Policy follows OSHA guidelines and applies to district employees only, not students

The ISD 318 school board met for a special meeting Monday evening on Jan. 10. The only item on the agenda was to approve policy 491 Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination or Testing and Face Coverings. 

According to the administrative report, both the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MNOSHA) announced they will implement the Emergency Temporary Standard on Vaccination and Testing (ETS). Employers with more than 100 employees are required to comply with the ETS by Jan. 10. This includes the 318 school district. According to the ETS, one of two policies would need to be enforced. 

1. Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations Policy, or  

2. Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations or Testing and Face Coverings Policy 

The second policy was recommended to the school board by school administration. A policy was drafted using the Minnesota School Board Association’s model policy, but alterations were made to fit the needs of ISD 318. 

The policy states that employees must be fully vaccinated, or they must be tested weekly and wear a face covering. There is not a requirement to have a booster vaccine. Additionally, the policy applies only to full and part-time employees of the school district, not students. It also does not apply to independent contractors, volunteers, employees employed through a staffing agency, or employees who do not report to a workplace where other employees or students are present.

Employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Feb. 4. and will need to provide proof of their full vaccination as well. For those unvaccinated, they must provide proof of a negative test once every week by Thursday at 7 p.m. to the director of human resources. The tests must be FDA approved, and cannot be self-administered and self-read unless a school district employee or authorized telehealth provider is observing. If a negative test result is not provided on time, the employee will not be able to work. The school district can provide tests, but the responsibility of reporting results is on the employee. 

There are specific requirements for the type of face coverings worn by those not vaccinated. The face covering must cover both the mouth and nose, fit snugly around the face, be made of two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven. No light can pass through when putting the material up to a light source. Clear face coverings or cloth with a plastic clear panel are allowed. The material must have no exhalation valves, visible holes, slits, or other openings. If a gaiter is used, it must have two layers or be folded to make two layers. Employees are responsible for providing their own face mask. 

Employees who do not comply “will be subject to disciplinary action as set forth in School District policy and the employee’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or employment contract or other agreement, to the extent applicable,” according to the administrative report. 

The policy will remain in effect for one year unless policy adoption procedure is followed and the policy is affirmed. Furthermore, there was discussion at Monday’s meeting about the Supreme Court’s recent hearings on challenges to the OSHA policy. If the Supreme Court upholds the ETS, then the school district’s policy will remain in place. If the ETS is not upheld by the Supreme Court, the school district will have to rescind the policy. 

“We should hear something in hopefully the next few days. But right now, today is the deadline date for adopting the OSHA regulations,” stated Board Chair Malissa Bahr. 

Superintendent Matt Grose explained the administration has been aware of this incoming policy for a few months now and has been keeping staff up to date as well. 

“They’ve been informed about this since early November,” Grose said. He continued, “There’s pretty broad awareness of this coming. We made the decision early on to delay the decision as much as we could so we could get as much information as we could.”

Grose added that the school district is working to establish a testing option that is more convenient for employees. This may include testing sites at each school building. 

Board member Pat Medure asked what would happen if the school district did not approve and enforce the policy. Grose replied saying there would be federal and state fines from OSHA. These fines are not just a one time fine, but rather are per incident. According to Grose, fines would be around $13,000 per incident. 

“So the number gets astronomical really really fast,” Grose commented. 

Additionally, if the school did not comply with the policy, it would be considered a willful violation of an OSHA standard. This means district public funds could not be used to pay the fines. 

School board members were contacted by community members concerned about whether this new policy would apply to students. At the meeting it was reiterated multiple times that this does not apply to students. The policy only applies to employees. The school district will continue to follow its COVID-19 Mitigation for the 2021-22 school year. This plan can be found at https://www.isd318.org/domain/305

The school board voted and approved the policy. Since it was a special meeting, there was no public input session and the meeting was adjourned. 

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