District 518 is preparing for vaccine-or-test mandate
Worthington schools are considering hiring a person to help with testing requirements, and could potentially begin collecting vaccination status information from employees next week.
WORTHINGTON — District 518 continues preparing for a mandate that could give employees two options: being vaccinated for COVID-19, or wearing a face mask and testing weekly for the virus.
“Do we have employees who aren’t going to want to test? Yes. Do we have employees that don’t want vaccinations? Absolutely,” said Superintendent John Landgaard at the District 518 Board of Education meeting Tuesday. “We’re going to work with them the best we possibly can.”
While the federal mandate is currently stalled by legal challenges, Minnesota has its own state-level regulatory agency, Landgaard explained, and they are moving forward on the vaccinate-or-test requirement.
“Again, I think most school districts or even a lot of businesses would choose not to do this,” Landgaard said. “There are some that have, but we’re kind of being forced into it.”
The mandate, if it goes into effect, means employers with more than 100 workers must either require vaccination, or have employees comply with face masking and weekly testing.
It remains unclear when the rule will go into effect, but Landgaard said the district will begin collecting vaccination status information soon. Then the school will need to set up testing for those who do not wish to be vaccinated, which must be done on paid time. Should an employee miss testing, that employee would not be able to work until they have a negative test result.
“So there’s a lot of tracking that’s going to have to go on, and there’s a lot of things that will have to happen,” Landgaard said.
The district is considering hiring someone for the weekly testing, which must be observed and certified.
The board asked about potential exemptions to the requirement based on religious or medical reasons, and Landgaard said that currently, it is unclear, but masking-and-testing itself could be the exemption option for those with religious or medical reasons to avoid vaccinations. However, face shields are currently permitted for people who cannot wear masks, Landgaard said, so significant questions remain to be answered about implementing the rule.
“And again, I don’t like this aspect, those that refuse to wear a mask or test, (that) potentially puts us, the district, in the position of talking about reprimands or discipline, and I want to be very careful that we don’t go down that road, and avoid that as much as possible,” Landgaard said.
Mike Harberts, school board member, asked if the board would have clear definitions in case those hard decisions had to be made.
“You’re going to have the policy, at that point, in place,” Landgaard answered. “And of course I’ll… work with the employees as much as we possibly can. The reality is, I don’t feel I want to be recommending you to terminate an employee based on this, so I want to be very careful about how we proceed.”
“I wonder if we need to enlist the advice of counsel,” said Brad Shaffer, school board member, adding that he was concerned about potential liability issues for individuals on the school board.
Tom Prins, another board member, asked what would happen if the school failed to implement the mandate.
In Minnesota, it’s a fine of $7,000 per incident, Landgaard answered.
“And it’s OK if we lose teachers over it?” asked school board member Adam Blume, seemingly frustrated.
Landgaard reiterated that he does not want to lose employees over the requirement.
“It’s not really us approving whether we’re going to do it or not do it,” said Steve Schnieder, school board member. “It’s a matter of how we’re going to manage this situation.”
Landgaard said the school will likely begin collecting employee vaccination statuses next week, though the masking requirement would not begin until January, if the mandate is implemented.
In other news Tuesday, the school board:
- Expelled two students, both from the Learning Center.
- Approved the 2022-2023 school calendar, with some revisions since its initial presentation to the public. The first day of school will be Aug. 29 for grades 6-12 and Aug. 30 for pre-K-5, and the last day of the school year is set for May 26, with 177 instructional days planned.
- Approved the World’s Best Work Force Achievement and Integration Annual Report for 2020-2021, with some discussion. Many achievement goals set by the district were not met, an effect largely attributed to the strain of coping with COVID-19, for both staff and students.
- Approved a $10,000 contract with a mental health professional to assist students experiencing mental health issues.
- Approved the resignation of Lorena Gonzalez Miranda, Malory Fritz and Taylor Lupton as paraprofessionals; Molly Scheidt as volleyball coach; Paul Barduson as winter weight room supervisor; and Sue Koob as cashier/cook.
- Approved the employment of Anne Foley as public relations coordinator, Bryan Brink as cook/janitor; Katharina Swift, Isabel Ibarra, Michelle Berrones and Emily Flores Ibarra as paraprofessionals; Shawn Ranek, Emily Ruml, Barbara Hammer, Amber Tietz, Katie Finley, Lisa Madison, Julie Bauman, Lindsay Schomacker, Jade Nguyen, Derek Schmitz and Brian Bau as teachers; Taylor Lupton, Courtney Opdahl, Austin Selvey and Ron Vorwald as coaches; Spencer Wieneke and Casey Hertz as winter weight room supervisors; Samantha Schmokel as junior class advisor for prom; Dominga Verdoorn as interschool mail/laundry employee; Malory Fritz as administrative assistant; Alisha Haberman as educational assistant; Macaela Massey as IT coordinator; Amanda Williamson as software program specialist; Nancy Landeros as cultural liaison with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative; and Taylor Lupton as IT support.
- Accepted a donation from the Worthington Sports Booster Club for the tennis program.
- Authorized two employees’ requests for sick leave due to pregnancy.
- Approved the 2020-2021 audit, which was clean.
- Agreed to begin the process of finding students to serve as nonvoting representatives to the school board.
- Authorized school officials to negotiate an easement for a small piece of land off Fox Farm Road, which the city requested in order to replace a bridge there.
- Approved a permanent easement for a walking/biking path on Prairie Elementary property, a project approved by the board about five years ago.