Israeli court upholds school's barring of COVID refusenik teacher

FILE PHOTO: A medical worker prepares to administer a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a temporary Clalit healthcare maintenance organisation (HMO) vaccination centre, at a sports arena in Jerusalem February 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - An Israeli court on Sunday upheld a school’s decision to bar a teaching assistant who had refused to show proof she had been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19, in what could be a test case as the country reopens after its vaccine drive.

A court spokeswoman said she believed it was Israel’s first ruling on COVID-19 policy in the workplace, though it could still be overturned on appeal.

Some Israeli schools, in reopening, have required that their staff show proof either of vaccination or negative once-weekly COVID-19 tests.

The teaching assistant, Sigal Avishai, refused to give proof of either, citing her right to privacy and freedom of conscience. Barred from school in response, she turned to the court last month, arguing she had suffered de-facto suspension.

“We do not, at this time, believe that the apparent rights of the appellant outweigh the right and duty of the respondent to care for the welfare of their pupils, educational staff and pupils’ parents,” the court said, ruling in favour of the school board for the town of Kochav Yair-Tzur Yigal.

Avishai had argued that the school’s policy was an unlawful breach of her medical privacy and that she was being “pressured to get vaccinated against her beliefs”, the court said. Israel’s world-beating vaccination programme has left authorities with the dilemma of how to balance public health with the rights of a minority who have refused vaccines.

Several activities have been deemed off-limits to the unvaccinated, angering those who cannot get the shot for health reasons, or refuse it either for religious reasons or scepticism over vaccines.

More than 55% of Israelis have received at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc vaccine and almost 49% have received the full two-dose regime, the Health Ministry says.

Israel has logged a steep drop in cases and hospital admissions.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Steven Scheer and Andrew Heavens