Schools pin hopes on court to quash unpopular Biden vaccine mandate

President Biden’s controversial vaccine mandate for employers with more than 100 workers was supposed to take effect on Monday. But you’d never know it by the response of some Minnesota school districts, which have chosen to ignore the Jan. 10 deadline in hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will soon strike down or suspend the requirement.

In the meantime, the Minnesota School Boards Association has recommended districts implement one of two options on the table to be on the safe side with OSHA. Either require all staff to be vaccinated (Policy 490) or else demand unvaccinated staff wear a mask and be tested weekly (Policy 491).

But the Echo Press reports that the MSBA’s recommendation and the federal government’s ultimatum did not go over well with the Osakis School Board this week.

[Osakis Superintendent Randy] 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.'”

The heavy hand of the federal government includes the threat of massive fines for organizations that fail to comply, also rubbing the superintendent of the central Minnesota district the wrong way.

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.

School board members backed up Bergquist, ticking off a series of objections to the feds’ overreach in their community.

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.”

School districts like Osakis take pride in the measures they have implemented to protect their students and staff without outside interference. Even in the midst of the current Omicron surge, Osakis schools today report a total of just 12 COVID cases out of 975 students and staff.

Whether or not to comply with the mandate also prompted a special meeting of the Pine River-Backus School Board. At its meeting on Monday, the Pine River-Backus school board also considered whether or not to comply with the federal government’s mandate or just wait and see.

“I haven’t changed my mind in the sense I feel this wrong,” said Pine River-Backus school board member Dave Sheley. “…For my two cents, I still feel strongly that this is not correct. This is not something we should do.”

“The things we’ve done for the students and staff and community to make this place safe is second to none,” said Pine River-Backus School Board Chair Chris Cunningham. “I’d recommend that the board table this policy.”

In the end, both school boards agreed to postpone a decision pending action by the Supreme Court. Evidently, they were less concerned about potentially upsetting OSHA than the members of their staff and community.