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Wadena-Deer Creek sets vaccination, testing policy following federal and state requirements

If the Supreme Court decides to remove the requirements, the WDC policy would not go into place.

FSA Coronavirus schools

With federal and state requirements on vaccination and testing for employees, Wadena-Deer Creek school board members set their policy following rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and MNOSHA on Thursday, Jan. 6.

The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard requires employers of 100 or more employees to set a policy for mandatory vaccination or weekly testing and face coverings in the workplace for employees who are not vaccinated. WDC will follow the second option, along with most school districts. OSHA sets rules for the health and safety of United States workers.

The U.S. Supreme Court is in the process of oral arguments on the OSHA and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rules with a decision expected quickly . The justices discussed who decides on these public health matters including the possible need for Congress, and the high level of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Staff members have received information about the policy throughout the fall about the upcoming changes.

What are the OSHA requirements?

While the court decision could change the timelines, employees reporting their vaccination status and mask wearing for unvaccinated employees is scheduled to start on Jan. 10. Staff are not required to receive the vaccine.

If they choose to receive the vaccine, staff will need to submit their proof of vaccination to any school nurse or Katie Polman, administrative assistant to the Superintendent and MARSS coordinator. Staff are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as the policy describes. The booster shot is not required.

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Staff members include full and part-time employees. The policy does not apply to volunteers, independent contractors, employees through a staffing agency or employees who do not work where other co-workers or students are present.

The district has about 200 part and full-time employees. Seasonal employees, like summer rec or substitutes, are also included, which places the district around 400 employees. It is unclear if school board members are included. About 100 employees have submitted their vaccination status as of Thursday.

While masking is required for unvaccinated employees starting on Monday, the staff will continue to receive reminders and “we’re not going to start cracking the whip” immediately, as Superintendent Lee Westrum explained. Further down the road, a written warning to follow the policy will be issued to staff who are not meeting the requirements and could lead to unpaid leave until the rules are followed.

How does the weekly testing work?

The weekly testing requirement would begin on Feb. 9. The district encourages staff to utilize the free COVID-19 testing at the Wadena Armory, which is set to be open through March. The rapid testing site is open Mondays and Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A positive test result or being diagnosed with COVID-19 are to be reported to a school nurse. Following an employee testing positive, there is a period of 90 days where they do not have to test weekly.

RELATED ARTICLE: Omicron variant complicates popularity of at-home COVID tests Rapid antigen kits may be running off the shelves, but with omicron, the meaning of both negative and positive results are changing.
If the Armory option is not available, the district plans to supply and administer tests. The policy requires testing not be self-administered. District COVID coordinator Ashley Mumm noted the difficult testing availability as well as limits on ordering certain amounts of tests. The district is offering testing options to staff and are working to stock more. OSHA does not require employers to cover testing costs.

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“We have to do our best, I think, to provide it (tests) free of charge but I think there is a scenario where we maybe can’t even get a test to provide free of charge,” Westrum said. The district received a testing grant for $57,000.

For exemptions and accommodations, staff can submit a written request to Westrum. Medical exemptions require documentation from a physician, physician assistant or APRN. Accommodations can be for employees who cannot be vaccinated, wear a mask and/or test for COVID-19. Employees who receive a vaccination accommodation are required to wear a mask and complete weekly testing.

Board comments

Board members shared concerns over the district having to put this policy in place. The big concern is the possible impact of losing staff members when the district already has a staffing need. Positions like substitutes and bus drivers are hard to fill. There is not an indication of the number of staff not continuing to work with the district.

Board member Missy Seelhammer noted the definition of fully vaccinated in the requirement as problematic based on which vaccine people have received and how long ago. For example, a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is recommended two months after receiving the single dose shot. If the requirements are upheld in court, Westrum sees the definition of fully vaccinated changing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a booster shot for all three Federal Drug Administration approved vaccines.

The vaccines are safe and effective with the goal being preventing serious illness and death. People who have had COVID-19 also have varying levels of immunity . The requirements do not include the possibility of antibody testing for natural immunity, as Seelhammer noted. There is a period of 90 days where employees do not have to test weekly following a positive test.

With the requirements creating more of a distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, staff are having to share their vaccination status by wearing a face covering if they had not previously worn one throughout the year, as board members Seelhammer and Pete Hayes said. In areas of high community spread , vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are recommended to wear masks in public, indoor spaces.

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The schools have fared well with low COVID-19 case numbers for most of the school year, though area hospitals are overwhelmed with full beds for COVID and non-COVID related illnesses.

If the Supreme Court decides to remove the requirements, the WDC policy would not go into place.

The board also approved:

  • The board positions including Dan Lawson as board chair, Ryan Damlo as vice chair, Barb Tumberg as clerk and Missy Seelhammer as treasurer.

  • The school board meetings for the third Monday of the month, except for holidays, at 5:30 p.m. in Robertson Theatre. The board plans to meet at the Deer Creek Community Center in June and the Bluffton Community Center in September.

  • The Wadena Pioneer Journal as the official publication.

  • The official depositories as Wadena State Bank, Minnesota School District Liquid Asset Fund and MNTrust.

  • Financial authorizations for the business manager, senior bookkeeper and student activity administrative assistant.

  • The superintendent, business manager, senior bookkeeper and principals as the federal program representatives.

  • The board chair and superintendent contacting an attorney as needed.

  • The school board compensation of $2,200 for board members, $600 for chair, $135 for vice chair, clerk and treasurer.

  • Part-time employment of school board members Kent Schmidt and Barb Tumberg as substitutes and tutors.

  • Automatically following MSBA policy updates.

  • The travel expense reimbursement for meals, mileage and hotels including a maximum of $25 for breakfast, $30 for lunch and $35 for dinner.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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