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School board approves mask and vaccine policies as county records 58 new COVID cases

With a soaring positivity rate for COVID-19 testing in Cook County to start the new year, face coverings will continue to be required at ISD 166. The positivity rate for COVID testing in Cook County is approximately 15 percent at this time, according to information shared by Superintendent Chris Lindholm during the Jan. 6 organizational meeting of the ISD 166 School Board.

The board previously agreed to consider updating the school district’s face covering policy at some point during the current school year.

In December, board member Stephanie Radloff suggested removing the face-covering requirement when students return from winter break. The students returned to the classrooms Monday, Jan. 3. Board member Rena Rogers expressed concern last month that there could be an outbreak two weeks after winter break and suggested extending the mask policy to align with that.

The concerns proved to be accurate Jan. 6 when Cook County Public Health officials confirmed 58 new cases of COVID-19 among local residents. This week’s COVID report topped the entire number of cases reported in Cook County during the month of December.

The “metrics” to be considered before the school board considers removing the face-covering policy are that the testing rate in Cook County must be less than 5 percent and the cases per 10,000 people is less than 15. Both of those metrics must be met in four consecutive weeks.

The school board also consider two policies regarding a vaccine or testing mandate for district employees and others involved with school operations. Similar to the county, the vaccine mandate will only remain in effect pending the outcome of an expected ruling on the matter by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Associated Press reports.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Jan. 7 on whether the Biden administration can order workers at private companies and health care employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Until the court rules, millions of workers face a patchwork of requirements depending on where they live.

On Jan. 3, Minnesota’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted the federal standards.

Meanwhile, Lindholm recommended the board approve a policy where district staff are either vaccinated or get tested weekly and wear a mask at all times while on the ISD 166 campus (learn more in the audio below). After a brief discussion, the board voted to approve the policy recommended by the superintendent, with the understanding it could be impacted by the Supreme Court.

In other news from Thursday’s organizational meeting, Dan Shirley will remain the board chair for the ISD 166 School Board in 2022. This will be Shirley’s third consecutive term as the board chair.

Selected to serve as clerk was Carrie Jansen and treasurer Rena Rogers. These are the same roles both Jansen and Rogers served in 2021.

The school board discussed compensation for school board members and passed a unanimous motion to keep the pay the same in 2022. School board members receive $2,400 annually, with the board chair receiving an additional $700.

The audio below features Lindholm speaking during the Jan. 6 meeting about OSHA requirements regarding vaccination of ISD 166 staff. Board Member Deb White is also heard in the audio.