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Board denies King appeal

by: , King

Former swim coach and lifeguard Don King, 67, did not get his job back after an appeal to the Lake Oswego School Board last Wednesday.

The Lake Oswego School District fired King on June 3 for inappropriate physical contact with children, which was described as sexual harassment according to school board policy.

The board did, however, leave room for a future decision to allow King to continue his private club at the district pool. Board member Bill Swindells suggested getting a legal opinion on the district's liability if they decided to enter into an agreement with King.

King was on paid administrative leave from the school district since his arrest last July on Linn County charges that he had sexually abused junior high school girl swimmers. Similar charges in Clackamas County later were leveled, only to be dismissed after the Linn County jury found him not guilty of six counts of sex abuse. At the time, jurors indicated they were bothered by King's actions but could not legally find him guilty.

The board originally acted in response to a recommendation to dismiss King by Superintendent Bill Korach. Korach noted that King 'engaged in physical contact with children that would not be accepted by any employee of the district.'

'There are some lines that you just don't cross. Our issue is: cupping the buttocks, kissing students, touching the stomach, sitting them on your lap,' Korach said. 'There is no excuse for fingers under girls' swimsuits.'

Which is what King is accused of.

At the appeal hearing, King's lawyer, Richard D. Cohen, claimed there were several flaws in the process including the district's failure to notify King with probation or some other action first and children who felt that words had been put in their mouth.

'He was clearly a victim of a slipshod investigation,' Swindells said after hearing the testimonies.

Swim parent Doug Woodard testified, saying he saw King interact with a 17-year-old girl who he allegedly touched inappropriately during a swimming practice. Woodard called his physical contact 'grandfatherly.' 'He would pat them on the butt and say, 'Go swim hard. Go fast,'' Woodard said.

Other parents, including Chris Dudley, a former Trail Blazer basketball player, and Jeremy Pritchard, a retired detective police sergeant from Multnomah County, said they both trust King.

'Initially, that was my first concern. I thought he was kind of handsy,' Pritchard said. 'As I got to know him, I found out that he was like that… Before I moved to his team I talked to other parents to make sure there weren't any issues and I never heard from any parents that there were concerns of that matter.'

Additionally, Pritchard's daughter was interviewed by law enforcement and felt that her testimony was misrepresented, he said.

All of them witnessed King being physical with swimmers - whether it was hugging, patting them on the buttocks or hooking inside their swimsuit.

'If I didn't know the person, I might be concerned,' Dudley said. 'My kids love coach King. They talk about him all of the time and can't wait to swim with him again. He truly loves those kids and he's showing it.'

'When you touch someone there is both the person touching and the one being touched. There is a great deal of difference between the occasional hug, kiss or pat on the back of a young man wearing sweats and hands on the bare skin of a young girl,' said board member Linda Brown. 'I can envision that there will be some young girls who would be disturbed by that. When I look at the pictures and I read your own testimony and I think about the occasional youngster who would be uncomfortable, I have to say that it is my job to stand up for that youngster.'

King and his lawyer prepared a written waiver for parents who choose to allow their children to continue swimming with King Swimming. The LOSD has not had time to get legal advice about the waiver, yet.

'I want to teach and I want to coach. I think I have a few good years left in me, and I'll do whatever it takes,' King said.

Board Chair Deborah Lopardo was vocal about not wanting King to be able to hold his private club practices at the district pool.

'I'm not comfortable with grandfatherly,' she said.

'Sexual harassment cases have been in the news for 20 years,' she added. 'To not know that is a red flag is hard to believe.'