During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Ijeomi Onyebalu refused to comply with policies at Gascoigne Primary School in Barking, East London, and eventually left her role
A teacher who was fired after refusing to wear masks and take regular Covid tests at school has lost her legal battle.
Ijeomi Onyebalu took her claims of unlawful victimisation to an employment tribunal, which yesterday decided she “disregarded anyone but herself” at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
She had argued it was “personal choice” to wear a mask and take tests but bosses Gascoigne Primary School in Barking, East London, had introduced the policy to protect staff and its approximate 1,100 pupils. The headteacher pleaded for the teacher to “pull together” but she continued to ignore the coronavirus policy, the hearing was told.
And Ms Onyebalu was eventually told not to return to work on March 8, 2021, after shirking the measures for around eight months, since they were introduced. In September 2021, she was invited to a disciplinary meeting for refusing to participate in asymptomatic testing or wear a mask and was subsequently handed a final written warning for 18 months.
But the employment tribunal in East London decided the teacher was not discriminated against. Employment Judge Benjimin Burgher said: “[Ms Onyebalu] had an agenda to seek to undermine the school’s asymptomatic testing and face mask policy. The tribunal concludes that she disregarded anyone but herself during the difficult time that the school and society as a whole was facing. This is underlined by her comments that she was not at the school to make other people comfortable.”
The panel acknowledged while Ms Onyebalu was entitled to “fundamentally disagree” with the school’s policy, she would have to face the consequences of doing so. Dismissing her claims of discrimination and victimisation, the judge added: “[She] adopted an obtuse and uncooperative standpoint and the tribunal conclude that the school sought to manage her with incredible patience and diligence. The [school] could not be criticised by deciding to take steps to seek to protect the health and well-being of its pupils, staff and parents.”
Ms Onyebalu started employment at the “incredible, patient and diligent” school in November 2015. The school, rated as Good by Ofsted, notified teachers about the measures and told, while testing was “voluntary”, they were “expected” to do it. Three months after the measures were put in place, Ms Onyebalu wrote to headteacher Joanne Preston stating she was “exempt” from wearing a mask but that it was a “personal choice” which didn’t require justification.
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