KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Klamath County's two school districts are scrambling on Thursday after learning that their plan to expand in-person learning may leave them exposed to legal risk.
The Klamath County Schoold District Board of Directors announced that it will hold a joint emergency meeting with the board from Klamath Falls City Schools to address whether they should proceed with plans to bring students back into classrooms on January 11.
The concern springs from a bill passed on December 23 in the Oregon legislature that shields schools from COVID-19 liability. But, according to KCSD, a memo from the Oregon School Boards Association recently revealed that those protections only apply if districts follow all state guidance — including the coronavirus metrics that kept schools from holding in-person classes to begin with.
Governor Kate Brown on December 23 announced that those metrics were no longer mandatory but "advisory," allowing districts the freedom to decide whether to expand in-person learning. But Brown's change of heart has no bearing on the liability protections passed in the legislature.
“We decided to reopen in good faith and to do what’s best for our community, following public health recommendations,” said KCSD Superintendent Glen Szymoniak. “However we just found out if we do that, it may put us at extreme legal risk. Because of this risk factor, the boards are being asked to take action on this decision.”
According to KCSD, the district had some limited liability protection when school started back up in the fall with K-3 students in classrooms and rural students on hybrid models.
"At that time, the district did not have COVID-19 liability coverage, but since it was following specific state metrics and guidance that allowed some legal protection," the District said in statement.
A joint Zoom meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, with input from Jessica Dale, assistant director of Klamath County Public Health, and Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. Public input is being accepted in writing, and can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4 p.m. on Thursday.