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Nyack HS: Punishment Before A Crime

by Erin deWard

Nyack High School’s “pilot” program to rescind open campus privileges for 9th and 10th graders has not been given the time needed to put it together well. What was the rush?

As the mother of a high school student I am concerned that extra-curricular clubs and activities (at both the High School and Middle School) have been put on the chopping block to save the district money, but we may be spending $300,000 for a two month pilot (although we don’t know if that is a real figure yet or not) of a program that may or may not help to keep kids safe and in school. This seems an enormous waste. If Nyack is academically behind other districts in the county, wouldn’t that money be better spent on academic programming?I always vote yes on the school budget. I want the best for my kids and the kids of my neighbors. But I don’t think throwing money at a “problem” with out proper study of the problem is fiscally responsible.

Which kids are cutting? At what times are they cutting? Are there particular classes that get cut more than others? How old are the kids who are cutting? Are the kids who are cutting always the same kids? When kids cut, do they leave the grounds? Are the kids who are failing also the kids who are cutting? How many off campus incidents have there been involving Nyack HS kids during their lunch vs. incidents off campus after or before school? In the other districts that we are looking at does having a closed campus stop cutting of classes? How many students still cut and how many classes do they cut? Do they cut for just one class or for half days? Do they cut before they get to school? Is there any national data showing the correlation between closed campuses and academic achievement? Has the crime level in our town increased? By what percentage? How many teenagers are involved in these crimes? If Nyack is an unsafe place for teens to walk, how do we keep them safe as they travel to and from school?

All these data need to be taken into account in order to make an informed decision that works for Nyack students, taxpayers, administrators, and parents. The article published here says: “Lagana says the pilot program is a work in progress and High School Principal Joe Spero will make adjustments as required. ‘€œOver time, if we are able to reevaluate and make changes, we will try to reduce the costs,’€ he says. This concerns me. IF we are able to reevaluate and make changes, we will try to reduce costs? Isn’t a pilot program built on the premise that we WILL reevaluate and make changes? Is this “pilot” a done deal? Is this how we want decisions made in our district?

Next, on to the student experience at Nyack High School: What options will there be for kids who have a hard time eating in the lunch room? For whom the noise is too much or the bullying too frequent? Will there be another place that is sanctioned for them to eat?

Lastly, and from my daughters perspective, perhaps most importantly: This feels to the incoming sophmores like a punishment for something they did not do. And it is just one more in a line of “punishments” that make them VERY angry at the board and the administration. In 5th grade, the Liberty kids were supposed to take a trip to celebrate the end of the year. The year my daughter was in 5th grade it was canceled. The year the kids are in 8th grade the tradition is a trip to Great Adventure. But the year these sophmores were in 8th grade, the trip was deemed not educational enough even though parents found physics experiments specific to amusement park rides that could be used to make it educational. An attempt to replace it with a trip on the Circle Line (which they had been doing since elementary school) and to Madame Tussauds was not interesting to them, made them feel like “babies” and they did not sign up. Needless to say, the next year the 8th graders went to Great Adventure. And now, after a year of being trusted to behave, to be mature enough to walk 5 feet off campus to buy her lunch, after a year of being on the honor roll and high honor roll, she is being told NO, sorry. It’s not safe. You’re not mature enough (which is particularly funny to my daughter since she IS mature enough to walk a mile to and from school).

I understand that some parents don’t want their children leaving campus and their voices should be heard also. I agree that if parents feel their children can handle the responsibility of walking 5 feet off campus to the deli that they send a permission note and the kids get a pass regardless of their class (Because frankly, do we believe that the maturity level between a sophmore and a junior is that significant?). Also, if this is about academic achievement, why not tie it to that? Any student with a certain GPA is eligible to leave campus with parental permission. That way, even a senior who is cutting and failing loses the right.

Make it fair. Base it on research. Share the cost of the program with the community and let us have a say in whether we want our school taxes to pay for it or would rather have it bring back a cut club or activity. Maybe we, as a community would rather see the money spent on classes and programs that are so interesting that they make the kids want to be in school –  so they don’t become so disengaged that they cut classes and drop out. If you do these things, perhaps the children will feel supported and respected and not infantilized and punished.

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