By Terry Dean
The Oak Park and River Forest High School campus will remain open to juniors and seniors next fall — with conditions.
The high school board made that decision on May 26, following more than two hours of discussion, motions offered, motions amended and much public comment. The other option members considered was closing the campus entirely to all students during daily lunch periods, but that option was not supported by a majority of the board.
The conditions the board agreed on include allowing upperclassmen off campus with parental permission if they are in "good academic standing," which the administration will determine.
In the end, and after much discussion, the board voted on two separate motions. The first was to close the campus to juniors and seniors with conditions. That measure was approved 4-3, with Amy McCormack, Jacques Conway and Sharon Patchak-Layman voting against it. Patchak-Layman actually made the motion, but it was amended. Her original measure called for a two-year phase-in of closing the campus. Juniors and seniors with parental permission as the only requirement would have been allowed off campus, starting with the 2011-2012 school year. The following year, it would be seniors only.
The administration would have also been required to "refine the current security infrastructure to tighten the in/out policy" and "fix inadequacies of the ID program." Other requirements included increasing the adult presence in the cafeterias and directing administration to create a "lunchtime environment that supports the educational goals" of OPRF students and "promotes the social, emotional and physical health of students."
Board President Dietra Millard was among several members, though, who felt the motion shouldn't dictate specifically how administration should do their jobs. Millard and other members generally hold that view with respect to policies the board approves.
She and other members believe the administration would address security and ID procedures in any case. Some members also insisted that students also be in "good academic standing" before being allowed open-campus privileges.
Patchak-Layman ultimately voted against the changes to her original motion. One of her concerns was with administration deciding what "good academic standing" is.
"I think that when it comes to the board, there is opportunity for the community to give us information, much as how this conversation has grown in over a year," she said. "It hasn't been because of the internal conversation that the board has had; it has been because we've been challenged by the community to think about things differently. And anytime we move things to a decision by the administration ... we run the risk of missing out on that rich conversation that helps guide the administration."
In response, Millard argued that the current administration has shown a willingness to incorporate the broader community in its decision making.
In terms of the amended motion, Millard said her preference was for seniors only to be allowed to leave campus but was open to extending that to juniors as well. And though the two-year phase-in process was taken out, Millard said she was open to that idea also, adding, however, that closing the entire campus was not her ultimate goal.
"I originally did not intend to allow all juniors and seniors to leave, but I accept the suggestion that a two-year process might yield at least a year to look more carefully at what we're doing," she said.
Conway, who also announced his resignation from the board that evening, favored a completely closed campus, citing the safety of students as his main reason. McCormack said her goal would be a completely closed campus though she would be open to some modified alternative.
The board then voted on a second motion, which also included wording from Patchak-Layman's original measure. The motion directs administration to provide safety and support to students and to improve the school environment during lunchtime. That measure, which also passed, went through several amended versions and much discussion. Millard was the only member to vote no, believing that it was dictating specifically how administration should do their jobs. She insisted that was not the board's place. The other members described the motion as a "broad policy statement" that the board wanted administration to put extra effort into achieving.
Closed campus motions approved by the board
District 200 will implement a modified closed campus for the 2011-2012 school year. Juniors and seniors, in good standing as defined by the administration, with parental permission may be allowed to leave campus at lunchtime.
During the 2011-2012 school year, District 200 will plan with students, staff and faculty to create a lunchtime environment that supports the educational goals of this high school and promotes social, emotional and physical health of students.