LAKE OSWEGO — Adam Goeken had the date, the boutonniere and the new suit when he arrived for Lake Oswego High School's prom Saturday night at the Bossanova Ballroom in Portland.
But he couldn't get in.
Goeken, who uses a mechanized wheelchair, found a steep, narrow stairway between him and the second-story dancehall — and no elevator. Friends and school officials tried to find a solution but eventually decided it would be too dangerous to try to carry him upstairs.
So Goeken, who in January was crowned king of the winter formal dance, had no choice but to leave.
"We were trying to come up with any way he could be there," said Principal Bruce Plato, who was outside the Bossanova Ballroom as students arrived. "Students said they'd be willing and wanted to carry him up," Plato said, but it didn't seem safe.
So instead of a night with his two dates, Goeken went to get frozen yogurt with his parents, and then went back to the ballroom to pick up the girls and take them home.
"He was terribly disappointed," said Tom Goeken, Adam's father.
Word of Goeken's disappointment quickly spread beyond the school.
In Salem Monday, Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, recounted Goeken's story on the floor of the statehouse.
"Adam, all dressed up and ready to go — excited to celebrate the end of his senior year with his peers — left. He went home and spent the evening at home while his friends danced at the Bossanova Ballroom — a place that he could not enter."
Gelser is a member of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency tasked with advising President Barack Obama and others on policies and programs affecting people with disabilities. "Accessibility is not a kindness," she said. "Adam had a basic right to expect that he could attend the same prom as his classmates."
Adam Goeken's mother, Cheryl Goeken, brought a similar message Monday night to the Lake Oswego School Board. "This is the civil rights movement of our time. LO needs to get on board," Goeken said, raising her voice and slapping the table.
She encouraged the school board to find out what exactly happened and discipline the people involved, if necessary.
"I wish I can go back in time and make sure it didn't happen, but I can't," said School Board member Bob Barman. "Everyone I spoke to today in the community had the same sick feeling. And that gave me hope that we can do the right thing."
Lake Oswego High School officials agree that Goeken should have been able to attend his prom.
"This is a mistake that should never have happened," Plato wrote to parents in a letter on Monday. "We have a responsibility to provide accessible facilities for school functions, and we should have been aware of any limitations prior to leasing the site for this year's prom."
The Bossanova Ballroom's website notes there isn't an elevator at the site and says that "if you are or have someone that is in a wheelchair, please call for our wheelchair accessibility options." General Manager Phil Hearne said he and his staff use a lighter transport chair to carry disabled customers up the stairs. Hearne said he presented that option to school officials, but they declined.