Deconstructing the decision to close campus

Opinion: Columns

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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.

Reader Comments

22 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

OP Parent  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 2:22 PM

to "OPRF Achievement Gap" - I'm sure what John thought he was saying is that his brother told him a story about a previous superintendent who was charged with plagiarism. Hey - it worked for that pervious superintendent (at least until the video's surfaced).

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 6:36 AM

@ John Hubbuch - you have taken a step too far. The former exec of OPRF was never CHARGED with anything. Accused maybe. If you are going to write for the paper, especially about things that happen in a place of Learning - SCHOOLs, please get your use of English correct.

OPRF Parent  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 10:10 PM

@epic lulz's comment: The policy under discussion is whether OPRF operates under an open, closed or modified open campus. Of these policies, a closed campus is the only effective policy to address drug and alcohol use during the school day. In addition to a closed campus, there are several other effective drug and alcohol deterrents used by high schools locally, statewide, and nationally. OPRF uses none of them. You've only criticized other comments. What's your solution?

Tom The Beer Guy  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 9:18 PM

I support the decision to close campus. It was unacceptable to let kids get away from the drugs inside the school.

O P Rez  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 5:07 PM

@epic, If kids choose to use drugs before or after school that is up to the parents and police to take care of. If kids are using drugs during school hrs, that is on the school to handle. Also if a kid chooses to use before school I think they should have drug sniffing dogs and or random drug test!

Mike Risher from Wednesday Journal Web Department  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 3:21 PM

@S from Oak Park, We have been noticing more people circumventing the existing 500 character limit and attempting to inject code through their comments. In the next few days we will be rolling out a more restricted backend posting process that should level the playing field for all commenters. I apologize for any lengthy comments that have made it past our existing system.

epic lulz  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 3:12 PM

500 word guy said: "a closed campus is the only effective policy to address drug and alcohol use during the school day" There are dozens of more effective (or, more accurately stated, actually effective) strategies for combating drug use in HS. If this is characteristic of the kind of lack of imagination of proponents of the closed campus, no wonder OPRF has a drug problem. And when this is proven ineffective, no doubt you'll double-down and demand that campus be closed to Jrs and Sr as well

epic lulz  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 3:00 PM

Put a dent in drug use? Kids will just do drugs before school and on campus. Did none of you goofballs go to high school? Or were you all home-schooled?

O P Rez  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 2:39 PM

It will put a dent in the alcohol /drug problem DURING the school hours(with Fresh and Soph's) What kids due on non school hrs is the responsibility of the PARENTS.

John Hubbuch from Oak Park  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 10:06 AM

I do agree that closing OPRF's campus is not a big deal in the great scheme of things. I just don't think it will make any difference whatsover in solving high school student abuse of booze and drugs. The high school knows this, and has to deal with it as a public relations problem and not one that it can really do anything about. As a result there is a huge gap between rhetoric and reality and there is no very meaningful public discussion.

S from Oak Park  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 9:22 AM

How did OPRF parent get past the 500 character limit?

OPRF Resident  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 7:46 AM

(cont) of alcohol and drugs will not be reduced. In fact, I would venture a guess that it may get worse. If nothing else, more kids will be exposed to it because it will take place within the school. @OP Guy, you are right which makes me wonder why this group of parents who felt the urgent need to pass this was focusing so much on this issue. I raise my kid very well and keep a close watch. But I support an open campus because it won't solve OPRF's problems & it's ridiculous to think it will

OPRF Resident  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 7:44 AM

I disagree with OPRF Parent in that I attended those meetings and if you weren't in the "close the campus!" corner, you were not heard. There was no room at the meetings for dissenting opinions, even ones that were well thought out and based on more than a need of a kid to go to Tasty Dog during lunch. Closing the campus will not do any of the things listed by you. Safety and security will not be increased, the learning environment will not be enhanced, and most certainly of all, student use

OP Guy  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 2:20 AM

Closing the campus is only an issue now... wait a couple of years and people won't even remember it was open. If it's such a terrible decision, people will be fighting it for years to come, which I highly doubt. There are larger issues to be up in arms about... please direct your energy to more worthy causes like spending quality time with your kids and learning to become a better parent so your kids don't turn to drugs. Now there's a thought!

OPRF parent  

Posted: July 1st, 2011 9:19 PM

John, the only point you got right is that District 200 is an opaque board. The majority of board members still have yet to disclose why they support some form of open campus. This lack of transparency comes after the BoE was given a mountain of research and heard expert testimony supporting closing the campus. Just as compelling as the research and testimony were the countless personal stories of heartache and pleas to close the campus expressed over the past year at public meetings. All this fell on deaf ears. The issue of closing the campus finally made it on the BoE's policy meeting agenda this spring, yet no true discussion of the subject ever took place. Dr. Isoye suggested listing the pros and cons of an open, closed and modified open campus, but that proposal was shot down. Clearly, doing so would make it obvious a closed campus is the only effective policy to address drug and alcohol use during the school day, safety and security issues at the school, and their resulting negative impact on the learning environment and student achievement. At the May 26, 2011, BoE meeting, most members failed to explain their respective stand on the issue. There was no discussion of the merits of the different policies. It was a painful meeting to endure. It highlighted the lack of leadership and inadequacies of the BoE. The BoE is dysfunctional. Clearly, it does not put the interests of students first and does not act on behalf of the "greater good". The BoE's ruling was not a thoughtful decision or reasoned compromise. You obviously were not present at the meeting or you would know it resulted from a hapless vote on a proposal that was parsed into two separate votes in which the author herself voted against it. It was pathetic. You are wrong. The administration and staff were well aware or should have been of the ongoing discussion and concerns raised over the past year. Several hundred people attended the initial meeting in May 2010 at the high school as well as the follow-up meeting held at the school a month later. Moreover, the administration organized and held the February 2011 public meeting at the high school. In May, more than 50 teachers endorsed and sent a letter to the BoE pleading it to close the campus. Closing the campus is not a big deal. Most high schools have closed campuses. Why not ours?

OPRF Resident for many years  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 11:07 PM

Hit the nail on the head with this article. And @RF Parent -- have you spoken to your kids about the tardy policy and ID requirement? Those two policies never even finished the year with any gusto. I expect this new "closed" campus will head down the same path. And the reasons are exactly what John said in the article -- another group of well-intentioned parents solving the drug problem and a Board not wanting to tick them off. If only it was as simple as closing the campus!

epic lulz  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 8:10 PM

Closing campus won't do anything about the drug problem, whatever its actual extent. It will however increase bullying, as victims will no longer be able to escape their tormentors during lunch.

J.G.Morales  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 7:58 PM

I couldn't agree with you more! As for high school being like a prison lol, yes... yes it could be. Remember, 7 hrs to you is 14hrs to your kids lol. That hour is what two hours would be to you now (almost). The drive to Six Flags seemed to take all day. Now it's a breeze. That little fresh air and freedom is more important than a lot of parents seem to recall. I remember well leaving that crappy building like "woohoo!" or "aaaahh!" lol.

OP Parent  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 6:31 PM

Thank you John for having the guts to say outloud what so many of us have known all along. The clamor reached such a level that the only PC thing the board could do was close something somehow some way - never mind (as you wisely acknowledge) that it won't really do anything at all to address any of the real problems (but may create new ones). Thank you for your candor.

RF Parent from River Forest  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 3:15 PM

As usual a WJ columnist totally misses the point. Closing the campus was only in a small part about drug/alcohol abuse. It was about learning environment. This taken along with the tardy policy and the requirement to display an ID helps move the school closer to a disciplined enviornment where students are responsible to learn, not a place to hang out with their friends.

I liked this until...  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 10:03 AM

So a high school where kids can't leave for an hour a day is now comparable to a prison? This was a great piece until that part.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 8:50 AM

To answer your question...No, John, you're not onto something. Though the alcohol/drug issue was part of the decision, it was only part of it. It gets down again to the basic question...is it a good idea to allow up to 2400 teens to roam the village during the school day? The answer is an obvious no. The prison/high rise analogy is a silly one, since the campus was closed during the times when enrollment was much larger than now. It should be closed completely, but this will do for now.

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