Steiner schools hit back: vaccination 'left up to parents'
STEINER educators on the North Coast have hit back at claims they actively encouraged parents not to vaccinate their children.
Steiner schools have been accused of promoting non-immunisation ideals at campuses in the state's north, where vaccination take-up is at the lowest rate in the country.
In Mullumbimby, latest health data shows less than half of one-year-old babies receive their shots.
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One-third of Byron Bay children under five were not fully immunised.
Steiner Education Australia has schools in those towns, but has denied playing a role in driving the worrying statistics.
Chief executive Tracey Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said it was the school's job to educate children, not parents.
"We don't promote anything about vaccination. We're about teaching and learning - we leave it up to the parents to decide, hopefully with good medical advice," Ms Piraccini said.
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"We may attract more people that question the status quo of different things.
"But if you did research on the whole northern NSW region, there is a demographic of people seeking an alternative lifestyle.
"I imagine if you went to any school you would find parents who did not seek to vaccinate their children."
STEINER SCHOOLS ON THE NORTH COAST
The Abbott government's new "no jab, no pay" policy aims to boost vaccination rates by cutting off parents from receiving childcare and welfare benefits if their kids are not immunised.
There has been no suggestion funding would be cut to schools that fail to meet designated vaccination levels.
Ms Piraccini said Steiner schools followed all government health guidelines when communicable diseases became apparent, including during a measles outbreak at one of the group's schools in Orara in the ACT in 2011.
"Like all schools, we have to follow the Department of Health Guidelines about the process for vaccinated and non-vaccinated if any communicable disease breaks out," she said.
NSW Health chief executive Dr Kerry Chan has called on pregnant mothers to receive free whooping cough vaccinations in their third trimester to fight the current outbreak.
"We urge pregnant women to ensure they are vaccinated in their third trimester, ideally at 28-32 weeks, as it offers the best protection for babies until their first vaccination at six weeks of age," Dr Chant said.
Whooping cough has been on the increase in NSW since mid-2014.
There were 177 reported cases in January 2014, increasing to 543 in January 2015 - mainly across the 0 to 14-year age group.
"Epidemics of pertussis (whooping cough) occur about every three to four years, as community immunity wears down. The last outbreak ended in 2012 and we are seeing the kinds of numbers that indicate we are beginning another one," Dr Chant said.
THE STEINER PHILOSOPHY
STEINER schools follow the ideals of Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolph Steiner, who founded the first school under his name in Germany in 1919.
He was an adherent of spiritual science, art, architecture and therapeutic medicine.
The teaching curriculum is structured, but is often accompanied by words like "spiritual" and "holistic" in its description.
Students have the same teacher until they are about 12 or 13, when specialist subject educators are brought in.
"It's about holistic learning and teaching all aspects of the human being - intellectual, social, emotional and physical," Steiner Education Australia chief executive Tracey Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said.
"It's about assuring children have a rounded education... not so focused on test results.
"We want a child to leave school feeling (he or she) can be creative and successful in life, which is what all schools aim for.
"The way we do things might be slightly different but our education outcomes are the same."