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Davenport schools won't enforce vaccine mandate for staff, following Iowa OSHA decision

The School Board was set to vote on the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test mandate Monday but tabled the vote after Iowa OSHA said it wouldn't enforce one.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — The Davenport School Board was set to discuss and vote Monday, Jan. 10 on a vaccine-or-test policy for all employees, in an effort to comply with the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 

However, during Monday's school board meeting, the board decided it would table the discussion and continue its current policy of not requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine until it gets further guidance.

The U.S. Supreme Court began to hear arguments regarding the vaccine-or-test requirements on Friday, Dec. 7, but there was no word on when an official ruling on the mandate will be made as of Monday night.

With no ruling decision made, states such as Iowa are taking matters into their own hands. The Iowa Division of Labor on Friday, Dec. 7 said it will not enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccine mandate, which requires all private employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccines or regular COVID-19 testing.

RELATED: Iowa labor commissioner says state won't enforce vaccine mandate for businesses

“The Iowa Division of Labor is charged with protecting the health and safety of those in the workplace and has the authority to enforce workplace safety and health standards for Iowa businesses,” Iowa Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts said in a statement. “After closely reviewing the federal OSHA vaccine mandate, Iowa has determined it will not adopt the federal standard. Iowa has concluded that it is not necessary because Iowa’s existing standards are at least as effective as the federal standard change.”

The Davenport School Board will be following the state's guidance, President Daniel Gosa said at Monday night's meeting.

"The ramifications of Iowa's decision and the potential effects on the state plan status are not yet known," Gosa said. "However, Iowa OSHA will not be taking any action against employers who choose not to implement the federal ETS (emergency temporary standard) at this time."

Director of HR and Equity Jami Weinzierl said the district received guidance that it "could push pause until there's further clarification."

She added that the School Board has no plans to discuss the mandate in the future until there's more federal or state guidance, specifically following the state law. 

"Once we get further clarification on how to proceed, we'll proceed as expected by the law," Weinzierl said.

Despite being taken off the agenda, some community members chose to speak during the public comment expressing their dislike for the vaccine mandate.

One community member thanked the board for taking it off the agenda, adding "Hopefully, it will stay that way."

Another community member told the board "do not force mandates on your employees. They will walk."

"Find out if there's any way that school districts can be removed from the OSHA standard. There are several other states that do not fall under that, their public sector do not fall under that," a parent said. "I would like to see Iowa the same, especially with our employment issues right now. We're short 27 teachers. We can't afford to lose any more."

One Buffalo teacher expressed her concern for the testing requirement.

"The weekly testing would be at my expense and at location to be determined," she said. "I'm expected to go on my own time without pay to get tested? I am positive my job performance has zero to do with my vaccination status."

Weinzierl said the district has explored options to cover costs associated with COVID-19 testing.

"That was something in the first stage of the process was looking into how many of our employees were not vaccinated to be able to plan out what our testing protocols were going to be, and then also to see what the cost was going to be and what the district would be able to cover," she said. "So there has been conversation about covering those costs, if we did have to end up proceeding with the OSHA ETS."

As of Friday, Jan. 7, about 85% of the district staff was vaccinated, Weinzierl said. The district has close to 2,500 employees. 

A mask mandate is still in place for all Davenport schools. If the board were to implement a vaccine-or-test mandate, unvaccinated employees would be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result every 7 days. 

The policy would apply to all full-time and part-time staff, including temporary employees, such as substitute teachers.

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