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Nyack HS: An Open And Shut Campus

by Dave Zornow

School might be out for summer, but a schoolyard fight at Nyack High School is kicking up lots of dirt. A group of parents is speaking out about a pilot program passed by the Board of Education which will curtail a long-standing policy letting students leave campus for lunch. Much like a freshman English assignment, you have to read between the lines to understand the true meaning of the story.

At the July 6 Nyack Board of Education meeting, the trustees voted to adopt a pilot program to limit open campus — the student privilege of leaving campus for lunch and study hall — to just juniors and seniors.

Last March, a committee of school faculty and staff and a community member was formed to evaluate school safety issues. Nyack High School principal Joe Spero told the board, ‘€œThere were a number of people concerned about open campus as a safety issue.’€

Safety — and limiting the open campus policy — is an important issue for new school trustee Dan Juechter. ‘€œCuts are out of control,’€ said Juechter. ‘€œIf kids’ job is to learn, how are we supposed to keep them in school? It’s effectively an open campus all day long,’€ he says.

Juechter says 46% of freshman and 42% of sophomores failed at least one course during the third marking period last year. Pointing to a University of Chicago study that correlates graduation with attendance, Juechter believes that limiting open campus will improve academic performance.

2009-10 School Board President Amy Applebaum thinks the current open campus policy should be maintained. ‘€œOpen campus gives students a sense of independence,’€ she says. ‘€œIt shows trust and gives a sense of responsibility. Applebaum adds that ‘€œopen campus has been a Nyack tradition for more than 30 years.’€œ

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Juechter counters saying that among the ten high schools in Rockland County, only Nyack allows 9th through 11th graders off campus. Three schools (Nanuet, Pearl River and Tappan Zee) allow only seniors to leave. ‘€œThe other six schools are closed for all four grades of high school,’€ Juechter adds.

Spero emphasizes that the safety of Nyack’s students is his main concern. ‘€œMy focus and reason for reviewing the open campus policy is the safety of our students. We all know that there have been several tragic accidents involving young people in the county very recently.’€

Parents who oppose the pilot program say they feel the board has violated the public’s trust by not taking input from the community before voting to close the campus for 9th and 10th graders. ‘€œThe board made this decision without talking to the community,’€ says one parent. ‘€œThey changed the policy without telling anyone how it would work and with no clear idea of what it will cost.’€

The administration is studying the additional cost of adding security staff, surveillance cameras and two security booths to monitor student traffic during school hours.

Privately, parents and administrators concede that the real concern is about alleged drug use on and off campus. Although the problem is no worse in Nyack than at the average high school, it is a cause of concern. Parents are worried that the open campus debate and additional security expenditures will not address drug use. Skeptical students point out that there’s already drug abuse in school and the board’s action will force even more of it indoors, possibly exposing more teenagers to the activity.

Parents are also concerned that keeping kids in for lunch will not improve student performance as multiple factors affect academic performance. Skeptics of the proposed policy say they don’t believe closing the campus for freshmen will make a difference academically and they say the focus should be elsewhere — a point where sides agree. ‘€œIs closing the campus a magic elixir? No, it isn’t,’€ Juechter says.

Nyack’s Board of Education will hear from the public at its next scheduled meeting on August 24. High School Principal Joe Spero has scheduled a follow up session to meet with parents, students and community members on August 26 in the school’s cafeteria at 7p.

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