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Esko School Board approves OSHA vaccine policy

The Esko School Board approved a policy which requires staff to be vaccinated or wear a mask and be subject to weekly testing while working in the district.

Esko Public Schools
Esko Public Schools in Esko, Minnesota.
2019 file / Cloquet Pine Journal

The Esko School Board is the latest of public bodies to adopt a policy to follow the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency temporary standard.

The board adopted a policy to require all staff be vaccinated or wear a mask and get COVID-19 tests during its meeting on Jan. 10.

The policy the board chose was not it's only option, the other was to require all staff to be vaccinated.

Superintendent Aaron Fischer told the board his recommendation was for staff to have the option between being vaccinated or wearing a mask.

“I certainly believe that people can have the choice in vaccinations,” he said.

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While the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether or not to uphold all or part of the emergency standard, Fischer said the ruling has no guarantee of coming before OSHA can start giving out fines on Feb. 9.

The fines could be up to $14,000 per occurrence.

The school board were in agreement with the policy, however board member Leona Johnson wanted to include a shorter quarantine timeline, which lines up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidelines of five days.

The policy passed with the option to reduce a quarantine period from 14 days to 5 days once the Minnesota Department of Health recommends it. The board also looks to apply the same quarantine reduction for students.

While the district does currently require masks for prekindergarten through sixth grade, the board wants to look at making that optional in the future.

As vaccinations become more available to those in that age group, the board things making masks optional would align with how they treated those in higher grades who have had longer access to the vaccine.

The main goal of the board is to have students and staff in school, with the rise in COVID-19 cases after the holiday season, the board agreed keeping masking in place for a couple of weeks would be wise.

Fischer said he was "comfortable" with where the district currently is, and feels it would be hard to make a change as the new variant is on the rise.

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"We are going to do what is safe and best for kids," he said. "Overwhelmingly parents say the very most important thing to me is to keep our kids in school."

During the meeting the board also approved increasing the substitute pay from $120 a day to $150 a day.

Fischer said he had spoken with some of the substitutes already and they have told him the increased pay in other neighboring districts has them looking elsewhere.

“The $150 is going to be a deciding factor,” he said.

Fischer added that the increased pay would more so be used to retain the substitutes the district already has.

Some board members considered raising the pay even higher, to $155 a day, but decided to hold off and see how the increase to $150 affects the current substitute situation.

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