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March 29, 2005 > Open v. Closed Campus

Open v. Closed Campus

Local High Schools Have Different Policies

by Veronica Velasquez

Teenagers crowd the counters at the Jack in the Box on Cedar Avenue on a regular basis. They order diet-busting tacos, burritos, and chalupas, happily eating junk food that would send older, less aerodynamically formed adults screaming to a fat farm.

But while these teens pay no nutritional consequences for their caloric sins (not yet, anyway), there is a consequence for this sojourn to the local food merchants surrounding the high school; should they make the trip during school hours. The price for leaving campus at Newark Memorial High at lunchtime is an entire Saturday. Repeat offenders face suspension, and even worse, parent contact.

How did getting a midday fast food fix become a crime?

Although the high school was already considered a closed campus as recently as the 2003-2004 academic year, as of the current 2004-2005 school year, the Newark Board of Education voted to enact a "closed campus" policy at the city's only high school site at lunchtime. The board's decision puts an end to the off-campus privileges NMH students have enjoyed since the first days of the school's existence.

In comparison, of the seven public high schools in Fremont, American High is the only one with a closed campus. On its website, the school newsletter cites the potential for non-student invasion as a reason for the closed policy. American High, like Newark Memorial, changed over from the open campus lunch hour, although NMH has only recently made the switch.

At Washington High, students enjoy an open campus, and often traverse the local fare on Fremont Boulevard, such as the Fremont Hub, McDonald's, and Wendy's. Students seem generally appreciative of their enviable position, and take frequent advantage of the privilege.

"We have the freedom to go out, and have time to do our own thing, rather than just being kept inside," said WHS junior John Pham.

But Pham's brother had a different viewpoint on the matter.

"A closed campus wouldn't really affect us, because we don't do that much off campus stuff, though," said Glenn Pham, a senior. "On campus, I can eat and study and go find my friends."

Another set of brothers at Washington High, Kelvin and Duc Tran, were likewise opposed to the idea of ever having a closed campus.

"The open campus is good, because the cafeteria food has gotten more expensive, and the quality has gone down," offered WHS junior Kelvin Tran. "Even though the food is still pretty acceptable, we can go to Wendy's for a lot cheaper."

When asked about how they would feel should Washington High decide to follow Newark's example and close down the campus for lunch, the brothers Tran felt that the idea would be less advantageous on their own campus.

"Memorial has good cafeteria food, and they also have lots of space," Duc Tran, a junior, said. "Our cafeteria is so small, we don't even all fit into it. They run out of food pretty fast, too, and we're left with some things that really suck.

"Also, different groups have their own places to go off campus, so people don't have to see each other as much. But the bad thing about an open campus is that it makes it easier to cut, and do other bad stuff," Tran acknowledged.

"I like it open, definitely," agreed freshman Jessica Bruno. "You get all different kinds of foods for lunch that way. I usually go off campus at lunch. It'd be really boring if they closed it."

At Newark Junior High, eighth graders who are poised on the verge of their high school days will most likely never experience the off campus lunchtime privileges enjoyed by their predecessors.

"I think the campus should be open because it's not like the whole school is going to turn up missing," said eighth grader Cynthia Velasquez-Lund. "There is a police station down the street, and there are security guards at the mall and a cop at the school, in case anybody doesn't show up."

On campus at Newark Memorial, students, staff, administration and parents offered a variety of differing opinions on the virtues and downfalls of a closed campus. Although the students as a whole were in favor of opening the boundaries back up, they also demonstrated a mature knowledge of the practical reasons behind the change, and seemed to accept it good-naturedly.

"I think they closed it because there were so many tardies," said Vanessa Rodriguez, freshman. "Closing the campus probably helped with some of the tardies when they closed it, though.

"I think there were also some fights at the mall, and the mall security complained," Rodriguez added. "I wouldn't go off campus every day, but I'd like it to be open. I'd go to the food court at the mall."

"At first I thought a closed campus was a bad idea, because of the potential for more fights on campus," said a faculty member. "Especially with kids forced to be together (all day) who don't like each other. But I haven't noticed any overcrowding in the commons. Actually, I'm surprised that there hasn't been a food shortage in the cafeteria. They've compensated for the overflow of students buying lunch on campus since the beginning."

"There are more fights at school now, because they can't take it somewhere else," said sophomore Terriann Macinnes. "And there are healthier foods out there (off campus); at school we have stuff like cheese fries and nachos. It's a heart attack waiting to happen."

"But the good thing is that the school gets more profit from the lunches," Macinnes conceded.

"I never got to experience an open campus, but I'd like it better," said freshman Sasha Jones. "There are more food choices that way, and less fights at school. They should close the mall to us if they have to, but leave the restaurants open. The good thing about having a closed campus is that it's easier to find your friends."

But there were quite a few students who saw only disadvantage with the new policy.

"I don't like it," said junior Ben Washington. "It seems like the school is more congested now. The food lines are longer now, and we can't get food sometimes. When it was open campus, we'd just go get food, eat, and then go to class. A closed campus causes more fights, people are in each other's faces more."

"It's horrible!" exclaimed freshman and football player Donte Chatman. "Us freshmen should be able to go off campus freely if we want. It makes us feel locked up here. They need to open it to get rid of some of the fighting. They should also have more activities at lunch time."

"We're stuck together too much this way, it makes us nervous with the police on campus, too," said freshman teammate Eric Stewart. "They could get more mall security if it's a problem. Having a closed campus makes people want to fight, because it's so boring."

Katherine Jones is an NMH parent, as well as a second grade teacher at Bunker Elementary. "I think some of the students would of course resent it, especially the seniors and juniors who had been looking forward to off-campus privileges. It's not great from their point of view. But I think it's a good idea. I'm glad to know where my son is during the day. Fights are going to happen one way or another; a closed campus doesn't make it any worse."

"They have to be careful, and make sure that they can feed all the kids. Sometimes I bring in lunch for my son and his friends. Blimpie's has been known to deliver to the school, as well."

"The school board decided to close the campus for the safety of the students," said Del Casey, NMH interim principal. "After education, our first concern is to ensure the safety of the kids. It wasn't because of any one incident. I think it was a good move to close it, before a crisis could happen. Many times the school board is reacting to something happening, but this decision came before that was necessary."

The closed campus policy is also instrumental in keeping non-students off the campus, according to Casey. Rather than having the students go off campus and mixing with persons of questionable character, the school is better able to monitor their activities on campus.

The cafeteria has responded to the challenge of a larger lunch population by expanding the menu to include more food choices, with more food stations placed throughout the campus. There is a brunch break, in addition to the lunch hour, and various snack bars are open at several periods during the day.

"The West Coast Wrestling Tournament was held here the first week of school this year," Casey said. "There were 89 schools participating, with about 1,100 extra students and 1,000 adults on campus. The visiting students couldn't believe the selection we had at lunchtime. I heard one of our guests ask "Did you put out all this good stuff just for us?" To which the reply was "No." The student couldn't believe it. "You're kidding! You mean you have this every day?"

"I see a lot of kids lined up buying food," he said. "The district has made certain we have enough personnel to prepare and serve the food, as well."

"I don't see a closed campus as a major inconvenience to the kids. Issues will come up, and we have to deal with them as they do. I've heard no complaints from the surrounding merchants."

Co-curricular activities are contributing factor to the success of the closed campus policy, with numerous clubs and activities going on during the lunch hour. During her career as an activities director, Jan Breen has organized a plethora of noontime races, music, clubs, and other outdoor activities for the students.

"I'm out at noon every day," said Casey. "I saw a group of students break dancing the other day; it was a spontaneous thing. One young man was especially talented, and I told him 'You are very good.' He was quite surprised; I think the kids thought they were going to get in trouble for dancing, but I truly enjoyed it!

"One reason I agreed to this job, after 38 years in education and then semi-retirement, is for all the good things I see going on in this district," Casey said. "The high school has an excellent drama department, and our activities program is outstanding, to mention a few. I love working with the kids, and I figure maybe there's something I can help them with for their future.

"Last Tuesday and Wednesday we had the graduation testing, and out of 540 sophomores scheduled to take it, only 25 kids missed both days, with 31 students missing one day. That's remarkable attendance.

"If students break the rules and go off campus at lunch time, they will usually get a Saturday detention," said Casey. "If it's an ongoing problem, they face suspension, and we involve the parents. Not a lot of students do it.

"Of course, the Regional Occupational Program and Work Experience students leave throughout the day, for legitimate purposes," he said. "But we don't lock the gates at noon. This school is roughly 60 acres, and there are about 2,100 students, so they are not crowded together."

Mall merchants seemed to agree with Casey on the issue of student safety.

"When the campus was open, the mall was packed, but now it's pretty slow at noon," said Rene Garcia of Starbucks. "It hasn't really hurt our business that I know of, though. I knew of fights breaking out in the past, but I never saw any. Closing the campus is a good thing, it keeps the kids out of trouble."

"There's not too much difference from last year," said Tilt's floor attendant Jay Hood. "Last year some of the kids came here for lunch, but lots of them just come after school, when they don't have to worry about being late for class. I've heard of some fights this year, but not too many."

However, some of the surrounding businesses seemed to feel the pinch, with a pronounced drop off in sales.

"This has been very bad for business," lamented Burger King shift manager Christian Pena. "I'm from Peru, so I know that closing the campus is good for the kids, because then they don't get in as much trouble, and I know that sometimes you have to make such sacrifices. But I miss them! They are really polite kids; I have never had any complaints about them."

"I've been here five years, and I can say it has hurt business a lot since they closed the campus," said Taco Bell manager Vineeta Nand. "It has dropped off significantly; at least by $150 to $200 a day. With the open campus, I used to make $500 plus, and now it's only at about $300. Kids are not big spenders; they buy $2 worth of food at a time, so it adds up according to how many kids come in. It's really sad to not have them here at lunch anymore. I never thought it was a big deal [problem-wise]. They just come after school, anyway, so that's the same thing."

NewPark Mall general manager Gayle Spears felt that, while she never viewed having the students over to the mall at lunchtime as a negative factor, it is important to consider their safety, first and foremost.

"When we find them here during school hours, we work with parents and the school to make sure we get them to where they're supposed to be. And the kids have been very cooperative."

Fighting, overcrowding, and other problems, according to Spears, do not pose a significant threat at the mall from the high school crowd.

"We haven't experienced any issues since they closed the campus," Spears said. "Some of the food court merchants worried about loss in sales, and indeed, sales probably did drop off a little, but there has been no lasting negative impact from that.

"In talking with other staff members who were here last year, no such problems could be recalled," she said. "It's fine when they're here at the mall, and we enjoy them as shoppers."

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