setting to try and support them in this context — whether they have enough leave to tackle this, whether redeployment is a suitable thing for a job they’ve applied for [and won].”

Mr Lans said he was concerned his stance would make him unable to return to school alongside his students, but “not at the sake of having to conform in a way that is forced through these mandates”.

“Now I’m in a position where I won’t be there to support my school community through that [transition back to school] and that has been a choice that has been taken away from me now,” Mr Lans said.

“I feel like the trigger has been pulled, but I haven’t pulled that trigger. Yet I have to respond to it now.

“So I am … going to stand up for what I believe in and stand up for the value of that choice, that pro-information, making informed decisions – it is absolute human rights.

“I actually feel ashamed that I haven’t stood up sooner.”

Mr Lans also said he was “horrified” that 12-year-olds were given vaccine approval — calling the measure “absolutely scary” and “extreme” despite health experts determining the vaccines are safe and effective for the cohort.

ACT government ‘aware’ of video

The ACT Education Directorate said it was following up the video internally. 

“The Education Directorate is aware of a video circulating on social media featuring a public school principal and is following up this matter in accordance with our internal procedures,” a spokesperson said.

“Vaccination coverage is a key component of the return to school plan. High levels of vaccination combined with public health social measures are the best protections against COVID-19.

“ACT school-based staff already have very high vaccination rates. When we surveyed public school teachers and staff, approximately 97 per cent of people who responded were already on track to be fully vaccinated.”

The spokesperson said unvaccinated school staff could be redeployed in other sectors. 

“Public school staff in these settings who choose not to be vaccinated without an exemption, will be supported to work from home where suitable duties can be identified, or redeployed to suitable duties within the Education Directorate or broader public service,” the spokesperson said. 

Mr Lans has been contacted for comment.

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