School board and administration seek answers to access issues

by: SUBMITTED - Corrina Winstead asked Adam Goeken to attend prom with her.Lake Oswego parents may see a greater focus on accessibility for people with disabilities at schools because of a mother, a son and a community of supporters.

Adam Goeken planned to attend prom just as 500 of his Lake Oswego High peers did on Saturday. Goeken, sporting a suit, a yellow rose on his lapel and two dates, headed over to the venue, the Bossanova Ballroom in Portland.

Upon arriving, Goeken, who experiences cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, discovered that the party was on the second floor. Without an elevator or an electronic lift available in the historic building, Goeken, 18, was stuck. School employees, students and Bossanova staff thought it best not to try to carry Goeken’s more than 400-pound, mechanized wheelchair upstairs.

by: SUBMITTED - Adam Goeken is treated to kisses on prom night from his dates, Corrina Winstead, left, and Haley Jensen.

His mother, Cheryl Goeken, and several others spoke out about the incident during the Lake Oswego School District board meeting Monday. She did not blame the students who organized the school function or the principal. She said it should simply be school procedure to adhere to the state and federal legal requirements for people with disabilities. The venue’s website clearly states it has no elevator, she said.

“This is the civil rights movement of our time, and LO needs to get on board,” she said. “The kids want it. That’s why they crowned Adam king (of the winter formal). They believe in him. Please give everyone access.”

Cheryl Goeken also mentioned that state Rep. Sara Gelser had detailed the incident on Monday during a speech on the statehouse floor in Salem about the laws regarding people with disabilities.

“Access is not a convenience,” Gelser said. “It is not a kindness. It is a basic right.”

Corrinna Winstead, one of two friends to invite Adam Goeken to prom, said in an email that it broke her heart that he was turned away.

“Every student should all have equal rights and opportunities to participate in school events regardless of their physical circumstance,” Winstead said.

Winstead said all school buildings and activities need to be accessible.

Cheryl Goeken cited some of the accessibility issues during the board meeting, including no automatic door on the side of Lake Oswego High where the bus drops off students with special needs.

Her son plans to enter the school district’s post-high school community transition program, and the activities bus that transports students lacks a wheelchair lift, she said.

Board Member Bob Barman said he will work to add an automatic button on the door the students with special needs use.

“I’m certainly going to follow up with the administration on this,” he said.

Superintendent Bill Korach said Tuesday that he is assessing the issues Cheryl Goeken raised. When it comes to what happened to her son at prom, the administration should have known to properly vet the venue, Korach said, adding that the issue could have been prevented with a checklist during the planning process.

“It should be something that should happen automatically, but I am certain that it will now become an automatic necessity,” he said.

Lake Oswego High Principal Bruce Plato issued an apology letter to Laker families, saying he takes responsibility and feels remorse for what happened.

“We are reviewing our procedures for determining off-site locations for school events and will ensure that in the future such an error cannot occur again,” Plato’s letter said. 

Phillip Hearne, Bossanova Ballroom operations manager, said the roof of the building, constructed in 1907, is not strong enough to support an elevator. Hearne said he is working on buying an adjoining lot where he intends to build an elevator on the exterior of the building.

The last time he and his staff lifted a mechanized wheelchair up the stairs, he threw out his back. He now asks guests to use an on-site manual wheelchair.

“It behooves us to get an elevator installed,” Hearne said.

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