Residents rattled by ongoing incidents at Gales Creek School facility

Editor’s note: In 2011, despite strong opposition by Gales Creek residents and parents of Gales Creek Elementary School students, the Forest Grove School Board closed the Gales Creek Elementary School, a vital part of the community for more than 150 years. Today, the Gales Creek School lies in the heart of the Gales Creek community, serving “students with social-emotional needs, behavioral concerns and developmental disabilities” according to the Forest Grove School District website, which refers to the school as Oak Grove Academy, calling it a “day treatment program” and a “therapeutic program.” 

Gales Creek – In June 2011, shortly after the Gales Creek Elementary School was shuttered, the district announced that the facility would be used for a therapeutic day program for middle and high school-aged students that “have behavioral or mental health issues.”  On June 6, 2011, Brad Bafaro, the Director of Special Education for the Forest Grove School District, met with several road captains and members of the Gales Creek Neighborhood Watch to discuss the program. During the meeting, Bafaro assured the attendees that the students at the Gales Creek School facility would pose no threat to the surrounding community, and even specified that the students in the program wouldn’t be running off school property, according to Corrie Bates, a Gales Creek PTO member who was present at the meeting.

This assurance, it turns out, was not true. Since the therapeutic program started, there have been multiple incidents of students leaving the Gales Creek School facility with staff members in pursuit. Many of these incidents have required intervention from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Amy Stuck-Zamudio, owner of the Gales Creek Country Store and Deli, recounted one such incident in a public statement given at the September 28th, 2015 Forest Grove School Board meeting.  According to Stuck-Zamudio, on September 25th, 2015, a boy who appeared to be a high school-aged student walked down Old Wilson River Road, toward Gales Creek Road, a busy highway frequented by log trucks, farm equipment, and traffic headed to the Oregon Coast. Stuck-Zamudio says the “very upset” student began “shaking and pounding on [her] glass door with blood on his face” and asked to call his mother. Stuck-Zamudio slipped a cell phone under her locked door for the student to use.

Across the street at the Gales Creek Fire Station, Gales Creek resident Sharon Boge, who also spoke at the school board meeting, stood behind her car and witnessed three staff members following the student. She said she was “was concerned” because she knew Stuck-Zamudio was at the store. “I was pretty much unglued,” Boge said of the whole incident.

These incidents have been noted and recorded by community members, and verified by emergency call records obtained from Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA), which handles 911 and non-emergency calls made to the Washington County Sheriff’s office. In the last three years, (the farthest that WCCCA has data available for) from August 22, 2013 to August 22, 2016, 82 calls or were made by school staff, community members, and alarm systems for incidents at the school. Eight of these were listed as ‘Juvenile Problem’ and two were listed as ‘Missing Person or ‘Juvenile Missing’.

Most recently, in several incidents this month, Heather Breazile, who lives directly across from the school with her family near the intersection of Sargent Road and Old Wilson River Road has witnessed three separate incidents of students leaving the school grounds on the 19th, 22nd, and 23rd of September. During the incident on September 22nd, Breazile heard screaming and looked out her window to see a student running toward Gales Creek Road. After about 10 minutes, Breazile began filming the incident from her front porch. “She was running up and down Sargent Road, just booking it!” Breazile said. At one point, the student and a staff member even entered her driveway.

After the incident, Breazile called Assistant Superintendent John O’Neill to find out more about what had happened. He returned the call on September 26th and informed her that she was sent a letter from the school district’s legal counsel, informing her that she could not film students from her front porch. “I thought I was getting a followup call, with some good news.” Breazile said. “Every time one of these children are out, I feel unsafe. My children can’t play in our front yard. We’re made to feel like prisoners in our own home.”

When asked about the incident, Assistant Superintendent John O’Neill said that filming the incident was a “FERPA violation according to our attorney.”

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a “Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The Forest Grove School District’s legal counsel, Rich Cohn-Lee with the Hungerford Law Firm, could not be reached for comment.

 

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