Swiss teacher suspended after organising anti-mask demo

Since the beginning of November kindergarten and primary school teachers in Nidwalden have had to wear a mask. It remains optional for children under 12 Keystone

A school in central Switzerland has dismissed until further notice a primary school teacher who co-organised a demonstration against the wearing of masks. The woman did not wear a mask in school for health reasons.

This content was published on November 10, 2020 - 15:43

Confirming media reports, the board of the school in canton Nidwalden said in a statement on Tuesday that it respected the right to freedom of expression but the woman’s behaviour could lead to problems and conflict.

The move comes as the Swiss debate whether masks should be worn in primary schools – for teachers and pupils. Since the beginning of November kindergarten and primary school teachers in Nidwalden have had to wear a mask to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The 39-year-old teacher had presented the school with a medical certificate in mid-October, which gave her a dispensation from wearing a mask. As a result, the board said the school had taken “extensive measures” to enable the teacher to continue teaching.

However, parents were concerned that the woman had helped organise an anti-mask demo in September. These concerns – as well as ones about comments the teacher had made at the demo – were expressed to the school and, directly, to the teacher, who agreed that she would leave the school with immediate effect.

“I don’t see my physical integrity being respected,” she told the Urner Zeitung. She said she didn’t feel well surrounded by masked, expressionless people, “and when I then put myself in the children’s shoes, I wonder how it’s affecting them”.

Cantons choose

Education is a cantonal issue in Switzerland. Masks have been obligatory in all Secondary II level schools, the level that follows obligatory education, since October 29. Some cantons have gone further, introducing masks at secondary I level (12-15) for pupils and teachers.

Some cantons, like Zurich and Nidwalden, require staff to wear them in primary schools. Children under 12 remain exempt from wearing masks. Parents entering the school grounds also have to wear masks.

Several experts have called for more widespread mask wearing at schools, including children in primary schools. Geneva virologist Isabella Eckerle, for example, has called for more testing and obligatory mask wearing for younger children at school as the number of classes in quarantine over coronavirus rises.

“One should test [children] as much as adults. This is the only way that we can find out which measures are helpful to keep the infection numbers down, so that we can successfully get through the winter,” she said.

The teacher in Nidwalden hopes to return to her job after everything returns to normal. A police summons for co-organising the demo is outstanding.

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