The Bend-La Pine school district’s attempt to suppress its fire safety problems continued last week with a misleading email sent to staff.

The district sent out a notice to employees and staff that “some systems may have been found to be impaired.”

That’s not true. The systems were, in fact, found to be impaired. There was no “may have” about it.

The district violated state fire code. Smoke dampers were disabled so they would not close to prevent smoke from moving through buildings during a fire. The district also had blocked and muffled alarms and uninspected alarm components. The state fire marshal’s office ruled the district’s violations were so serious that it revoked the district’s ability to continue doing its own fire inspections.

None of that was in the district’s notice. In fact, the “notice” to staff wasn’t even in the actual email to staff. It was in a web link.

This failure to adequately notify staff comes after the district failed to acknowledge it had a fire safety problem for months — despite complaints from employees. It comes after the district’s director of facilities misled the school board, insisting that the district had a long history of compliance with the fire code when it was in violation.

It’s one thing for the district to be a poor steward of public property and allow students and staff to be endangered by allowing fire safety equipment to be disabled. It’s another thing to continue to downplay, deflect and deny it.

The school district’s inadequate notice to staff is not all the district’s fault. It used language suggested by none other than the state fire marshal. Deputy State Fire Marshal Kevin Sullivan’s letter to the district notifying it of violations also required the district send out a notice to employees and staff that “fire protection systems may be impaired in some schools.”

We emailed Sullivan asking why disabling smoke dampers is not actual impairment. We haven’t heard back. The school board should demand that the district show an honest commitment to fire safety and stop misleading its own staff and the public.

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