School Board adopts policy requiring vaccination or masks, weekly testing for employees

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    Crookston School Board adopted a federal and state regulated policy at a special meeting this week that requires district employees to either be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or wear a mask and test weekly. Employees must provide proof of vaccination by January 10, the date the policy goes into effect, or be subject to regular testing and face covering requirements. Starting February 9, employees who report to the workplace at least once every seven days will be required to be tested for COVID-19 at least once every seven days.

    If employees do not comply with the policy they will be subject to disciplinary action as set forth in the district’s policy and the employee’s collective bargaining agreement or contract or other agreement to the extent applicable, the new policy read.

    Superintendent Jeremy Olson told the board if they did not adopt a policy to meet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “Emergency Temporary Standard” (ETS) and enforce federal and state regulations they could be subject to fines up to $14,000 per occurrence. Another option the board had instead of adopting Policy “491” was Policy “490” which meant all employees must be vaccinated or risk termination, but the recommendation was for Policy 491 and to offer face coverings and regular testing for unvaccinated employees.

    “If you’re an employer with over 100 people, by January 10, you must enforce masking as an organization or school district and you must enforce weekly testing for all unvaccinated individuals,” Olson explained. “My goal is to not lose any employees. Staffing is one of our major challenges as a district. We really don’t have a choice about ETS and this is our response to ETS.”

    “This policy is not a statement of the district and it’s not saying we agree with ETS,” he added. “I want to be very clear about that. We are adopting this policy for practical reasons.”

    Board member Patty Dillabough asked Olson if the district would be required to pay for the weekly tests and Olson answered that it’s up to them whether they want to take it on as a district or put the financial burden on their employees. Olson mentioned that the district did have some funding to cover some of the cost of the testing and his goal was to make testing easy on employees and low or no cost. Board member Tim Dufault also suggested Crookston’s National Guard Armory as a free testing option for employees so long as testing is still provided at that location.

    “In talking with the school nurse we could do testing on Wednesday afternoons for all employees that need to get tested and they could all come in at one time and get test results back in about four days,” Olson added. “We do have about two to three weeks worth of tests on hand now and we will continue to order the tests that are available at no cost until those run out, and then we will look at funding for the next ones.”

    Olson says a majority of the school district’s staff, which is approximately 250 employees that include part-time or seasonal staff like “ticket takers”, are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and there are approximately 40 staff members that are not vaccinated or have not disclosed their vaccination status. When asked by board member Dave Davidson if a licensed teacher could risk their license if they refuse to vaccinate or test, Olson said he didn’t think so and that it wasn’t viewed as an ethics violation but rather meant they could not come to work if they don’t comply.