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Public, BOE Have Their Say on Nyack H.S. Open Campus

Nyack, August 25 — When Nyack’s Board of Education voted 5-2 on July 6 to limit off campus lunch privileges to juniors and seniors, the trustees were criticized for making a quick decision without taking the time to hear from the public. Last night about 100 parents and students attended a meeting where critics questioned the process and the data used to make the decision while supporters loudly applauded the board’s actions.

Nyack High School Principal Joe Spero told the board he will hire up to eight new security staffers and add 10 additional cameras to 24 already installed to enforce the policy which suspends “open campus” for 9th and 10th graders.  The costs for the new security measures were not disclosed at Tuesday’s meeting. Spero says they are also looking at a card swipe system and security booths for the two entrances to the high school.

The board has positioned the change as a pilot program for 9th and 10th graders that will run through the end of October. Upperclassman will still be allowed to leave campus for lunch and study hall periods.

Board President Michael Lagana and Trustee Dan Juechter, who are leading the proposed policy change, say student safety and grades are the driving factors in their decision. But board member Claudette Clark countered that if safety was really the board’s concern, the schools should provide free busing to all students. “We have children walking on dangerous roads,” she said. “Are we looking at every issue as it concerns our students’ safety?”

James Marshall, a parent and a member of the 2008 safety committee that recommended the policy change, says his kids are absolutely against the change. But it’s not their decision — safety is an issue in which they don’t get a vote.

A parent who supports the policy told the board, “when I drop my son off at school, I want to know that he is in class” and that it is the school’s responsibility to keep him from cutting class.

“The students should have a say on this issue,” says Nyack High School junior Laura Gerber. “We are the ones who are here every day. We know there are bigger issues.” Gerber says the board is looking for solutions to the school’s problems in all of the wrong places.

Juechter makes the case that limiting open campus will improve academic performance and address a high failure rate and rampant cutting of classes.  ‘€œIf kids’ job is to learn, how are we supposed to keep them in school?’€ he says. Data presented by Walter Woodhouse, the school’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, showed a failure rate of over 43 percent for 9th graders. But these data were questioned by Linda Greene, a former Nyack schools’ administrator, who said that the failure rate for freshman is overstated because it includes students who never graduate from freshman year and may be as old as 17 and who subsequently drop out of school. “It’s everyone who hasn’t earned five credits,” she said. Greene also said class cutting statistics are misleading because teachers may not fill out tracking paperwork accurately.

Trustee Clarke added that the Board of Education over ruled the recommendation of the 2008 safety committee because a further study of the data showed no correlation for the students that were failing and those who were cutting class and leaving school.

“What is the benefit of allowing 9th and 10th graders to leave school?” said Laguna.  “It’s disturbing to see the absolute intolerance of some community members to change.” Both Laguna and Juechter publicly criticized former school board president Amy Applebaum for opposing the pilot program. “The former school board president is encouraging delinquency,” Juechter said.

Former Nyack Schools board president Don Hammond said the process was setting a bad precedent for how the trustees work with the community. “I heard two board members ridicule someone who disagreed with them,” he said. “Please welcome us into the process and don’t push us away.”

Principal Joe Spero will meet with parents and students to answer questions about the new policy on Thursday, August 26 in the school’s cafeteria at 7p.

Nyack Schools’ Failure Rate by Grade

Middle School High School
Grade Percent Grade Percent
6 9.7 9 43.4
7 31.6 10 36.6
8 29.1 11 29.9
12 17.6

Source: Nyack Schools

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Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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