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Ruling ignores law, attorney says.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - Eugene schools are objecting to a hearings officer's preliminary order upholding a realignment of high school athletics that would put teams from Eugene in the same league as those in Southern Oregon.

The Eugene district's attorney, Joel DeVore, said Tuesday that he would be filing a legal response to the order, which he said failed to allow individual school districts' objections to the Oregon School Activities Association's realignment plan.

The preliminary order, released Monday, effectively sided with the OSAA, which faced challenges from the Eugene, Medford and Salem-Keizer districts. All three said the plan forced their students to miss too much time from school traveling for league sports contests.

This latest step shifts the issue back to Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo, who has the final authority to accept or alter the order.

"It will come down to a question of whether our state superintendent of public instruction, Susan Castillo, will protect students or not," DeVore said.

Castillo will rule next Monday or Tuesday after reviewing the preliminary order, spokesman Gene Evans said. Castillo also will take into account any "exceptions" filed by parties to the dispute - attorneys for the objecting school districts and the OSAA.

Tom Welter, executive director of the OSAA, had no complaints.

"We didn't feel like we violated any law and the hearings officer ... arrived at the same conclusion," he said.

Welter acknowledged that the plan to expand the number of classes from four to six and to align schools into new leagues based on the reclassification had drawn opposition from a small number of districts.

"But the vast majority feel like this is the direction we should take, starting in the fall," he said.

DeVore said the idea that objections from a small minority of districts were invalid because most OSAA members accepted the plan was legally flawed.

DeVore said the preliminary order, written by hearings officer and Eugene lawyer William Young, ignored the state law requiring that when schools are placed in leagues, nine specific standards must be considered, including geography and lost class time.

"There was a lot of evidence that went into the record about making Medford and Eugene students drive hundreds of miles on a round trip," DeVore said. "None of that evidence was talked about in the opinion."

Eugene School District spokesman Kelly McIver said the district's next step, should the state schools chief adopt the hearings officer's endorsement of the OSAA plan, would be to file an appeal with the Oregon Court of Appeals.

"That would be our next step if we chose to take it, and that decision just hasn't been made yet," he said.

Under the OSAA plan, South Eugene and Sheldon high schools would be Class 6A schools. Enrollment at those schools exceeds the 1,521-student cutoff used by the OSAA to determine which schools belonged in the largest classification.

The result would place the remaining five Eugene- Springfield high schools in one league for smaller Class 5A schools and move South Eugene and Sheldon into a Class 6A league with Roseburg, Grants Pass, South Medford and North Medford.

Medford's school district objected for reasons similar to Eugene's: that students would lose too much class time traveling to compete against schools 170 miles away. Salem-Keizer, the other district to challenge the realignment plan, does not want its five high schools to travel regularly over the Cascades to play Redmond High School, which would be placed in the same league.
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Title Annotation:Schools; Eugene schools plan to challenge the latest order upholding the OSAA's realignment plan for Oregon high school athletics
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 31, 2006
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