Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Gales Creek residents continue to have concerns about Oak Grove Academy

FILE PHOTO - The old Gales Creek Elementary School is now called Oak Grove Academy and houses special education students with severe needs. Local residents have been complaining the last two school years about students leaving during the day and wandering around on roads. A year after a distraught teenage boy ran away from Oak Grove Academy in Gales Creek to wander the nearby neighborhood, residents are coming to Forest Grove School District (FGSD) leaders with more concerns about similar incidents.

“Somebody is going to get hurt,” said Gales Creek resident Heather Breazile, who witnessed students from the Oak Grove Academy — housed in the former Gales Creek Elementary School — flee school grounds on Sept. 19, 22 and

23.

Formerly run by the Northwest Regional Educational Service District, Oak Grove Academy accommodates about 30 special-education students from FGSD and surrounding school districts with emotional, behavioral and developmental disabilities.

“They are also some of the most vulnerable students in our district,” said David Warner, director of communications for the FGSD, which now runs the school. “Our staff works extremely hard with these students in preparing them to transition back to their neighborhood schools.”

In the incident a year ago, a student with blood running down his face — apparently from picking a scab — began pounding on the glass door of the Gales Creek Country Store, asking to call his mother, and didn’t stop until owner Amy Stuck slipped a cell phone out to him.

Stuck shared her concerns about the incident in front of the school board with fellow Gales Creek residents Sharon Boge and Joyce Sauber, 81. All three women told the district the incident frightened them and they were concerned for students’ safety.

Three weeks ago on Sept. 22, Breazile looked out the window of her home on Sargent Road behind the fire station because she heard screaming. She saw a girl running toward Gales Creek Road with what appeared to be a school staff member following her. At one point, the two were standing in Breazile’s driveway so she started filming the incident from her front porch.

This occurred the same week Breazile saw a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy restrain a “wailing” student who had run away from the

school and ended up near her home.

Breazile said she’s shared these incidents and her concerns about students on roadways and private property with FGSD Director of Special Education Brad Bafaro and Assistant Superintendent John O’Neill. When she informed the district about the video, Breazile said she received a call from O’Neill, who was friendly but told her she would be receiving a letter from the district’s legal counsel because filming students was “‘against the safety of the students’

or something like that,” she said. “I thought he was call-

ing to check in after the incidents.”

As of Monday, Breazile said she had not yet received a letter.

“I’m trying to draw attention to this whole situation,” said Breazile, who added that she has not ever filmed students on school grounds and has consulted legal counsel who has assured her that she hasn’t done anything illegal. The students “can do whatever they want at school but when they’re out in the community not doing good for the community — that I have a problem with.”

Breazile said she doesn’t let her two older children, 5 and 7, play in her front yard because she’s afraid of students coming onto her property again. “You never know when they’re coming,” she said.

Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA), which handles 911 and non-emergency calls made to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, received 82 calls from Aug. 2013 to Aug. 2016 from school staff, community members and alarm systems, related to incidents at the school, according to an article written by Chas Hundley for the Gales Creek Journal.

After the incident last fall, district officials distributed flyers to Gales Creek residents providing instructions on how to act if students run out into the community. The flyers tell residents to go inside their homes, not to engage the students and not to call police, Breazile said.

“This is not the place for these kids to be,” she said.

“The number of students has increased at the Gales Creek School this year,” said Kate Grandusky, a Forest Grove School Board member, former special education teacher and Gales Creek resident. “With the increase we have also seen the increase of students on the road and running.”

But Grandusky also stressed the community is not “against the students having an education at the school. All the students in our district deserve and should have an educational program that meets their needs, including the students currently at Gales Creek School.”

Her concerns center on the 55 miles per hour speed limits on nearby roadways where students have been seen running, as well as the fact that emergency responders cannot reach Gales Creek quickly.

“Why are the students running away and how do we evaluate the effectiveness of this program?” Grandusky asked. “Are the students running away due to the program not meeting their needs and/or other more serious concerns related to their disability?”

Breazile stresses that she has nothing against the students. But she is concerned about their safety and hers in the rural area. She also wants Gales Creek Elementary School to be reinstated. “Long story short, we want our school back. That’s the bottom line,” Breazile said. In addition, school administrators are

“not listening. They’re not caring.”

This is one of the major issues Grandusky sees.

“The community members living close to the school feel they have not had adequate understanding of the situation and are scared,” Grandusky said. “We do not want the community to be afraid of these students nor do we want to stigmatize these students. I am sure we should be able to have a dialogue that would help everyone feel and resolve some of the concerns and issues.”