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Oregon education officials mandate healthy schools plans

School districts have until October to create draft guidelines for water, radon testing and pest management

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Oregon school districts have until Oct. 1 to submit a draft plan to the Oregon Department of Education outlining when districts will test for lead in water, radon gas and pest management practices. ODE passed the regulations last week on Aug. 17. Local school districts have until Oct. 1 to submit draft versions of a health and safety inspection plan to the Orgeon Department of Education. The plans are to include guidelines for regular sample testing of school water, exposure to lead in paint and radon gas, and pest management practices.

ODE approved the Healthy and Safe Schools Plan on Wednesday, Aug. 17.

Until now, school districts in Oregon were not required to test water samples for lead in school buildings. In Scappoose, school staff said the district relied primarily on water testing results provided by the city to ensure a clean water supply. The St. Helens School District followed similar procedures, and had until recently last tested for lead in the drinking water in 2008.

A survey conducted by the Oregon School Boards Association earlier this month showed 88 percent of state schools tested for lead in drinking water after scrutiny of Portland Public Schools’ handling of the discovery of high lead levels in its water systems.

The Scappoose School District tested water in 20 sources in June, with none showing high lead levels. The St. Helens School Distirtc tested 200 water sources over the summer, with eight samples coming back with high levels. Plans have been made to cap or repair those fixtures.

Additionally each district must outline which employee is responsible for implementing the plan, and must construct a communications plan to make all test results available to the public within five days of receiving them.

While the Scappoose and St. Helens school districts have several months to develop a draft plan, staff are already mulling what to include in their individualized plans.

Scappoose Superintendent Stephen Jupe explained that the school district has many elements of the proposed plan in place, including the use of a safety officer, a districtwide wellness plan, and ideas about how and when to test for radon gas and lead in water sources.

St. Helens Superintendent Scot Stockwell said staff have not had time yet to sit down and discuss the specific details of a health and safety plan. Preparing staff, school sites and incoming students for the start of the school year has been the district’s main priority.

“As a district our belief is to be open and forthright with all information so in my mind it mandates what we should be doing anyway in regards to communicating to our community,” Stockwell said in an email to the Spotlight. “Our hope is the plan developed will consolidate a number of previous requirements to make it easier and more clear for parents to access.”

The deadline for submitting a final draft to ODE is Jan. 1. It’s unclear when both districts will have draft plans completed; however, Jupe explained that while student safety is important, a barrage of statewide mandates can be difficult for districts, especially those with small staffs, to handle.

“Mandate all the plans you like. I’m frustrated with all the demands from the Legislature that don’t take into account the workload it’s going to take the 195 districts [in the state] to implement them,” Jupe said.

Reporting from Pamplin Media Group’s Paris Achen contributed to this article.