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Weston Board of Education: Open campus under review

The high school’s open campus policy may be changing in order to limit the ability of some students to leave school grounds during free periods.

At a first reading of the new policy at the school board’s meeting on Monday, May 18, board members said they wanted to make changes to the open campus policy as a preventive safety measure.

The current policy allows sophomores, juniors and seniors with an unweighted cumulative GPA of 2.0 (a C average) and parental permission to leave school during “unassigned time.” It does not affect freshmen.

If the revised open campus policy goes into effect, sophomores will not be permitted to leave campus during free periods, and the minimum GPA requirement for juniors and seniors to do so will be raised to 2.67(a B minus average).

Parental permission for juniors and seniors to leave campus would be renewed annually, and cumulative GPAs would be reassessed quarterly.

Raising the minimum GPA requirement gives students a “greater incentive to achieve academically,” according to Weston High School Principal Lisa Wolak.

Board members stated they were not changing the policy based on any specific instance or incident with students, but instead for preventive safety reasons.

Survey

At the beginning of the school year, school administrators surveyed students, teachers and parents for input to formulate the new limited open campus policy. The full survey results may be found on the school district website, westonps.org.

While 81% of students in the survey supported an open campus for sophomores, the large majority of parents and teachers favored a closed campus.

“We support a closed campus for sophomores because they have to carry between seven and eight credits, and should always be close to the academic resources they need at school,” said Ms. Wolak at the school board meeting.

Deciding whether juniors should have open campus privileges was a more difficult decision. Of the parents and teachers surveyed, 60% were in favor of an open campus for juniors.

“I believe that the oldest students should have the right to leave school, but why are we extending open campus to juniors?” asked board member Dick Bochinski.

Colleen Palmer, superintendent, said there was not enough evidence showing that juniors’ time spent off campus was mismanaged. In the future, she said, more data will be gathered, and the open campus policy for juniors will be reassessed.

Chief weighs in

Expressing his opinion about the limited open campus policy, Weston Police Chief John Troxell called it a “huge step in the right direction.” But if it were up to him, he said he would have gotten rid of the open campus policy completely.

The subject of an open campus was discussed at a meeting of the Weston Police Commission in September 2010, where Chief Troxell and commissioners were critical of the schools for not reporting crimes such as an assault and drug use, and for allowing an open campus.

At the time, Chief Troxell said, “Because students are allowed to come and go as they please, we have received numerous complaints from students and parents that students are leaving the schools, going to a ‘safe house’ to drink, do drugs, have sex, and return to school.”

Since then, there has been a change of guard at the schools, with Dr. Palmer replacing Superintendent Jerome Belair, who left to take a position in Waterford.

School board member Dana Levin said, “Statistics gathered showed students were going back to classes on time, not misbehaving, and coming back to school ready to learn. Rumors were dispelled by the questions we asked.”

To compensate for the new policy, the board hopes to make the school environment more engaging for students who have to stay on campus.

“By changing the open campus policy we are putting emphasis on the in-school experience and enhancing the environment to make it more enjoyable for students to stay on campus,” said board member Denise Harvey.

When asked in the survey what they would like to see improved if a closed campus policy was put in place, students expressed interest in improved technology (more computers, higher speed Internet), a cafeteria open throughout the day with a greater variety of snacks and food, and more study areas in the building.

This year the schools have provided a student lounge for seniors, and are considering providing free time in the gym during students’ open periods.

On June 18, the board will meet again to hear a second reading of the revised open campus policy and vote on it. If the changes are accepted, the new policy will be instated in the fall.

“If the policy is put in place, it will be monitored as we go forward, as we are always thinking of the health, safety and freedom of our students,” said Phil Schaefer, school board chairman.

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