Adrian School Board sues state to reopen schools

Adrian High School (The Enterprise/Kezia Setyawan).

ADRIAN—The Adrian School Board, unhappy with the state’s handling of schools, sued the state Sept. 17 in Malheur County Circuit Court, challenging the state’s requirements which keep their students out of the classroom.

The suit names the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority. ODE agency officials weren’t immediately available for comment. OHA cannot comment, said Philip Schmidt, OHA spokesperson.

The state’s rules are harming students, the complaint said, by disrupting their education.

“It’s hard to believe Walmart and marijuana dispensaries are essential business but schools are not,” said Jake Speelmon, Adrian School Board member.

The rural school district, with 295 students, asserts in its complaint that it should be up to the district when to return students to classrooms and that the state’s metrics-based Covid plan was both arbitrary and capricious.

The suit cites the Department of Education’s initial guidance, which allowed school boards to decide whether to reopen. Schools across Oregon shut down in mid-March under the orders of Gov. Kate Brown as the coronavirus surged in the state.

“Every school in Oregon is unique in its physical structure, its culture, and the varied communities it serves. A single state-wide plan will not serve all districts or schools; however, every school must demonstrate to their community that it can operate in a manner that will assure that protocols are in place to keep students, staff, and families safe,” the Department of Education’s earlier guidance said.

The Department of Education changed course on July 28, saying most schools in a particular county couldn’t open unless the county had no more than 10 Covid cases per 100,000 residents and a 5% testing positivity rate.

Then, after pushback from eastern Oregon leaders, the state changed its measures, which would allow Malheur County schools to reopen if the county sees less than 30 new cases over three weeks. The new guidance also allowed schools in the county with less than 75 students to reopen. That included places such as Jordan Valley.

The complaint said that some Adrian students have been unable to get high-speed internet necessary for remote learning.

“If the children are not immediately returned to in-person instruction, immediate and irreparable harm will be incurred by the students in the form of reduced quality of instruction,” the complaint said.

The complaint also asks for the number of Covid cases in the school districts ZIP code to be released, so they can adequately plan for reopening, and for two hours of limited in-person education allowed under the state’s rules to count toward attendance if distance learning continues. The Nyssa School Board separately has decided to seek legal counsel to consider suing the state as well.

“We all think as a board we need to do something because it’s not working. We’ve got millions of issues,” said Bob Fehlman, Nyssa School Board chair.


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News tip? Contact reporter Aidan McGloin at [email protected] or at 541-473-3377.


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