By Terry Dean
Will closing the campus at Oak Park and River Forest High School stop students from using drugs?
Likely not, says the school's principal. But the school does want to hear from the community about various ways to curtail drug use on campus among some students — including drug testing kids or using drug-detection canines — at a public forum at the school on Feb. 15.
This forum is being organized by the high school, however, not the parent subcommittee of the Citizens Council. That group previously hosted forums and community discussions about substance abuse at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville.
Principal Nathaniel Rouse, speaking to Wednesday Journal Tuesday, said the purpose of the forum is to hear from the community and for the school to provide information to the public. Its format will be similar to the round-table discussions hosted by the Citizens Council subcommittees last summer. Small groups will discuss each topic. A member of the school's staff will introduce and speak to the topic before the round-table discussions begin. School board members will be in attendance to listen to the discussion but not speak in an official capacity.
Rouse credits the council subcommittee for spearheading the drug awareness campaign. He said next Tuesday's forum will help the school in its decision-making process on issues like closing the campus, but he stressed that no decision has been made about any of these topics.
But whether the campus is closed to some or all students, it won't stop the drug problem altogether, he emphasized.
"I understand that when people point to the big elephant in the room, which is closing the campus, it can be very helpful, and we know it will for certain from 8 a.m. to 3:04 p.m. (when school lets out). But it won't have anything to do with what happens before school, after school and on weekends," Rouse said. "My question is: Does it solve the problem? Will substance abuse alone go away?"
Rouse added that the school definitely does need to look at its closed-campus policy. Currently, freshmen only are prohibited from leaving the building during lunch periods. The school is also getting feedback from students.
OPRF has conducted an in-school, student survey about closing the campus. More than 100 kids took it and a majority opposed closing the campus. But Rouse said a closed campus could take many forms.
He also recently started informal talk sessions with students during lunchtime, which he calls "Pizza with the Principal." Students can sign up to speak with him during their lunch period. It started last Friday, and closed campus was the first topic. He met with about 20 students and their opinions varied. But Rouse also explained to them why the school is even talking about this issue.
"It was important to hear from [students], and they all came from a different perspective and place," he said. "But when we started talking, and they saw the bigger picture — that this is one way to keep kids safe and to be respectful to our neighbors — they were concerned but understood why we were having this conversation."