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Willmar school employees no longer required to comply with vaccine mandate

A few days after some Willmar Public Schools employees were placed on leave for not complying with a policy to get vaccinated or wear a mask, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked enforcement of the proposed federal requirement. School employees could still face some discipline for refusing to comply with a district policy.

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A file photo of the Willmar Public Schools sign at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, where the administration offices are located.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
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WILLMAR — Willmar Public Schools employees were notified Thursday afternoon that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement adopted Monday by the School Board will no longer be in effect.

However, some employees who refused to comply with the policy could still face some type of discipline.

The district had begun to enforce the new policy on Tuesday, on orders from the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a nationwide requirement that employers with more than 100 workers require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or to wear masks and be tested once a week.

The Supreme Court allowed a similar requirement to stand for health care providers who receive federal funds.

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With the Supreme Court decision, MnOSHA on Thursday announced on its website that it would suspend enforcement of the state’s version of the mandate.

Willmar Schools Superintendent Jeff Holm said that, under the policy that now will be suspended, all employees were asked to provide proof of vaccination, to wear masks and submit to weekly testing or to apply for an exemption to being vaccinated. Holm said the policy applied to all employees and to members of the School Board.

Jeff Holm mug
Jeff Holm, Willmar Superintendent

Fewer than two dozen employees who refused to comply with the policy were placed on administrative leave Tuesday.

Holm said school officials would continue to meet with people in that group to discuss their refusal to comply with district policy.

Simply putting on a mask would have put them in compliance with the policy when administrators discussed the issue with them Tuesday, Holm said.

Wearing a mask would not have singled them out, because a number of adults and students wear masks in the school buildings, and masks are encouraged for everyone, he said.

Holm said he was saddened and puzzled that “we had a group of employees who chose not to work with us.”

Employees are expected to follow the policies and rules of the district, he said — “It’s what we hope our kids do when we have school rules and classroom rules.”

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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