Israel's Education Ministry Blocks School Principals' Access to COVID Database

On Sunday, Israeli school principals were given access to records of students and staff exempt from quarantine, meaning they were inoculated or recovered from COVID-19

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Middle school students in Jerusalem, last week.
Middle school students in Jerusalem, last week. Credit: Emil Salman

School principals will no longer be allowed to access the coronavirus vaccination status of teachers and students in their schools, the Education Ministry announced Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement follows a Haaretz report Tuesday morning that the ministry had let principals see these records.

The records, which show which teachers and students are exempt from quarantine because they have either been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus, became available to principals on Sunday through a ministry website. This enables principals to determine who hasn’t been inoculated.

At some high schools, other staff members have apparently seen the list as well. Teachers feared the database will be used to pressure them into getting vaccinated.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel termed this a “severe violation of privacy.” It urged the Health Ministry both to prevent the information from getting out and to forbid principals to use it.

The decision to disallow access seems to have been made by the Education Ministry's legal department. 

Last month, Haaretz reported that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had authorized the Health Ministry to give the Education Ministry lists of teachers and students who had been vaccinated. But the information was supposed to be used only to help sever chains of infection, and not to encourage vaccination, as the Education Ministry wanted. Principals were supposed to get the information only if there was a coronavirus outbreak at their school, and “in a way that would minimize the violation of privacy,” a Justice Ministry official said at the time.

But on Monday, the Education Ministry said the information is available to principals with no connection to identifying other patients.

One high school teacher complained that disclosing who has been vaccinated strikes “at the heart of medical confidentiality. I support vaccination, but this isn’t the way. A slippery slope of privacy has been opened here. If teachers start discussing this information at school, it will be exposed to everyone.”

Another teacher voiced fears the information would lead to “direct or indirect” pressure on 11th and 12th graders and their families to get vaccinated so that in-person learning could resume. The health and education ministries have decided that in areas where over 90 percent of students in these grades have been vaccinated or recovered, classes can resume with no restrictions.

Attorney Gil Gan-Mor of ACRI said the information given the principals is protected by “the constitutional right to privacy” as well as medical confidentiality. “There’s no place for sending the names wholesale to all schools,” he wrote in a letter to Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy.

Moreover, he noted, ACRI and Physicians for Human Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice against the law allowing the information to be given to the Education Ministry, and a week ago the court issued an injunction prohibiting the law’s implementation. Providing a list of people exempt from quarantine appears to be an attempt to circumvent this ruling, since “even if it doesn’t explicitly violate the injunction, it violates its spirit,” he wrote.

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