By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School's Student Council has a message for classmates who are causing trouble for neighbors during lunchtime: "Closed campus is coming if we don't shape up."
That's also the wording on a banner the council put up in the Student Center near the front entrance on Scoville Avenue. The rest of it reads: "No littering. No loitering. No lighting up."
The banner went up in early November. The campus is currently closed to freshmen only. But neighbors for some time have complained about other students causing trouble nears their homes during lunch period. Some students have been seen smoking, hanging out on their property and even urinating in their yards, according to neighbors.
Emily Hendrix, president of OPRF's Student Council has also heard those complaints. The council has talked with school officials about the problem and how to get students to behave better. Putting up the banner was among the ideas council members came up with during their own meeting.
"We want to make sure students know what's going on and make sure we're respectful of the community," Hendrix said. "If not, then one consequence could be closing the campus."
That idea has been on the mind of school officials recently, though closing the campus has been talked about for years. The idea has seen renewed interest this year, stemming from the anti-substance abuse efforts that began this spring by the school's Citizens Council advocacy group.
At town halls over the summer, students, parents and residents with no kids at the high school reported seeing smoking and drug use in the neighborhood during and after school hours. Closing the campus to all students has been one option proposed by parents, part of the idea being to prevent drugs and dealers from getting into or near the school.
In a letter to parents Nov. 12, Principal Nathaniel Rouse noted that closing the campus is an option if students' behavior didn't improve.
"I do believe the majority of our students use the off-campus lunch privilege responsibly. However, if we cannot find other ways to change the negative behaviors of a much smaller but significant number of students, we must look at alternatives, including closing the campus."
Hendrix said the council also put up fliers around the school with the same message as the banner, which was actually torn down shortly after it went up. No one knows who did it, she adds, but some students apparently thought its message was a joke.
"It could be closer than they think," said Hendrix, who supports an open campus in general.
Another idea from the council was to close the campus for a day or two as a preview for students, but that's not really so easy to do, according to school officials. Rouse has noted that accommodations would need to be made to have all classes in the building during lunch periods.
A town hall with students was another idea the council floated to get the message across. Hendrix said she feels for the neighbors and wouldn't want students acting like that near her house.
"We do want students to be more respectful to the community because we're a part of the community," she said.
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