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Osakis School Board discusses state's mask policy

The Minnesota School Boards Association has recommended that schools either enable a vaccine mandate or a mask policy.

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OSAKIS — The Osakis School Board tabled discussion of a state policy that could require unvaccinated school employees to wear masks.

The discussion took place at the council's regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 10.

Superintendent Randy Bergquist said the Minnesota School Boards Association has recommended that schools either enable Policy 490, which states employees would be mandated to get vaccinated, or Policy 491, which says that unvaccinated employees would have to wear masks, as well as be tested for COVID every seven days.

Both policies are federal OSHA policies that the Minnesota OSHA has approved, he said, and they affect entities with 100 employees or more.

The Supreme Court currently is in the process of deciding whether these policies can be enacted.

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Bergquist said he will not mandate employee vaccinations, and also expressed concerns about Policy 491, which would require the district to keep a record of who has or has not been vaccinated.

"I know that the slippery slope here is it's confidential," Bergquist said. "It's medical stuff. At some point I can see somebody saying, 'This is a HIPAA violation.'"

Fines for violations can range from $7,000 to $136,000, Bergquist said.

"Anyone can report employees," he said. "At the federal level they have something called the rapid response investigation and they'll call you or email you and say you have four hours for requested information they're asking for."

There is also the potential for on-site inspections, which can happen unannounced, Bergquist said.

Board members also expressed concerns about the policy.

Board chairperson Becky Hensley said, "I think … the issue with this policy is that now it's forcing our beliefs on other people, and pointing out to people whether they're vaccinated or not causes controversy and causes other conversations that I don't think need to be had in the workplace."

Bergquist agreed, saying, "It does distinguish between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. … I don't like that, because I think we're singling out people."

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Vice chairperson Michael Collins said, "I want my kids to see their teacher's face. I want teachers to see the administrator's face. I want to see people's faces as much as possible. …This is making a public delineation of something that's private. I disagree with that."

Bergquist said testing could potentially begin Feb. 9.

No action was taken regarding the policy so that more information could be gathered.

It was determined a special board meeting could take place on the subject if necessary.

Other projects

Bergquist also announced the district received a technology grant at the approximate cost of $289,000 to be put toward the purchase of new Chromebooks for the fifth through 12th-grade students.

"This is the fifth year of our Chromebooks, so they're kind of on the downswing," Bergquist said.

The district will have to cover the cost of about $26,000 for the purchase, he added.

Bergquist also said the materials for the district's bus garage project are supposed to arrive on May 13. They previously had been estimated to arrive in July.

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If the materials arrive in May, the bus garage should be completed by the first day of school, Bergquist said.

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OSAKIS POLICE DEPARTMENT