By Grant Lucas

The Bulletin

Three Bend high schools will join a league with Salem-area schools next fall after an appeal by the Salem schools was rejected.

In a 21-page opinion released Friday by the Oregon School Activities Association, hearings officer W. Michael Gillette dismissed the appeal of Salem-Keizer Public Schools, cementing the OSAA’s decision to group the Bend high schools with five Salem-area schools in a new Class 6A conference beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

Salem-Keizer appealed the adopted proposal of the OSAA classification and districting committee, which placed Central Oregon’s Bend, Mountain View and Summit high schools in the same league with five Salem-area schools: McKay, McNary, South Salem, Sprague and West Salem. The Salem school district asserted that the OSAA violated its own rules in creating this plan.

During a Jan. 29 hearing in Salem, the school district argued that the OSAA did not adhere to several articles in its own constitution, specifically those regarding minimizing travel, costs and lost instructional time, while giving consideration to the safety of students, fans and school personnel.

In his final written opinion, Gillette, a former Oregon Supreme Court justice, said that those criteria are used more for placing schools in districts within each classification rather than using those articles as the sole bases for determining which schools go in which classification.

“Among its responsibilities is a requirement that (the OSAA) Executive Board establish ‘classifications’ of member schools based generally on school populations and ‘districts’ within which schools of like classification may compete for state championships and other honors,” Gillette said in his written opinion. “The philosophical justification for this approach is a belief that interscholastic competition fosters better, more responsible students and augments classroom learning.

“Another — indeed, co-equal — assumption is that interscholastic competition should be such that participants in competitions governed by OSAA should have at least a reasonable chance to win. Thus, the classification and districting process first divides schools according to size; and then assigns schools to participate in districts … with schools of relatively similar size for the purposes of competition.”

Gillette noted that the OSAA’s model “at least appears to be aimed at the right outcomes for the right reasons.” The decisions made by the OSAA executive board, he said, are “quasi-legislative and, thus, discretionary.” He then pointed out that Salem-Keizer Public Schools did not prove that the OSAA abused that discretion.

Gillette concluded that all of the concerns the Salem school district laid out are certainly shared by the other schools — from the Portland, Eugene and Southern Oregon areas — that were involved in the “unfortunate ‘contest’ to be joined” with the three Bend high schools.

Yet Gillette said that those three school districts “are farther from Bend than is Salem. All three face roads at least as treacherous — and longer — than those faced by Salem. All three face at least an equal if not greater loss of class time than does Salem. And all three will face added transportation costs.”

Finally, Gillette said: “It follows from the foregoing that I do not find any of (Salem-Keizer’s) arguments to be well taken and that I therefore have no legal basis on which I can sustain the District’s appeal. It is dismissed.”

Bend High athletic director Dave Williams said Friday that the ADs from Bend and the Salem-area schools have begun discussing creative scheduling and ways to reduce travel costs and missed class time. He noted that he is aware of no complaints from Bend-La Pine schools, nor from area coaches or parents, regarding the reclassification plan.

“We’re in the same boat,” Williams said, relating to the Salem-area schools. “We’re not overly excited about traveling all the time. We’ve been doing it for years, but we’re faced with a situation of being on and island over here a little bit and needing to jump up in classifications. There’s no schools of our size east of the (Cascade) mountains.”

Lillian Govus, a spokesperson for Salem-Keizer Public Schools, told The Bulletin on Friday that the school district had been working with an advisory group composed of parents and community members, adding that it would be “inappropriate for me to say what our next step would be without talking to our advisory group first.” Still, Govus continued, now that a ruling has been made, the school district will be meeting with that advisory group to discuss what further action could be taken.

“If there were a decision to, say, appeal and go to the circuit court,” Govus said, “then it would probably require (school) board action before we do anything.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0307, .