ELY – A new policy approved here last week by the school board mandating that all employees of the Ely school district get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be subject to weekly testing is in limbo in …
ELY – A new policy approved here last week by the school board mandating that all employees of the Ely school district get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be subject to weekly testing is in limbo in light of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down an executive order issued by President Joe Biden.
Last Thursday, after the Timberjay’s deadline, the nation’s high court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its vaccine-or-test requirements for large private companies with at least 100 employees, creating a roadblock to another element of his plan to address the coronavirus pandemic.
But the court allowed a vaccine mandate to stand for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
The Ely school board, prior to the court ruling, adopted a model policy developed by the Minnesota School Board Association to comply with the emergency measure. ISD 696 Superintendent Erik Erie told school board members that the district was required by the Minnesota Department of Education to have a policy in place by Jan. 10. Employee vaccination data was beginning to be collected last week but discontinued last Friday, Erie said.
The Supreme Court rulings came three days after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency measure for businesses started to take effect, nullifying the ISD 696 policy and others like it. The vaccine policy states, “if any part of this policy is construed to be IN violation of any law, it shall not be enforced.”
The mandate would have required that workers at businesses with 100 or more employees get vaccinated or submit a negative COVID-19 test weekly to enter the workplace. It also required unvaccinated workers to wear masks indoors at work.
Whether the Ely school board will voluntarily continue with the vaccine mandate policy to protect workers remains to be seen. The district’s protective face mask requirement mandated at the beginning of the school year was met with strong and vocal opposition by anti-maskers in the Ely community who would also likely oppose any other public health mandates such as vaccines or testing to keep Ely school children safe.
The need for more protections for staff and students is undisputed. Last Friday, the current COVID-19 active positive test count at the school had risen dramatically from 23 to 45 in just one day. This week, the cumulative positive test count was at 153 for the school year. A total of 48 positive cases were recorded during last school year.
According to data from the St. Louis County Health Department, 84 percent of ISD 696 employees are vaccinated. “We have at least 86 employees who have received at least one (COVID-19) vaccination,” Erie said.
School board members unanimously adopted the vaccination mandate policy last Monday with little discussion. Board member Rochelle Sjoberg, who is filling in as temporary board chair, said at the time that there is the potential of changes to the policy in light of a high court ruling staying or rescinding the OSHA emergency order.
Erie told the Timberjay this week that the vaccination mandate policy will likely be rescinded at a future school board meeting. Meanwhile school officials and board members held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to consider a revised safe school learning plan amid new student and classroom quarantine guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“Right now we’re being recommended to wait until (Minnesota Department of Health) comes out with new guidance,” Erie said.
In the ruling to halt the vaccine mandates for large employers, the Supreme Court wrote in an unsigned opinion, “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly.”
Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, writing that the majority has usurped the power of Congress, the president and OSHA without legal basis.
“In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed,” they said in their dissent.
“As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger,” they wrote.
President Biden said the Supreme Court chose to block requirements that are life-saving for workers. Biden called on states and businesses to step up and voluntarily institute vaccination requirements to protect workers, customers and the broader community.
The employer decision blocks one of the Biden administration’s more significant attempts to address the COVID-19 Omicron variant, and left the nation with avariety of state policies, leaving large employers on their own.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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