Roles and responsibilities
Your roles and responsibilities as an education provider, including information about your legal obligations. For early childhood education services, schools and tertiary education organisations.
What is expected of education service providers?
Early childhood education (ECE) services, schools and tertiary organisations are expected to develop their own pandemic plans to protect students and staff. In most cases this will involve reviewing and updating existing emergency management plans, to include a pandemic section.
What should we do now to prepare for an influenza pandemic?
- Choose a staff member to be the Pandemic Manager (see the end of this document for more information about the role and responsibilities of a Pandemic Manager).
- Visit the Ministry's Pandemic planning kit section to complete your pandemic plan.
- Place posters on `How to Wash Your Hands' on noticeboards and in bathrooms.
- Talk to your students, parents and staff about your pandemic plan.
- Make sure you have an emergency survival kit. For further information see the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management website at www.civildefence.govt.nz on `What to do in a disaster'.
- Regularly review and rehearse your pandemic plan.
What are our obligations in terms of closures?
The education sector (all education providers) will need to take direction to remain open, close or reopen by the following organisations:
- Ministry of Health, or
- Local Medical Officers of Health or their designates, or
- the Ministry of Education for the Ministry of Health.
What does closure mean?
Closing your premises to students would not necessarily mean that facilities would be closed in a quarantine sense. Staff may still go to work, work remotely, or carry out `alternative duties' for other agencies with their board's pre-approval. Facilities may also be used for alternative purposes such as Community Based Assessment Centres (CBAC).
What does the Legislation say?
The Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998
Require licensees to take reasonable steps to exclude children or staff if they have an infectious disease specified in Schedule 2 of the Health (Infectious and Notifiable Diseases) Regulations 1966;
Provide that the health regulations will apply to early childhood centres, in the same way but with the necessary modifications, as they apply to schools;
Enable the Secretary for Education to suspend a centre’s licence (and therefore stop it from operating) if reasonable action is not taken to prevent children from coming into contact with a person suffering from an infectious disease. This discretion is rarely exercised in normal circumstances, but could be used in the event of a pandemic. It is more likely, however, that the Medical Officer of Health would exercise powers under the Health Act 1956 to restrict the attendance at early childhood centres as necessary.
Education Act 1989
The Education Act 1989 gives principals and boards powers to exclude particular students and staff or to close their centre/school in certain circumstances:
Section 19 provides that a principal may exclude a student who may have a communicable disease (communicable diseases are specified in the Schedule to the Act. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza or `bird flu' (HPAI subtype H5N1) was added on 12 February 2004. In practice, schools would generally proceed subject to advice received from health authorities.
Section 65E provides that a board may close a school in an emergency such as an epidemic.
The Health (Infectious and Notifiable Diseases) Regulations place duties on schools, teachers and parents in the case of a pandemic.
Regulation 14 provides that schools must exclude teachers and students who have an infectious disease.
Careful exercise of all these powers will be especially important in the "stamp it out" stage. Any decision by a manager, board chair, principal or chief executive to close should be based on advice from health authorities.
For example, if a cluster outbreak is declared in Wellington, health authorities are more than likely to close education facilities to students across the region at the end of the business day. Therefore, any ill-advised action such as an unnecessary closure would make life very difficult for the wider community.
There is no specific power in the education legislation authorising the closure of tertiary institutions. That power lies with the Ministry of Health under the Health Act 1956.
Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992
In addition to requirements under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, pandemic planning will help you ensure you meet your obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, including:
"Every employer shall take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work; and in particular shall take all practicable steps to:
- provide and maintain for employees a safe working environment
- provide and maintain for employees while they are at work facilities for their safety and health..."
Section 28: Employees may refuse to perform work likely to cause serious harm - "An employee may refuse to do work if the employee believes that the work that the employee is required to perform is likely to cause serious harm to him or her....".
What is the role of the Pandemic Manager?
The role of the Pandemic Manager is to ensure that:
- students and staff members affected by a pandemic event are managed effectively throughout its duration
- the organisation provides a safe working environment for those that remain, and
- students and staff who have been absent can return fully recovered and in a positive manner.
The role has two core functions:
- To manage and implement the health and safety responses at each code alert level, including establishing and testing the necessary health and safety processes within the site.
- To manage students and staff affected by the pandemic.
Specific responsibilities include:
- Establishing a pandemic response plan and processes needed to ensure that the response and actions at each code alert level are consistent with public health planning requirements.
- Ensuring, in line with education provider policies, adequate emergency supplies of tissues, medical and hand hygiene products, cleaning supplies and masks. These may be difficult to purchase once a pandemic begins.
- Setting up a system to monitor students and staff who are ill or suspected to be ill in the event of a pandemic, including contacting students and staff who are unexpectedly absent - has their health professional been notified of their illness? Have contact issues been addressed? Is someone able to care for them?
- Link into and maintain information on the wider welfare activities within the local community that students and staff may need to access in the event of a pandemic.
- Provide health and safety training and advice to staff. Keep all staff regularly informed of the pandemic plan, including ensuring information on influenza prevention, how to treat students and staff that become ill and how ill students and staff will be supported is communicated and included in induction processes for new students and staff.
- Ensure an up-to-date listing of student and staff contact details, next of kin etc is maintained.
- Setting up a process to facilitate/encourage the return of children, students and staff once they are better or at the end of a quarantine period.
- Implementing the response to the "phase alerts" published by Ministry of Health
- Coordinating communications to students and staff at different phases of pandemic.
- Managing students and staff who become ill and informing their teachers, managers and next of kin
- Managing students and staff who may have come into contact with other people who become ill
- Managing the absence and return of children, students and staff and their contacts
- Managing students and staff who are travelling at the time of a pandemic event
- Ensuring appropriate notices are displayed
- Liaising with parents and other Pandemic Managers within their cluster or region as required
- Liaising via their cluster single point of contact to your District Health Board
- Liaising with the education sector’s liaison person who will be located at the local Health Emergency Operations Centre (EOC)
- Implementing the response as advised by either the Medical Officers of Health or the Ministry of Health via the Ministry of Education.