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Neighbors concerned about alternative school

The North Clackamas School District is planning a program at a separate building next to Oak Grove's New Urban High School for expelled students in the vacant elementary school building on that campus.

As proposed, the new site would be an alternative placement center for about 50 middle and high school students who are placed outside of the district on expulsions. The program would begin accepting students in November using the budget that pays for placement of these students in four programs outside of the district.

The proposal represents an estimated cost savings to the district of approximately $100,000, including startup costs as a new program. The district expects cost savings could increase in future years.

The vacant site was created when Sojourner School moved last year from Oak Grove to Linwood Elementary in Milwaukie. Linwood and Sojourner share a principal as part of the budget-cutting process that also closed down two other elementary schools, sending those students to nearby schools.

At recent neighborhood meetings, the district has been sharing information about the expelled students to address questions, concerns and ideas that surface. Neighbors were concerned that expelled students will be able to cross paths with the other students at the alternative high school building or with people living in the area, but the district promises that expelled students would not be able to leave the closed part of the campus without staff supervision.

"I understand the concerns of the community, and we are going to work hard to help everyone feel as comfortable and supportive of this program as they are with New Urban," said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Aeylin Summers.

Summers said that serious violators such as those found carrying a gun, drug dealing, criminally assaulting or recruiting for gangs would still be expelled to an outside placement. The new center would be mostly for first offenders who "do not represent that danger to self or others," Summers said.

The North Clackamas School District's expulsion rate for this year is 0.004 percent, affecting only 70 of its more than 17,000 students. Summers said that number would have been even lower with an in-district option for students that the district felt really weren't a risk.

"In a few years, we hope we have zero expulsions to report," Summers said. "Our expectation is that this in-district option will dramatically increase our ability to serve our students really well academically and socially, help them transition back into regular programs, and keep them in the district where they live."

For the district's dozens of schools to run smoothly, Summers said, there has to be a clear set of rules and expectations that everyone can understand. There has to be a clear "line" that adolescents cannot cross without a direct response from the school and from the district.

"These rules and expectations are written down, sent home every year to families and reviewed with kids every year, so everyone is operating with the same understanding," Summers said. "To send them to another district school or to put them back into their regular program does not constitute a significant response."

On Thursday, July 5, the North Clackamas School Board will consider this project proposal in the district boardroom, 4444 S.E. Lake Road, Milwaukie at 7 p.m.