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OSAA saga takes one more twist

The twisting legal path that is spelled OSAA took another odd turn last week for Hood River County School District.

That turn probably puts Hood River Valley High School one step closer to the Intermountain Conference.

School board members and district officials are growing less resolved to fight the order by the OSAA — Oregon School Activities Association — to move HRVHS out of the Mt. Hood Conference and into the Intermountain Conference, based in central and eastern Oregon.

“We’re near the point of no return,” said Jerry Sessions, Hood River school superintendent.

At issue is the district’s lengthy fight against redistricting to the Intermountain, which OSAA ordered last year. In December 2001 the district protested the order, claiming that longer travel times for IMC games would create hardships — financially for the district and academically and socially for HRVHS athletes, their families, and coaches.

In February, in an unprecedented move, Hearings Officer Michael Reed was appointed by the State Superintendent for Public Instruction to review the case, and issue a recommendation to the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction. The hearing was Feb. 8 and on March 20 Reed issued a ruling known as a Proposed Order to the State Board that the OSAA decision be upheld.

That wasn’t the end of the fight for Hood River schools. The district filed a letter of exception to the Proposed Order, on April 20. Since then, it had been the district’s understanding that Brody himself would make a ruling based on Reed’s Proposed Order and the district’s letter of exception.

The district is still awaiting a decision by Clark Brody, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, due in about two weeks. The district would have 60 days after Brody’s ruling to appeal the redistricting to the state Court of Appeals.

But last week, Brody sent the matter back to the Hearings Officer rather than making a decision, throwing another loop into an already tangled process. In a May 20 letter, Brody informed the school district that he had asked Reed to respond to the district’s letter of exception.

“We’ve given it all we’ve got,” said Anne Saxby, School Board member. “It doesn’t do our kids a lot of good to take it to the Court of Appeals.”

“We’re still kind of in limbo with this whole thing,” Sessions said. “We never dreamed (Reed) would have a chance to send his own letter of exception to the State Board.”

In Reed’s response, dated May 15, he admits that he had erred in the standards he used to base his March ruling, and that the district was right in contending that his ruling should have been based on whether or not OSAA had shown “substantial evidence” for shifting HRVHS to the new conference.

Yet he went on to support his own ruling, essentially arguing that “substantial evidence” was not all he had to consider.

In response, Sessions said Thursday that “allowing the Hearings Officer to change the evidence was not appropriate.”

“I don’t want to say it’s new evidence he introduced, but he was allowed to use the existing evidence in a new way,” Sessions said.

“It would be tough to pursue the case, at the cost of more money and energy,” Sessions said.

Sending the matter back to Reed was standard procedure, according to a State Board of Education official.

“The reason we ask for exceptions in the first place is to make sure there is accurate information and if either side had any clarifications or exceptions, and because (Reed) is the author of the proposed order to review that and give us his response,” said Randy Harnisch, board executive director. He added that the school district was given until May 28 to respond to the May 15 response.

“It seems like an additional step but it’s one of those additional fairness steps that we take. If the HO is making changes to PO we want to give the other side the chance to respond,” Harnisch said

Sessions said the district declined to respond because “every time we respond they use our argument to bolster their case.

“We’re moving to where we think we need a resolution on this,” he said.

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