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Nearly a dozen staff members at Willmar Public Schools were placed on leave this week after refusing to meet the district's new COVID-19 policy. 

The policy gave staff three options: 

  1. Provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  2. Wear a mask at work beginning Jan. 10 and submit to weekly COVID-19 testing beginning Feb. 9. 
  3. Meet with Human Resources about possible medical or religious exemptions.

"There were eleven staff members placed on leave on Tuesday. Some of them were teachers, others were hourly employees," Superintendent Dr. Jeff Holm wrote in an email to Bring Me The News, noting that the employees placed on leave "opted not to comply with any of the options." 

Holm said that the school board approved the policy to begin Jan. 10 and that employees were give "ample notice" of their three options. Holm added that the district was warned about possible "substantial financial penalties for non-compliant employees." 

It's been reported elsewhere that one employee refused to leave and was escorted out of the building by a supervisor, but Holm confirmed to BMTN that the employee who was "escorted" out had requested that of their supervisor. 

The 11 who have been placed on leave represent a tiny fraction of the district's estimated 800 employees.

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According to the West Central Tribune, the school board adopted the policy after it was recommended by the Minnesota School Boards Association. 

The decision comes amid the omicron variant surging in Minnesota, leading to an average of more than 10,000 newly reported cases per day over the past week, including more than 11,000 reported on Thursday. 

This in turn has led to a huge strain on Minnesota schools, with staff members and students contracting the virus, leading to a number of Twin Cities school districts shifting to online learning.

Willmar Public Schools are located in Kandiyohi County, which has the 25th-highest case rate in Minnesota (of 87 counties). Willmar is also home to Carris Health–Rice Memorial Hospital, where medical-grade masks are now mandated for visitors in an effort to slow the spread of omicron. 

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States blocked the implementation of a Biden Administration requirement that would have mandated vaccines or weekly tests for the deadly virus at companies with more than 100 employees.

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