The decision was sparked nearly two months ago after two Muslim schoolboys, aged 14 and 15, refused to touch the hand of their female teacher after she offered them a handshake. The boys pointed out that the Swiss custom contradicts their religion, and that Islam prohibits body contact with a person of opposite sex, unless it is with one's closest family members.
After the two boys were permitted to avoid shaking hands with any teacher, regardless of gender, the situation caused a nationwide outcry, and was perceived as an act of sexual discrimination and an attack on a core Swiss tradition.
Christoph Eymann, the head of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, stated unequivocally, "We cannot tolerate that women in the public service are treated differently from men."
Local Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland, did not agree.
"One would think that the continued existence of Switzerland's core values was at stake, when this particular case in fact involves just two high school students who have said they wish to greet their teacher in a different way than with a handshake," the organization said in a statement.
The issue escalated, resulting in a canton-wide ruling by the department of education, culture and sport, that all students are obliged to shake hands.
According to the Swiss education ministry, "refusing to shake hands on religious grounds would be to involve others in a "religious act" and is therefore different from the wearing of a headscarf or refusing to take part in swimming lessons."
If a pupil refuses to shake hands with their teacher in Switzerland, parents or guardians could be fined the equivalent of $5,000.