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PACE Day highlights important school safety issues

 More than 150 education, insurance and legal professionals crowded a Salem Convention Center room to learn about student safety issues and network on Thursday. (Photo by Alex Pulaski, OSBA)

PACE Day brought together Thursday more than 150 education, insurance and legal professionals to learn about student safety and liability issues.

They came to Salem from around the state for the informative presentations on current issues and challenges. For many, though, the chance to network with people facing similar situations was just as important.

“It’s nice because I talk to a lot of people on the phone and I can put a name to the face,” said Stephanie Edwards, a member of the safety committee at Reynolds School District.

“PACE Day: Safe and Secure Schools,” which started four years ago, has become a valued source of training and education.

“I come to the PACE days to stay current,” said Nickie Blasdell, Portland Community College risk management. “I find it very informative. It’s also a networking tool to help you stay connected.”

Milo Denham, who will start as Estacada SD’s business manager on Monday, would agree.

“I have negative four days on the job,” he said. “I was looking for training after I got hired.”

The all-day conference at the Salem Convention Center covered a range of topics related to preventing accidents, crimes, lawsuits and tragedies.

“This is our annual opportunity to gather with members, share ideas, and thank them for working together to keep staff and students safe,” said Mike Robison, interim PACE administrator.

Frank Stratton, Special Districts Association of Oregon executive director, and John Rexford, High Desert ESD superintendent, laid out the history of how 10 years ago OSBA and SDAO came together to create Property and Casualty Coverage for Education.  In the very first year, PACE saved school districts $1 million in service fees, according to Rexford, and PACE continues to save schools money each year.

“Anytime we’re not putting a million dollars into coverage, schools have that money to put into classrooms,” Rexford said.

PACE insures roughly 300 education members, nearly all Oregon’s school districts, community colleges and education service districts. The presentations spoke to the broad range of challenges these institutions face.

Kate Wilkinson, OSBA director of litigation services, and Rebekah Jacobson, shareholder of the Salem law firm Garrett Hemann Robertson P.C., tackled athletic liability issues, from bullying and harassment to districts’ responsibility for off-season sports programs and volunteers. They also gave advice on training coaches and addressed danger areas such as transportation and social media.

“Whenever you can get a lawyer up there to tell you about current events and litigation … it’s very useful,” said Andrew Rucker, Nolte Fuller Insurance.

Rucker was sitting with Lisa Fletcher-Gordon, assistant director of human resources at Southwestern Oregon Community College, and together they talked about the liability concerns that come with rural schools’ heavy dependence on volunteers for coaching sports. Wilkinson’s presentation spurred some thoughts, particularly around training and doing background checks on volunteers.

“I want to go back and put this to use, doing everything we can to reduce our liability,” said Fletcher-Gordon.

Rucker agreed with the importance of sharing the things he learned.

“You get a couple of ‘Aha!’ moments,” Rucker said.

Sean B. Hoar, a partner with the Lewis Brisbois law firm, spoke on cybercrime, online threats and proactive measures to protect data. Hoar is the chair of the national Data Privacy & Cyber Security Practice at Lewis Brisbois and has extensive experience in responding to data breaches.  He laid out where the threats are coming from and the difficulties in stopping them.

He stressed the importance of reporting breaches as soon as possible because every second lost allows the “bad guys” to infiltrate deeper into systems. He also stressed that security software can only protect so much; training the “human factor” in good security practices can prevent intrusions and limit harm.

Haley Percell, OSBA litigation services attorney, spoke about managing outside organizations, including contracts, legal liability, screening processes, field trips and considerations about volunteers. She reminded the audience that if a case sounded familiar in her presentation it is probably because schools so often experience the same problems.

Karin Moscon, Oregon Department of Education civil rights education specialist, addressed Title IX. The landmark 1972 law is often associated with sports, but it prohibits sex discrimination of any kind in a federally funded education program. In recent years, it has been a basis for lawsuits against schools over sexual harassment, assaults and the treatment of transgender students.

Moscon laid out the basics of the law, including the administrative requirements and the many ways it affects schools, from implementing policies to carrying out investigations.

The gathering was also an opportunity to recognize outstanding programs and people, and nine awards were given out.

- Jake Arnold, OSBA
jarnold@osba.org