By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary High School will officially be competing in a league with Bend beginning next fall.

Salem-Keizer School District’s appeal against the OSAA’s decision to place five of its high schools, in a conference with Bend, Mountain View and Summit was dismissed by hearings officer Michael Gillette, who stated there was “no legal basis on which I can sustain the district’s appeal.”

The school district received the opinion on Thursday, Feb. 22, more than three weeks after Salem-Keizer argued its case at a hearing on Jan. 29.

“Understandably, we are disheartened by this ruling,” said Superintendent Christy Perry. “We know this will impact our students and our staff, as well as their families. We have already begun assessing ways to reduce the impact to our budgets, but we know our student athletes are going to have to make some difficult decisions about participation because of the impact to their time in our classrooms.”

In its appeal, Salem-Keizer said OSAA did not give the district sufficient notice that SKPS would be placed in a district that included Bend-La Pine. The district also stated the Classification and Districting Committee failed to consider the safety of students, fans and school personnel; the impact to student instructional time; and the additional expenses imposed on the schools as a result of redistricting.

In regards to lack of notice, Gillette noted that the CDC issued two draft classification and districting proposals in October of 2016, a six class proposal and a five class proposal. Both placed Bend high schools in the same district as Salem-Keizer. Moving forward, further drafts continued to assign most Salem-Keizer schools in a league with Bend. A later suggestion from the Salem-Keizer athletic directors even supported a proposed five class model that would combine the three Bend and five Salem-Keizer schools.

“I find that the district had plenty of notice,” Gillette wrote in his opinion. “Whether with respect to a five or six tiered classification system, Salem-Keizer was aware virtually from the outset of the CDC’s work that there were those who believed that a joint league of Salem-Keizer and Bend-La Pine schools was appropriate.”

Gillette also noted that nearly half of the proposals by the committee over its year-long process placed the two school districts in a league together and that two different proposals from the district itself to the CDC appeared to accept the idea.

“It may be that, as the process neared its end, Salem-Keizer believed that it was no longer in danger of being placed in such a league, but there was no guarantee of that,” Gillette wrote.

Gillette added that the district’s arguments about safety of students, loss of instructional time and additional expenses were “such that I might be persuaded by one or more of them.”

But it wasn’t his role to decide the case on its merits. It is OSAA’s task to make the decision.

“My only task is to assure that the choice that OSAA made is one among many that it has a right to make,” Gillette wrote. “Here, its choice is precisely that.”

Gillette added that the same concerns from Salem-Keizer could be shared by the three other districts that could’ve been placed with Bend, and all three districts are farther from Bend than Salem is.

“All three face roads at least as treacherous—and longer—than those faced by Salem,” Gillette wrote. “All three face at least an equal if not a great loss of class time than does Salem. And all three will face added transportation costs. Choosing among the four groups of schools was a thankless task, but it was a choice that OSAA could not refuse to make.”