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Brainerd School Board aims to comply with federal vaccine requirement

The new policy, which is expected to go into effect Feb. 9, follows the procedures mandated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency temporary standard on vaccination and testing.

Brainerd School Board members and administrators sit around a table in the board room at Washington Educational Services Building and discuss COVID-19 protocols.
Brainerd School Board members and administrators discuss COVID-19 procedures during their meeting Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Beginning in February, staff members at Brainerd Public Schools who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will likely have to undergo weekly testing for the virus.

School Board members approved the first reading of a policy Monday, Jan. 10, that follows the procedures mandated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency temporary standard on vaccination and testing. Minnesota OSHA adopted the regulations, which requires businesses with 100 or more employees to develop and enforce a policy for either mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for staffers or constant masking and regular testing.

While the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Jan. 7 to dissolve the stay of the emergency standard, Minnesota OSHA mandates move forward, board members heard Monday. The state policy went into place Monday, but OSHA will not issue citations for non-compliance on the testing requirement until Feb. 9, which is when unvaccinated Brainerd Public Schools employees would begin weekly testing. The district already has a face covering mandate in place for all students, staff and visitors in school facilities during the school day.

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Human Resources Director Angie Bennett told the board Monday there is an online form for employees who want to voluntarily upload their vaccine information, and those are coming in steadily. She said she still anticipates a great number of unvaccinated employees, and the policy presented to the board will address testing protocols for those individuals.

The policy would not require booster shots but considers a person fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the requisite number of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Employees will be required to schedule their own vaccine appointments but may take up to four hours of paid leave per dose to travel to the site, receive the shot and return to work. This paid leave will not affect or reduce any accrued leave time an employee has.

Employees may also use up to two workdays of accrued paid sick leave immediately following each dose of a vaccine if they experience side effects that prevent them from working. Employees who do not have any accrued sick leave will be granted up to two days of additional paid sick leave if necessary. Paid leave will not be provided for booster shots for fully vaccinated employees.

Employees will be able to request an exemption from the policy for the following reasons:

  • The vaccine is not medically recommended for them.
  • Medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination.
  • They cannot be vaccinated, test for COVID-19 or wear a face covering because of a disability or because of a conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances.

If an employee does not provide their vaccination information or negative COVID-19 test results, they would be removed from the workplace until they can do so.
Bennett said the district is working on onsite testing capabilities and working with other community resources to make the procedures laid out in the policy as easy and painless as possible.

If the Supreme Court were to rule against the federal OSHA regulations, the state’s regulations would be voided as well.

Board members are expected to approve the final reading of the policy at their next meeting Jan. 24.

COVID-19 numbersPositive COVID-19 cases in the district were trending downward during the weeks leading up to winter break, but when students and staff came back, the district recorded its highest weekly number of positive cases since the beginning of the school year. Student positives are staying fairly consistent, but cases in staff numbers are rising significantly, Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn said Monday.

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As of Monday morning, 56 students and 28 staff members were positive for COVID-19, while 109 students and two staff members were quarantined.

With the face covering mandate the focal point of much of the district’s COVID-19 discussion, Hahn and Bennett brought before the board a proposed plan to slowly phase out masks.

In November, the board voted to no longer require face coverings at most after-school high school activities. With that step as phase 1, the rest of the proposed plan is to roll back face covering mandates in the following order:

  • Phase 2: Non-school sponsored activities in district facilities.
  • Phase 3: Middle school after-school activities.
  • Ninth - 12th grade students at Brainerd High School, Brainerd Learning Center and Lincoln Education Center.
  • Students at Forestview Middle School.
  • Early childhood and elementary after-school activities.
  • Early childhood and elementary students.

Hahn said administrators looked at how long mitigation options — like the vaccine — have been in place for students in each age group, as high school students have had the option to be vaccinated for several months, while the vaccine is newer for younger students and not yet available for those under 5 years old.
While a masking policy would likely have to cover the entire high school because of how often students switch classes, Hahn said the board could choose to implement a grade-level or classroom-level policy for elementary and middle school students if they chose.

A matrix developed by administrators suggests masks for classrooms and/or buildings based on either positive case numbers or a percentage of students absent from classes with symptoms.

Despite board member Tom Haglin pushing for a concrete decision on when masks can come off, board members did not take any action Monday on masking protocols because of the rising case numbers after winter break.

For the most up-to-date COVID-19 information at Brainerd Public Schools, visit isd181.org/covid19 .

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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