Glenwood High School

Pictured: Glenwood High School

(Glenwood) -- Regardless of legal action regarding vaccine mandates, KMAland school districts still face an uphill battle in containing the spread of COVID-19.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration mandates requiring workers at businesses with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or provide a negative COVID test every week to come to the workplace. Some of the region's largest school districts were among those covered under the mandates. Earlier this week, the Glenwood School Board was poised to consider and implement policies similar to those in place in other area districts requiring COVID vaccinations. But, that item was stricken from the board's regular meeting Monday. Earlier this week, Glenwood School Superintendent Devin Embray told KMA News action was removed on the advice of legal counsel, and after State Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts announced the state would not enforce federal vaccine mandates.

"It's our understanding that the labor commissioners of all the states with state OSHA plans had to prove their standards were at least as effective as the standards being proposed by OSHA--the new federal mandate ones," said Embray. "The Iowa labor commissioner determined and told the governor's office that the Iowa mandates are at least as effective as the federal mandate ones are. So, they will not be adopting the new mandate."

In the meantime, Glenwood's district continues to cope with the pandemic. Information on the COVID-19 dashboard located on the district's website indicates 50 current student or staff positive COVID cases--either through activity or community spread--as of Friday. Embray says the emergence of the Omicron variant has increased case numbers--especially with staff members.

"In fact, we're probably seeing more Omicron variant positive in our staff than our students right now," he said, "or they're neck-in-neck with one another. We're between 1 and 3% percent right now in the buildings with student positivity. However, the staff one is on the rise, and we just put in place a differentiated tracking system to monitor staff alone to make sure we're still have enough to keep our doors open."

Embray says the biggest concern is the availability of substitute teachers to cover instructors out because of COVID. Embray says the continuing battle against the virus is taking its toll on staff members.

"The stress and the fatigue is setting in," said Embray. "This is a very, very difficult year. A lot of people don't understand that from the outside looking in. But, this is a much more difficult year than it was the year prior. Kudos to our staff--our teachers, our certified staff, our classified staff--for continuing to march the journey."

One factor that Embray says may help the district is the Centers For Disease Control's change in quarantine recommendations. The CDC says individuals testing positive for COVID must quarantine for five days, then wear face coverings for five days upon returning to work. While striking down mandates for businesses, the Supreme Court let stand vaccine requirements for health care workers.

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