Shape up or else: The student council put up this banner to send a message to students.TERRY DEAN/Staff

Oak Park and River Forest High School’s Student Council has a message for classmates who are causing trouble for neighbors during lunchtime: “Closed campus is coming if we don’t shape up.”

That’s also the wording on a banner the council put up in the Student Center near the front entrance on Scoville Avenue. The rest of it reads: “No littering. No loitering. No lighting up.”

The banner went up in early November. The campus is currently closed to freshmen only. But neighbors for some time have complained about other students causing trouble nears their homes during lunch period. Some students have been seen smoking, hanging out on their property and even urinating in their yards, according to neighbors.

Emily Hendrix, president of OPRF’s Student Council has also heard those complaints. The council has talked with school officials about the problem and how to get students to behave better. Putting up the banner was among the ideas council members came up with during their own meeting.

“We want to make sure students know what’s going on and make sure we’re respectful of the community,” Hendrix said. “If not, then one consequence could be closing the campus.”

That idea has been on the mind of school officials recently, though closing the campus has been talked about for years. The idea has seen renewed interest this year, stemming from the anti-substance abuse efforts that began this spring by the school’s Citizens Council advocacy group.

At town halls over the summer, students, parents and residents with no kids at the high school reported seeing smoking and drug use in the neighborhood during and after school hours. Closing the campus to all students has been one option proposed by parents, part of the idea being to prevent drugs and dealers from getting into or near the school.

In a letter to parents Nov. 12, Principal Nathaniel Rouse noted that closing the campus is an option if students’ behavior didn’t improve.

“I do believe the majority of our students use the off-campus lunch privilege responsibly. However, if we cannot find other ways to change the negative behaviors of a much smaller but significant number of students, we must look at alternatives, including closing the campus.”

Hendrix said the council also put up fliers around the school with the same message as the banner, which was actually torn down shortly after it went up. No one knows who did it, she adds, but some students apparently thought its message was a joke.

“It could be closer than they think,” said Hendrix, who supports an open campus in general.

Another idea from the council was to close the campus for a day or two as a preview for students, but that’s not really so easy to do, according to school officials. Rouse has noted that accommodations would need to be made to have all classes in the building during lunch periods.

A town hall with students was another idea the council floated to get the message across. Hendrix said she feels for the neighbors and wouldn’t want students acting like that near her house.

“We do want students to be more respectful to the community because we’re a part of the community,” she said.

Principal Rouse’s Nov. 12 letter regarding closed campus

Dear OPRFHS Parents/Guardians,

This week, our Student Council hung a banner in the Student Center that reads, “Closed campus is coming IF we don’t shape up. No littering. No loitering. No lighting up.”

This sign gets to the heart of a tough issue we’re struggling with this year. Parents, community members, neighbors and police — rightly — have helped us focus on inappropriate off-campus student behaviors, particularly during lunch, in neighborhoods surrounding the high school. Too many of our students are littering, loitering, smoking and generally being disrespectful of our neighbors and their property. There also has been some vandalism, as well as drug use and sales that have resulted in recent arrests of students. The impact of some of these behaviors carries over into the rest of the school day, too.

Bottom line — as with the tardy issue — we can no longer abide the status quo.

To that end, I have begun having discussions with student leaders — including Student Council elected officers and Trapeze and Newscene reporters — to highlight these concerns and ask their help in educating our student body that open campus lunch for sophomores, juniors and seniors is a privilege, not a right.

I do believe that the majority of our students use the off-campus lunch privilege responsibly; however, if we cannot find other ways to change the negative behaviors of a much smaller but significant number of students, we must look at alternatives, including closing the campus.

Parents, you can help us by discussing this issue with your students, sharing your expectations about their lunchtime activities, and reiterating appropriate and respectful behaviors in public. Your continuing frank discussions with your students about the impact of drug, alcohol and cigarette use is essential, too. We do believe that a consistent message from all caring adults at home, at school and in the community will help our students make better decisions — well beyond just the 48-minute lunch period on school-days.

Thank you,

Nathaniel L. Rouse, Principal

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