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District patron takes exception

If it were up to one Lake Oswego parent, Superintendent Bill Korach should be sent to the principal's office for labeling students with academic and behavioral issues 'salvage projects.'

Julie Kettler, a mother of two daughters with special needs, came before the school board Monday to voice concerns about the comment, which Korach made at a districtwide Parent Committee Meeting in May.

At the meeting, a question-and-answer session touched on the marketing campaign recently started by the district to recruit tuition students and combat declining enrollment.

One parent asked how the district would determine which students would be accepted into the district.

Korach responded that administrators would review each student's transcript and that the district 'would not take students with behavioral issues. We wouldn't want any salvage projects … academically.'

Board member Bill Swindells added that the district wouldn't want to accept students whose education cost more than the $6,500 annual tuition.

While some audience members responded with laughter, Kettler did not.

'Essentially it was saying 'Some students need not apply,'' she said. 'That just raises the question, 'What about the students that are already here?''

The leader of a school district should know better, she added.

'All children are valuable and deserving,' she added. 'Some kids have different needs and schools exist to serve all students, not the other way around.'

Kettler has adopted daughters from India, one in seventh grade at Lake Oswego Junior High School and one in sixth grade at Uplands Elementary School. They are not native English speakers, and one of the girls has developmental issues.

At the Monday meeting, Kettler held up a photo of her daughters and asked Korach if he thought they met the definition of a 'salvage project.'

'Referring to some children as a 'salvage project' suggests both of my kids would be undesirable in the district,' Kettler said. 'I find that to be offensive, derogatory and hurtful. At worst, it's illegal and discriminatory.'

Korach apologized for his comments. Two other individuals brought similar complaints to his attention, he said.

'I was responding in the moment, probably not as articulately as I should have been,' he said.

Korach said he was referring to students who are on expulsion or have a history of violence or drug-dealing in their home district.

Districts will often willingly transfer such students - as well as their state funding - to another district, Korach said. In the situation of recruitment, districts can be more selective.

'We definitely don't take everybody,' Korach said. 'We have an obligation to be concerned about the safety of our students but we don't discriminate in the way Mrs. Kettler was characterizing the comment.'

According to Korach, the district has enrolled tuition-paying special needs students whose education could be considered 'high cost.' He noted that academically advanced students might also come with extra expenses.

The district has not outlined standards administrators will use to determine which students should or should not be accepted.

'This whole area needs to be explored … so far we're at the beginning stages of that,' he said.

For the past two years, Korach has been at the forefront of a districtwide effort to promote 'respectful culture' in its schools. At the meeting Monday, the board approved the Respectful Culture Committee for the next year.