By Terry Dean
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.
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