By John Hubbuch
The May 26 District 200 board meeting was the last one of the 2010-11 school year. I'm guessing the OPRF school board was as relieved as the students and teachers to be finished with a difficult year. The new superintendent, Steven Isoye, got through his first year without being charged with plagiarism, so he's already ahead of his predecessor. The Journal story that D200's lawsuit against District 97 and the village over TIF money had cost taxpayers a sum approaching a half million dollars came after the meeting. And a clearly divided board decided to cut the Biblical baby in half when, by a 4-3 vote, it closed the campus to freshmen and sophomores only.
Now, D200 is the most opaque board in the village. Whether it be Attila's "shall I stay, or shall I go" farce, the back-and-forth on the board presidency, or the TIF litigation, the public is like the proverbial mushroom — in the dark and fed a faux bonhomie that progress is being made, and everything will be made clear someday, maybe.
So despite the lack of any real information, I offer you a possible narrative on what really is going on with closing the campus. You can decide if I am on to something or not.
The teenager-drinking story is an old one. I'm sure when Cain and Abel were pubescent, they were trying to get high on fermented lentils. Oak Park's youth are no exception. Our drug issues are probably worse than many communities, given our relative affluence and proximity to Chicago. This reality was, is and will always be true. Like locusts, every few years a group of committed parents "discovers" that the community has a drug problem, and filled with a laudable, crusading spirit hold meetings and decide that the high school must have a significant role in solving the problem.
Now, the administrators and the board know that the high school can't really do much more than tie red ribbons around trees and pay some expert a big fee to give a talk, but they don't want to douse all that parent enthusiasm.
The current group of energized parents was a bit larger and more determined than its predecessors. I believe they even won this newspaper's "Villager of the Year" award. One of their recommendations to help solve the problem was to close the campus so that Dick and Jane won't sneak home and roll a doobie at lunch. Never mind that even if the campus is closed, they could just wait until 3 p.m. when school is out, or before school, or in the evening, or on the weekend, or all summer.
But the high school needed to give the parents a "win," plus the neighbors would go for a closed campus, giving the high school a "twofer." Sweet.
One problem: The administration and staff don't seem to have been consulted, and don't really seem to be all that enthusiastic about closing the campus. Don't forget, closing the campus is a big deal, requiring an updated ID and monitoring system and more supervision — it is not a costless choice. Then there's the problem of cooping up all those kids. See prisons and low-income high-rises. There are reasons the campus has remained open all these years. Boards as smart as this one have been presented with the issue but did not close the campus.
At the end of the day, this poor board had to see if it could give something to the parents who spent so much time and energy on the issue, yet reconcile competing problems and costs of implementing the closing, knowing that the closing won't even make a dent in what is largely a student, parent and societal problem.
And that's how you wind up with the somewhat anomalous resolution to close the campus to those least likely to get high at lunch (freshmen and sophomores) but keeping it open to those most likely to do so (juniors and seniors).
The lawyers' old saying makes some sense here: Bad cases make bad law.