December 5, 2023


education gives you strength

Small Oregon school district in county with high COVID-19 rate sues state for barring in-person education

The school board of the tiny Adrian school district near the Idaho border has filed a lawsuit against some Oregon leaders, demanding it be permitted to educate students in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board filed the complaint Thursday against Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, and Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority.

Adrian is located in Malheur County, which has by far the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in Oregon. It shares a border with Idaho, which has higher case rates and fewer coronavirus restrictions than Oregon.

The state has told schools they can’t operate in person, with some exceptions, unless the county’s positive test rate stays at 5% or lower for three weeks in a row. In Malheur, the positive test rate has ranged from 36% to 41% in the three most recent weeks.

The school board’s complaint claims “if the children are not immediately returned to in-person instruction, immediate and irreparable harm will be caused to the school district’s resources,” and “immediate and irreparable harm will be incurred by the students in the form of reduced quality of instruction.”

In the suit, the board says it, not the state, should have control of the district.

Board members are all “elected, volunteer members who have been imbued with the responsibility of ensuring that the students of the Adrian School District receive a good and proper education.”

Adrian School District educates just under 300 students, with a total of 17 to 30 students in each grade. The farming community of Adrian has fewer than 1,000 residents.

The state does not release case counts for communities with such small populations.

The Adrian school board is concerned about the lack of ability to use limited in-person instruction to meet the requirements of comprehensive distance learning.

Adrian district leaders have mapped out a method to get every student into the classroom at least once per week while following the state’s guidance, which the superintendent says limits students to spending no more than two hours at school per day.

During a school board meeting earlier this month, Board Chairman Ryan Martin asked Superintendent Kevin Purnell what is stopping the school from having students in the school more often.

Purnell answered that it was the state’s guidance. He said the state requires that students be provided a certain number of hours of distance learning each day, and he said those can’t be replaced with in-person instruction. Teachers don’t have enough hours in the day to teach multiple in-person classes while also teaching their required online classes, Purnell said.

If the school were able to count the in-person instruction towards the instructional hours, Purnell said the school would be able to get far more students into the classroom. In-person class with Adrian’s teachers is the most valuable and effective form of instruction, he said.

— Nik Streng, Argus Observer

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