District 200 board member supports closing OPRF campus

Allen insists open campus does more harm than good for kids, neighbors

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

One member of the District 200 Board of Education definitely thinks Oak Park and River Forest High School's campus should be closed whereas another says it won't solve the issue of kids using drugs at the high school.

The closed campus topic came up at the board's Feb. 24 regular meeting. It was broached by several speakers during the public and board comments portion of the meeting. All four who spoke generally supported closing the campus. Board member John Allen also reiterated his support for a closed campus, not as a catch-all solution for solving OPRF's student drug-use problem, but as one of several ways to tackle the issue.

"I believe the campus should be closed," he said, noting that he never attended an open-campus high school. "As I look around and as we gather more information, it just bolsters my viewpoint — in particular what I see when I drop my daughter off in the morning."

Allen said he sees kids in the alleys around the building before school starts, but didn't say if they were definitely doing drugs. Some of the public speakers who are also neighbors did say they've seen kids in those areas and near their homes smoking. Allen added that the school doesn't have jurisdiction to send security off-campus to those areas. And he acknowledged Oak Park police frustration over being called to the same areas constantly.

"You have people in your alleys doing things that aren't good, whether they're students or [other] people, and nothing's being done about it," he said. "So I think we should at least do our small part to help solve that problem. We need to be a good neighbor.

Allen added that kids who are determined to sneak off campus to do drugs will find a way, whether the campus is closed or not.

"At least this way they'll be truant, instead of just being naughty," he said.

But board member Ralph Lee cautioned that the school needs to be clear about whether closing the campus is an adequate solution to the overall drug problem.

"It is felt by many that closing the campus is the best solution. I believe, though, that that is an inadequate approach to the problem because we have not yet defined what the problem is that this is the solution to," Lee said, noting that people who do not live near the school might not share the same view as neighbors who do. "I believe it would be a big mistake to define the problem as just one problem that has to be solved with one solution, yes or no."

Board President Dietra Millard said the school has not made any decision about closing the campus and is still gathering information.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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