UK: Primary School Teacher Loses Discrimination Case Over Refusal to Comply with COVID Measures

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A primary school teacher, Ijeomi Onyebalu, who contested the school’s policies of mandatory Covid testing and mask-wearing during the peak of the pandemic, has lost her legal battle.

Onyebalu argued that these measures were a personal choice not requiring justification. Despite the headteacher’s appeals for unity among staff for the safety of students, Onyebalu persisted in her refusal. The employment tribunal ruled against her, stating that she had prioritized her own views over the well-being of others.

Ijeomi Onyebalu had been employed at Gascoigne Primary School in Barking, London since November 2015. The school had implemented government-recommended measures, including the wearing of face masks and bi-weekly testing for staff upon their return in March 2021. Although testing was labeled as ‘voluntary,’ it was strongly encouraged.

Between June 2020 and March 2021, Onyebalu did not comply with testing or mask-wearing, providing no specific reason for her non-compliance. In September 2020, she informed the headteacher of her exemption from mask-wearing, citing it as a personal choice. Despite calls from the headteacher to prioritize the children’s education, Onyebalu remained defiant. As a result, she was instructed not to return to work from March 8.

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In September 2021, Onyebalu faced a disciplinary meeting for her refusal to participate in asymptomatic testing or wear a mask, leading to a final written warning for 18 months. She ultimately resigned in November and pursued a legal case for unlawful victimization, which was subsequently dismissed.

Judge Benjimin Burgher stated that Onyebalu had a clear agenda to undermine the school’s policies on testing and mask-wearing. He concluded that she prioritized her own interests during a challenging time for the school and society at large. While acknowledging her right to disagree with the school’s policy, the panel emphasized that she would face the consequences of her actions.

Judge Burgher also noted that the school had displayed patience and diligence in managing Onyebalu, and that their measures were aimed at safeguarding the well-being of students, staff, and parents. Consequently, her claims of discrimination and victimization were dismissed.

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