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ODE can withhold school funds for noncompliance

We see the new metrics from the state that counties must meet in order for their schools to be able to reopen. It seems likely that many may not meet those standards in time for the scheduled beginning of the school year. What would happen if they didn’t listen and opened or stayed open anyway? Or if some other part of their operation wasn’t up to the requirements of the ever-growing guidance document from the state agencies?

— Angela

Any concerns about a school’s reopening or handling of an outbreak would first go to the local public health authority, according to the Oregon Department of Education’s “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” document. And, yes, that will continue to change through Aug. 11.

That means Jackson County Public Health would first work with a school district that was out of compliance with any part of the guidance from the state as it was either reopening or staying open.

“If a local public health authority has concerns about public health in a given school within the operation of this guidance or in response to an outbreak, and the school or district disagree, these concerns may be elevated to the state public health director or the director of the Oregon Department of Education,” the document says.

The use of “may” means that while possible, that sort of escalation isn’t necessary in all cases.

A couple of state officials have authority to close a school facility that presents a public health risk or that goes against existing state law or the scope of Executive Order 20-29, the guidance states. That includes the state public health director at the Oregon Health Authority as well as the director of ODE.

The most extreme action would be for ODE to withhold State School Fund payments, upon which every school is dependent. The guidance document describes that as a “last resort.”

“ODE and OHA will be developing common statewide protocols for a variety of scenarios, in collaboration with LPHAs, schools and districts, over the next several weeks to improve coordination and shared understanding of how to respond to cases and outbreaks of COVID-19,” the guidance says.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.