By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School's modified closed campus policy won't be receiving any modifications anytime soon.
Administration and school board trustees are generally pleased with the policy that went into effect this school year, allowing upperclassmen to earn the right to leave campus during lunchtime. Those privileges were not extended to freshmen and sophomores, who are not allowed off-campus. The administration had sought board input on whether to continue with the current model or to tweak it. Administration also gauged the board's input about allowing only seniors to leave campus starting in the 2012-2013 school year. When the board approved the new policy in May 2011, there was some discussion about allowing only seniors off-campus privileges.
School officials, however, all agreed to continue with the current policy into the next school year before considering any revisions.
Juniors and seniors can leave campus for lunch if they've had no failing grades, suspensions, tardies, or unexcused absences during a four-week reporting period. Students can lose or earn privileges during that period. At a Feb. 23, school board meeting, officials discussed the modified closed campus (MCC) policy. Administration touted an overall decline in discipline infractions, tardies and unexcused absences since the policy went into effect.
"We're not perfect and by no means are we finished," said OPRF Principal Nathanial Rouse, "but we can certainly say that this particular incentive has definitely changed our learning environment more positively than it has been in the past. And a lot of that is that incentive students have been looking at, which is the ability to go off campus."
Sophomores, however, have struggled with the policy and, as a result, have seen increases in discipline infractions.
School board members pondered whether sophomores' behavior might improve if off-campus incentives were extended to those students. Administration is open to talking about that option, but recommended sticking to the current model of privileges for upperclassmen only.
Of the school's roughly 3,200 students, about half of those kids have the option of off-campus privileges, Rouse said.
At the Feb. 23 meeting, board member John Phelan asked if extending privileges to more students would positively impact their behavior as it's done for the current group of kids. Rouse explained such a move might prove problematic.
"Those most difficult part about that is the reality of having 3,200 students," he said. "The hardest part about it is that we really feel with half of our student body essentially having the privilege; that's just enough for us to be able to manage. The fear is if we tip that scale a little further we may not be able to do that in the same capacity."
Rouse added that students have helped develop much of what's been implemented for kids who stay in the building. The students came up with the idea of having tables set up in the Student Center during lunchtime. The center was closed off to students beginning last fall. Those tables and chairs are set up in the second floor just above the center. Students can use this are to study during lunch.
Rouse said the school is also allowing sophomores and freshmen to play basketball in the West Gym at lunchtime during what the school calls, "Fun Fridays."
But with respect to this year's sophomores who have acted up, Rouse said even thought they'll be eligible for off-campus lunches this fall, some might lose the privilege before that time.
"Based upon their behavior, maybe we start looking at some of those incentives starting for sophomores earlier than their junior year," Rouse said. "That's something for us to look at, perhaps in this third and fourth quarter drilling down and specifically talking to our sophomore students about what a privilege means and maybe how you can sometimes lose that privilege before you even have it."
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