Open space: The once busy student center at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville, is now empty under the new campus policy. Students are prohibited from congregating in the area.TERRY DEAN/Staff

Several members of the District 200 Board of Education are wondering why students at the high school can no longer use the Student Center.

According to the administration, the first three weeks of school under the new modified closed campus policy has been successful. Students, said Principal Nathaniel Rouse, have made the adjustment. He noted that discipline infractions and unexcused absences are down significantly in the first three weeks of school, compared to the same time last year. Rouse said students can go to teachers’ classrooms or other staffed areas during lunchtime as long as they have a pass.

But three members of the school board would like to see changes made to the ban on kids in the Student Center, located just beyond the main entrance inside the building on Scoville Avenue.

Trustees Sharon Patchak-Layman, Amy McCormack and John Phelan believe students should have access to that area.

The large, open space outside the auditorium and leading to the main second-floor stairwell has been used by students for decades. It was created during the addition to the campus, completed in 1967, which closed Ontario Street and greatly expanded OPRF. Rouse, at their regular board meeting last week, gave trustees the administration’s rationale for keeping students out.

“In an effort to effectively gauge our ability to provide lunch, seating and supervision in the cafeterias based on the potential of approximately 3,000 students eating during three lunch periods, the administration made the determination that limiting access to the Student Center lobby would provide us the best opportunity to see if our capacity in the cafeteria would uphold,” Rouse said.

Students, he added, were not allowed to eat in the center previously, though some did, and kids lying on the stairs posed a fire hazard. An internal, closed-campus committee, which includes students, Rouse said, is exploring potential uses for the Student Center.

Rouse has acknowledged that students need a place to unwind, and alternative spaces in the building are being looked into.

Students with open-campus privileges can access the outside mall on East Avenue, Rouse said, but the school is looking to hire additional staff to help monitor that area. Supt. Steven Isoye added that they are currently understaffed for monitoring both the center and the outside mall. He stressed that the administration is seeking feedback from students about what they need.

But Patchak-Layman said she didn’t understand why students couldn’t use that area, especially with security and staff in those areas already. Rouse replied that more staff will be needed with more kids in the building.

McCormack noted that when she voted for the modified closed-campus policy in May, nothing was mentioned about closing off the Student Center. Phelan, a former OPRF student, read the board’s actual motions that were approved in May, which did not specifically address the Student Center.

“I think there needs to be a balance,” he said. “I think we’ve swung a little too far. I’m not ready to tell the administration where the balance is. I just want to point out that there’s some urgency to get the pendulum to what I think is a more reasonable level.”

McCormack, who’s an OPRF parent, agreed with Phelan’s point.

“There were changes that, when I voted in favor of this, I did not envision,” she said.

But Dietra Millard, the board’s president, said she doesn’t mind the limited access to the Student Center. Millard noted that students tend to think of the space almost like a gymnasium. She recalled during a recent visit being accidentally knocked to the ground by a running student. She said she also had to climb over a student who was stretched out on the stairs.

“Our students have cooperated with this dramatically well, but I also don’t think they realize that people who come in as guest are walking through there trying to make their way through,” Millard said. “So I would hope that if, in fact, when access is permitted — and I do believe that it will be — students learn that there are people coming through there other than students.”

The other board members — Terry Finnegan, Ralph Lee and Valerie Fisher — did not weigh in with a decision.

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