A month after announcing a potential pending legal battle against the state, the Adrian School District Board of Directors seems closer to making that a reality.
At Thursday night’s meeting, board member Jake Speelmon gave a quick update on the status of the board’s lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Education, saying that his legal counsel should have an update for the board soon (by Monday).
During the board’s Aug. 13 meeting, Speelmon used his board comments time to announce that he was seeking legal counsel with the ultimate goal to be the Adrian School Board of Directors suing ODE for “failing to allow [the board] to provide an adequate education to the students in [Adrian School District].”
Stoking Adrian School Board’s anger with the state is the limited in-person instruction that the district is rolling out, and the limitations it is facing by the state.
On Thursday, Adrian Superintendent Kevin Purnell mapped out the school’s plan for limited in-person instruction. With fewer than 30 students in each grade level and four instructional days every week, Purnell showed how the school will be able to break the classes into cohorts of 10 or fewer and get every student into the school at least once per week. In fact, the entire kindergarten class, which has only seven students, is in the classroom for two hours a day every day.
Students at Adrian are coming into the school once per day for two hours of in-person instruction, where teachers are able to come to the classes and help students when they need the help. Because the student body is small (Adrian School District has fewer than 300 students) Purnell said the guidance actually makes it so that every student can get into the classroom.
When board member Ryan Martin asked Purnell what was stopping the students from coming into the classroom more (with teachers hosting two classes per day), Purnell said it was two things:
• Transportation: Adrian School District is using all of its buses to transport meals to students. Purcell said they are currently working on finding a new way to transport meals so the buses can be used to bring students to and from the school.
• ODE’s rules. Purnell said that they are currently being restricted by ODE’s guidance on limited in-person instruction, which reads as such:
“Limited in-person instruction cannot replace the requirements of [comprehensive distance learning] for any learner. Districts under CDL must adhere to the requirements of CDL while bringing students on-site under exceptions.”
With in-person instruction not able to be counted toward state-mandated instructional hours, Purnell said teachers don’t have enough hours in the day to teach multiple in-person classes on top of their online classes (whether they be synchronous or asynchronous).
If the school were able to count the in-person instruction towards the instructional hours, Purnell said the school would be able to get way more students into the classroom, saying that two hours of in-person class with some of Adrian’s teachers is worth one hundred hours of online instruction.
Board member Quintin Shenk shared his frustration over the realization that the state’s guidance is holding the students out of the classroom.
“It blows my mind that ODE says that in-person instruction is the most important thing, then when we get the chance to do it, it can’t count,” Shenk said.
In its guidance, ODE states: “When possible, opportunities to learn in person may be essential.”
A teacher speaks up
Adding to the board’s frustrations was the public comment by Kelly Tolman, a teacher at Adrian School District and a parent.
“As a teacher, I think we’re doing great. Things are going pretty well and I think it’s getting easier and easier every day,” Tolman said. “But as a parent, I’m done. I’m at my wit’s end. My kid is supposed to get seven hours of instruction per day and he’s not.”
Tolman said he does not feel that students’ needs are being met and that the leadership of the school district and all of Malheur County should have been more proactive at slowing the spread of COVID-19 so students could return to school.
“At the end of the day, I don’t care whether you care about COVID or not,” Tolman said.
After Tolman finished speaking, Speelmon said Tolman’s comment was exactly why the board feels like it has to take legal action against the state.
“It’s hard, as a board, to hear parents that are frustrated,” Speelmon said. “It’s hard to hear parents that are upset because the junior high kids are playing volleyball and other don’t get to. And you can see buses of kids and you can see that some of the kids had a good day at school… We’re being so careful at the expense of the kids. I don’t understand how good people, how they do make sense of it.”
Members of the board also added that they were confused about how colleges, like Treasure Valley Community College, and other entities are able to be open during COVID-19, but schools remain closed to students.
“The only satisfaction we can feel right now is in going through with the lawsuit,” Speelmon said. “I’d like to hear the state say that they know that Walmart is essential while the churches and the schools are not.”