OPRF considers the possible complications of closed campus

Keeping kids inside could equal more discipline infractions

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Closing Oak Park and River Forest High School's campus might result in an increase in discipline infractions with more students in the cafeterias during lunch periods, according to school administrators.

It's a very likely possibility, said Principal Nathaniel Rouse, with more students in the building. The school and board of education this spring have discussed the pros and cons of a closed campus for all students. Freshmen only are currently prohibited from leaving. Having an open campus as a "privilege" for some students has also been discussed.

The closed campus topic has been talked about in the last year as a way to curtail drug activity among OPRF students in the surrounding neighborhood.

In a report and presentation to the board's policy committee last week, Rouse talked about how a closed campus would work at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville. Rouse and board members stressed, however, that the information was for discussion and that no decision has been finalized.

Some changes to the school's "culture" would occur if the campus were closed, Rouse explained, one result being an increase in student infractions. Board member John Allen, who supports closing the campus, questioned whether a spike in discipline cases would result. Rouse replied that with more kids in the building at once, it could very well happen.

"When you put everyone back into the building and you have the wonderful demographics that we do — the different cultures and ways in which our students interact — you're going to have a little bit more, for lack of a better word, friction," Rouse said. "So the deans immediately thought about the management of the closed-campus environment, in addition to [more] infractions that may be caused because students don't have that breath of fresh air. It's all in the building, you have everyone together, sparks fly and then you have more consequences."

More supervisory staff would also be required, not only in the lunch rooms but areas around the building where students ought not to be, Rouse said.

Another issue, he said, would be increased monitoring of the doors. A door-locking system would be explored, according to Rouse. One option would be a system where once a door is open during the school day, a "beep" would sound and a security camera would snap the person's picture. An email and/or text message would alert security that a door was opened.

Cheryl Witham, the school's chief financial officer, said supervisory staff would not react every time, say, a staff member would leave the building. Whatever the system, it would cost several thousands of dollars to install, Rouse noted. He believes the door system would have another effect.

"A door-locking system would be a key component that, again, just changes our behavior," he said. "When you push that door at a particular time, and you know there's going to be a beep and a camera there, that's going to change folks' attitude toward just coming and going.

"This is a means for us to identify when our doors are open during 8 [a.m.] to 3:04 [p.m.] and also know who opened them," Rouse added. "That we believe is a least restrictive and best deterrent for a closed-campus model that would also be cost-effective."

Cameras and door locks, though, wouldn't negate adults' responsibility to monitor inside and outside the building, Rouse said.

Board member Ralph Lee asked if the school knew how many freshmen leave the building. Rouse acknowledged that some freshmen do, but it's difficult to monitor how many.

"Safety and support staff do know our kids, but unless there's been an issue, people come and go. That's very hard to manage," he said.

Rouse also presented the board with an alternative to a closed campus, including having coded IDs for students, and having them entering and leaving the building through a single location. The IDs would be scanned as they enter and leave. Prohibited students caught off campus would be disciplined.

Under this model — and even with a closed campus — Rouse insisted that adults and students would have to be held accountable for following and enforcing procedures. He added that adult employees in the building could face discipline consequences for not following procedures.

Reader Comments

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RC from RF  

Posted: April 30th, 2011 3:22 PM

It's interesting that some think that the kids are responsible enough to have an open campus but are not responsible enough to be civil in the building if the campus was closed. Is this only confusing to me? Our teens are smart and they understand why the campus should be closed. They may not like it but they do get it. I agree Seniors should earn the privilege of going off campus. Also, as a tax payer the school should invest in a security system so they know who's in and off campus.

Mr. Cotter from Oak Park  

Posted: April 28th, 2011 9:47 PM

Yes,JK..strange reaction from the administrators. We taxpayers pay them very well to figure out how to minimize or avoid this "friction". Separate of all talk about drug/alcohol use, park loitering, and trashing of yards, the simple question is this: Is it a good idea to allow 2000 teens to roam around town free during school hours? The obvious answer today is NO. Maybe if more kids walked or biked to school instead of being driven, they'd have more than their daily fill of fresh air. Close it!

Ruth from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 7:03 PM

I'm so glad to hear that the school is considering alternatives to closing the campus. Most of the kids at OPRF are not using drugs or alcohol at school, so to close the campus without considering the possible negative impact on these students would be very irresponsible.

Monica Sheehan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 4:39 PM

The OPRFHS Board of Education questionnaire deadline has been extended to Friday, May 6. I appreciate and thank the Wednesday Journal for its coverage of the story.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:40 AM

I agree, JK, it is very odd and a miserable excuse for not addressing the problem. I make one exception. I think seniors should excluded. They have earned the independence and will have to face the rewards and consequences of life either in college or at work. Closed campuses have worked in many districts. The first four years can be testy, but after that as far as the enrolled students, there never was an open campus.

jk from oak park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:11 AM

Does it strike anyone else as odd that if "you put everyone back into the building" there will be "friction" and "infractions"? So, administrators are concerned about student safety at lunchtime, and their preferred solution is to get some of the kids to leave campus?

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