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Adrian School District

Oregon OSHA fines Adrian School District nearly $12,000 over workplace safety violations

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Oregon OSHA fines Adrian School District nearly $12,000 over workplace safety violations

The Adrian High School is pictured.

ADRIAN — After receiving multiple complaints which started in late August alleging the Adrian School District publicly announced refusal to comply with the Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s mask mandate as it relates to COVID-19, the district got a scrutinizing look from Oregon OSHA — the agency which has oversight of workplace safety. The cost to the district may be as high as $11,400, as proposed in four citations issued on Oct. 27 by state’s division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The school district has 30 calendar days to appeal the citations, which includes two serious violations at $420 a piece, a willful violation at $10,500, and one defined as “other than serious” at $100. The willful violation relates to the wearing of masks.

Interim Superintendent Raeshelle Meyer said during a phone interview this morning that the district does plan to appeal the citations.

Mark Redmond, who was filling in in that capacity prior to Meyer confirmed with her this morning that the state had received the district’s appeal.

The newspaper has a pending public records request with the district for that document.

Response to first complaint

In a response to the agency on Aug. 24, following the first complaint on Aug. 21, then-Superintendent Kevin Purnell stated the school did not publicly announce they wouldn’t comply, but did announce in a letter to parents and in an open board meeting that the district, staff and administration would not take “any punitive measures or actions towards students or families who decline to wear a mask,” preferring an educational route regarding what state mandates require.

It is noteworthy that the school board terminated Purnell on Aug. 30, and while the board did not give a reason for dismissal, many community members and school employees who knew about the situation ahead of time, told the newspaper it was because Purnell was going to enforce the mandates related to COVID-19.

OSHA received similar word about Purnell in a complaint on Sept. 2 that stated he was fired for trying to enforce the mask mandate, and that Adrian schools were “consistently refusing to follow the state-wide education mask mandate, putting our children and the staff at risk.”

Another complaint on Aug. 30 alleged teachers were not requiring students to wear masks at all times while in the classroom.

Shortly after the school year started on Aug. 23, Oregon OSHA Sr. Health Compliance Officer Linda Patterson conducted an initial inspection on Sept. 2. She met with High School Principal Bill Wortman, School Board Chairman Eddie Kincade and union representatives at the onset for an opening conference.

Patterson noted in her report that when she arrived to the school, officials there had to call her supervisor to confirm her credential and that during the 45 minutes that passed, Wortman “wanted more people at the opening,” adding that by the time of the walk-through, “it was no secret of OR-OSHA’s presence at the facility.”

Inspection observations and employee interviews

During her walk-around inspection, Patterson noted in her report the following: There were multiple signs posted regarding wearing masks; students in the gym getting class photos were wearing a mask except while getting their photos taken; teachers and staff were wearing masks, face coverings or face shields with at least one exception; one teachers device did not meet the definition of a face shield; some students were not wearing masks in the science class; social distancing reminders were visible on the sidewalk at the middle/elementary school; and there were visual cards on door handles in the middle school indicating whether classrooms were clean.

Patterson also provided a sample of employee interviews in her report, noting that when she arrived for the second day of additional interviews, the teachers and Kincade were meeting in the gym, where Kincade seemed to be conducting a meeting, and wear many were wearing masks inappropriately.

Some employees were not willing to go on the record with Patterson instead opting for brief off-the-record conversations, telling her they were fearful of losing their license.

Among those interviewed, some told Patterson that Wortman had received death threats via email or voicemail and that they had been put in a “horrible situation.”

In the interviews, employees consistently quoted Purnell as saying “we will be wearing mask this year,” which was to be done indoors as required by state mandate.

One employee said they had to remind students several times a day to wear masks. While the school supplies masks to students, staff stated they can’t make students wear masks.

Another employee estimated about 30% of students were defiant of the mask mandate, and yet another stated about 50% were not compliant.

Her overall conclusion of the inspection is that the mask mandate was not being enforced, adding that Wortman “was observed several times, in his room, alone, without a mask, with the door open.”

Breaking down the citations

The most costly violation is $10,500 for the third citation ,arked as “willful violation,” the citation states it must be fixed immediately.

According to Oregon law, Adrian School District is among those employers that is required to meet rules related to COVID mandates. At the time of the inspection, Adrian School District did not ensure that all staff, students and visitors indoor the school wore masks or face coverings. As evidenced by visual confirmation and employee interviews. Masks were visibly available in the schools, but their use was not enforced.

For the first and second citations, the violations fees are $420 each, are marked as serious, and must be taken care of by Nov. 13.

The first violation relates to Oregon law requiring the safety committee to meet at least monthly except the months when a quarterly worksite inspection was performed.

According to the citation, at the time of the inspection, those meetings were not conducted, while the school district conducted business onsite from January to May of this year.

The second violation relates to the state law requiring exposure risk assessments to include participation and feedback from employees. According to the citation, at the time of the inspection, the employer did not ensure that an exposure risk assessment was conducted or documented in writing. A risk assessment plan was not provided.

The citation also states that it was determined during document review and interviews that the employer and employees were not aware of such a plan, thus unable to participate or provide feedback.

A fourth item carrying a fine of $100 was due to the district not keeping required OSHA logs, which has been required since January of 2018 for districts, such as Adrian.

The district is required to send a letter of corrective action explaining or providing documentation of how each violation has been corrected.

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