Court: School Districts Waited Too Long To Object to Changes

Aug 31, 2007

An Oregon state appeals court has affirmed the ruling of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, which found that a redistricting plan adopted by the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) in October 2006 “was not arbitrary or inconsistent with its criteria for classification and districting” found in the association’s bylaws.
 
Initially, the petitioners argued that the plan — which increased the number of classifications for interscholastic competitions from four to six and substantially modified the membership of districts (leagues) within those classifications — was invalid because OSAA had violated ORS 339.430(3) by applying unauthorized “criteria,” including school enrollment thresholds, and by systematically prioritizing certain “criteria.”
 
The Superintendent rejected the petitioners’ challenges for the aforementioned reason, leading to the appeal.
 
The appeals court noted that the “epicenter of this dispute is ORS 339.430,” a statute which provides the framework for challenges to such plans. Those appeals must be made to the State Board of Education, which designates the Superintendent as hearing officer.
 
Further, “the Superintendent may reverse or modify a decision of a voluntary organization if the petitioner establishes that the decision of the voluntary organization was in error. A decision of a voluntary organization is in error when the decision violates federal or state constitutions or laws; rules of the Board; the voluntary organization’s own rules in a manner that if not done in error would alter the decision; or, if there is no rational basis for the decision. The Superintendent will consider the voluntary organization’s interpretations of its rules, policies or standards unless such interpretation is not reasonable, as determined by the Superintendent. Review of the decision of the voluntary association will not be confined to the record of the voluntary association if to do so would deprive the petitioner of an opportunity to provide evidence relevant to the appeal.
 
“(9) In addition to the requirements of paragraph (8), for appeals brought concerning ORS 339.430(3) the Superintendent may reverse or modify a decision of a voluntary organization if the decision is inconsistent with or failed to consider all the criteria established by the rules of the voluntary organization and approved by the board under ORS 339.430(3).”
 
That statute also provides that “If the court finds that the agency has erroneously interpreted a provision of law and that a correct interpretation compels a particular action,” it can modify, set aside or remand a particular order.
 
The appeals court then turned to the relevant facts of the case, among which was the stated criteria that the OSAA’s Classification and Districting Committee is to use, in no particular order, when recommending placement of schools in athletic districts: geographic location; cost of travel; scheduling problems; athletic district balance; athletic district history; move as few schools as possible; enrollment; maintain schools within the same school district in the same league; and loss of class time.
 
After significant changes were adopted in the fall of 2005, the petitioners sought an administrative review, arguing that the new plan was adopted in violation of ORS 339.430(3) because the enrollment thresholds in the plan required board approval.
 
On appeal, the Superintendent, ultimately, ruled that the OSAA’s failure to secure board approval of the amendments to Article 6.1.5 did not violate ORS 339.430(3). On June 9, 2006, the superintendent entered a final order, rejecting the petitioners’ arguments.
 
On appeal, the court looked at two “overarching” issues: “First, did the superintendent correctly determine that OSAA’s amendment to Article 6.1.5 to create the six-tiered classification system was not a change in a rule ‘that specif[ies] the criteria for the placement of a school into an interscholastic activity district?’ Second, did the superintendent err in concluding that the OSAA’s prioritization of certain of the criteria among the nine listed in Article 9.2.1(d) in crafting the 2006-2010 plan was not a change in a rule within the meaning of ORS 339.430(3)?”
 
On the first point, the court concluded that “the amendment to Article 6.1.5, which identifies particular enrollment thresholds for classification purposes, does not “constitute a substantive change to the ‘enrollment’ criterion of Article 9.2.1(d),” requiring board approval.
 
On the second point, the court rejected the petitioners’ contention for “either of two reasons.”
 
First, it found that Article 9.2.1(d) permits the OSAA that option since it “did not constitute a ‘change’ in a previously approved ‘rule’ requiring board approval under ORS 339.430(3).
 
Second, “the petitioners’ argument ultimately depends on a false assumption that, in this context, there is some sort of dichotomy between ‘case-by-case’ application of criteria specified in a rule and ‘systemic’ application of such criteria.”
 
Their argument “that each and every school placement in the context of a systemic reorganization constitutes a separate ‘case’… is artificially narrow. Bluntly: The 2006-2010 OSAA reorganization constituted a single ‘case’ – and not dozens, or even hundreds, of individual ‘cases.’
 
“The redistricting or reclassification of any single school has ripple effects that affect other schools–and may, in ‘chain-reaction’ fashion, set off a series of other redistricting moves, each with collateral consequences of its own. Ultimately, because of those inextricably interrelated dynamics, that means that OSAA’s periodic statewide review of districting and classification pursuant to Articles 6 and 9 presents a single ‘case.’ The ‘decision’ in that ‘case’ is all of an integrated whole: to create a workable plan for the entire state. Thus, nothing in Article 9.2.1(d), as approved by the board, precluded OSAA from determining, as an administrative matter, that certain considerations were consistently entitled to greater weight than others in crafting the 2006-2010 plan.”
 
Lane County School District et al. v. Oregon School Activities Association et al.; Ct.App.Ore.; A132577, 212 Ore. App. 373; 157 P.3d 1241; 2007 Ore. App. LEXIS 620; 5/2/07
 
Attorneys of Record: Joel S. DeVore and Timothy Gerking argued the cause for petitioners Lane County School District 4J and Jackson County School District 549C. With them on the joint briefs were Luvaas Cobb and Brophy Mills Schmor Gerking.
Paul A. Dakopolos argued the cause for petitioner Marion County School District 24J. With him on the briefs were J. Kevin Shuba and Matthew T. Racine.
Jonathan M. Radmacher argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was McEwen Gisvold, LLP. Richard D. Wasserman, Attorney-In-Charge, Civil/Administrative Appeals Unit, argued the cause for intervenor-respondent. On the brief were Hardy Myers, Attorney General, Mary H. Williams, Solicitor General, and Rolf C. Moan, Assistant Attorney General.
 


 

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