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OSHA fines Cascade Christian $360 for two 'serious' violations

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Medford’s Cascade Christian High School $360 for remaining open in violation of COVID-19-related state mandates and failing to ensure that “all individuals wore a mask, face covering, or face shield while in classrooms.”

According to the 70-page report, each of the two violations issued Dec. 4 were classified as “serious,” and OSHA ordered both must be “abated” immediately. CCHS was given 30 days from the date the citation was issued — until Sunday, Jan. 3 — to appeal the decision, after which it becomes a “final order.” Penalties are due 20 days after citations become a final order.

As of Wednesday, Cascade Christian had not requested a hearing to appeal, according to Aaron Corvin, OSHA public information officer. The fine does not necessarily mark the end of OSHA’s involvement, Corvin added.

“We don’t just cite and walk away,” he said. “We view our penalties as having a deterrent effect. It is true that out of the gate our penalties, generally speaking on the first instance, are modest.

“If you get into situations where you have a different class of violations like a willful (violation), a number of violations, if you get into repeat violations, yes, you’re going to see substantially higher fines. And it’s also a possibility that if you fail to correct or refuse to correct the hazard, yes, the fines can go up substantially.”

A willful violation, which occurs when “an employer has demonstrated either an intentional or purposeful disregard for the requirements of the Oregon Safe Employment Act or a plain indifference to employee safety and health,” carries a penalty that can range from $8,900 to $126,749.

Cascade Christian High School is one of three schools that comprise the 501c3 nonprofit Grace Cascade Christian Schools — Cascade Christian Middle School and Grace Christian Elementary are the others — and all have been open to full in-person instruction, violating state mandates for schools in the process, since late September or early October (the high school and middle school reopened Sept. 21, and the first day of school at Grace Christian Elementary was Oct. 1).

Under the latest metrics, counties with fewer than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate lower than 5% over 14 straight days are eligible for on-site learning, while 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 and a test positivity rate between 5% and 8% places a county in a hybrid of on-site and comprehensive distance learning.

In the most recent two-week span measured, from Nov. 29 through Dec. 12, Jackson County saw 453.69 cases per 100,000. The test positivity rate for the previous two-week time period that ended Nov. 28 was 8.5% (current numbers were not available at press time). The county hasn’t come in below 300 cases per 100,000 since the two-week span that ended on Halloween.

According to the report, an OSHA inspector visited Cascade Christian for a surprise inspection Nov. 20 and met with Head of Schools Ken Townsend. The inspector reported that students — 130 were on site the day of the inspection — were separated into cohorts and required to wear face coverings. The investigator also reported “spaced desks” in classrooms and physical separation, as well as “observed efforts in corridors and in personal interaction.”

The investigator reported that Townsend said the school had “very limited interaction” with the Oregon Department of Education, which referred the case to OSHA, and added that “(Townsend) doesn’t understand a referred allegation from them on the issue of mask ‘How would they know?’”

Sanitation stations were noted, and when school was out only one mask-free student was spotted, along with one possibly “inappropriate” mask.

Cascade Christian reported to the investigator that only one student has tested positive for COVID-19, and later that student tested negative on a re-test and was placed in a 14-day quarantine.

After touring the school, the investigator randomly selected three employees — a math teacher, a Spanish teacher and an assistant principal — from a staff list for phone interviews, which were conducted in the following days.

In a short summarization of the field notes, the inspector reported, “They have a written plan identifying distance learning when case rates are severe (which they don’t define). Their (sic) is easily obtainable information on community infection rate and what counties where in person instruction is acceptable.”

Later, in a summary of their face-covering findings, the investigator reported: “The employer’s written direction has recognized Oregon Health Authority guidelines designating when facial coverings are required. The Director of Schools stated he thought it had gotten to the point of requiring it at all times inside and out. They had not effectively communicated there were no longer designated ‘mask free’ areas.”

The school’s face-covering violations came to light through the interview process, Corvin said.

“What we’re taking into account is not just observations,” he said, “because things obviously, as you know, at a job site change, they evolve. You arrive on one day and it might look different another day.

“I’m speaking generally, but if you’re looking at employers you’re looking at training records, what’s written down, what does their policy say and is that matching — like, what are they saying they’re going to do and what are they doing? It’s kind of taking all of that into account, which is what this inspection did.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneStudents leave class at Cascade Christian High School.