Unvaccinated teachers threaten to sue if they are forced on unpaid leave

Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben David warns there will be a huge shortage if thousands of educational staff are compelled to stay home

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A kindergarten teacher seen at the "Kobi kindergarten" in Moshav Yashresh, on February 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: A kindergarten teacher seen at the "Kobi kindergarten" in Moshav Yashresh, on February 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Unvaccinated teachers are threatening legal action if they are prevented from teaching and forced to take unpaid leave when the school year starts next month.

Under the government’s plan to reopen schools nationwide on September 1, teachers must present a “Green Pass” in order to enter schools; such a pass is granted to those who are vaccinated, recovered or present a negative COVID test from the past 72 hours.

But Ran Erez, chairman of the Teachers Association, threatened to appeal to the High Court if the system is enforced just among teachers.

“We’ll appeal to the High Court if unvaccinated and untested teachers sit at home without receiving a salary,” Erez told Army Radio on Tuesday. “If this applies to the entire public sector — fine. But we won’t cooperate if there is a [need for a] Green Pass for teachers only.”

Erez said had he instructed the Teachers Association’s legal representative to prepare a High Court petition on the issue.

Yaffa Ben David, the head of the national Teachers Union, said enforcing such a system on teachers will have major negative effects.

A health worker administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at a Maccabi Health Services clinic in Jerusalem, on August 20, 2021, after Israel approved booster shots for those over 40. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“We’re in favor of vaccines and we support unvaccinated teachers getting tested,” Ben David told Army Radio on Tuesday. “But we have a huge shortage in teachers. Who will take over for an unvaccinated teacher who is sitting at home?”

According to Health and Education ministry estimates, there are approximately 37,000 teachers and school staff who have yet to be vaccinated. The Justice Ministry has said that unvaccinated staff who refuse to be tested for COVID every 72 hours will be forced on unpaid leave, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The network also reported that the Education Ministry is working to identify and hire substitute teachers to replace those who are expected to be barred from teaching due to their vaccination status.

Many schools and educators welcomed the installation of the Green Pass system.

Secretary-general of the Teachers Union Yaffa Ben-David attends a Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting ahead of the opening of the new school year, August 5, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tzivka Peleg, CEO of the ORT network of close to 250 schools across Israel, said ORT would strictly follow the regulations.

“I intend to force all unvaccinated teachers into unpaid leave as of Thursday,” Peleg told Army Radio. “I read all of the legal rulings and they allow it. If they sue us in labor court we’ll deal with it. We can’t allow a mess where everyone does what they want.”

Nachman Ash, the director-general of the Health Ministry, said Tuesday that while schools are slated to reopen on September 1, he can’t make any guarantees.

“We hope that we’ll restart schools on September 1,” Ash told an education event hosted by the Federation of Local Authorities in Jerusalem. “We can’t promise anything, but we’re prepared for it and we’re determined. But if there are a lot of cases and all the students require quarantine all the time — there will be no point.”

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