Closed Campus For Freshmen Debated

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The logistics of keeping Payson High School freshman on campus during lunch have injected a jarring dilemma into an otherwise pleasant dream.

The school board recently discussed closing the campus for freshman during lunch, though the board tabled the measure due to unanswered questions that included the problem of enforcement.

Though the possibility of closing the campus for other grade levels arose, Payson High School’s small cafeteria limits the extent of that idea.

“Obviously we don’t have a cafeteria big enough to handle the entire campus,” board member Viki Holmes said at the recent board meeting.

A September work/study session has been scheduled for the board to further discuss the matter.

Much of student lateness and absenteeism follows lunch, which district officials are working to fix despite several problems.

For one, the campus is too porous, officials say. That not only creates problems in enforcing a closed campus rule, but also presents security issues.

“We’ve caught a lot of people on campus that don’t belong,” said board member Rory Huff on Thursday.

Building a fence could help regulate entrance to and exit from campus, but district officials aren’t sure that is financially plausible. Closing campus without a fence leaves the problem of manpower to enforce the rule.

“We tried to close the campus for the freshman a year ago, but we didn’t have the funds or the manpower,” Huff said. If the district has left over bond money, he said it will likely explore building a fence.

However, board members want to keep closed campus ideas at the forefront, which is why they discussed it at the last board meeting.

“It’s on the dream list,” Huff said.

Earlier this summer, when food services company Sodexho discussed its finances with the school board, the board discussed closing the campus to help increase cafeteria sales.

Board members were divided on the issue. Some said keeping students on campus so they would purchase lunch was inappropriate. Others were attracted to the possibility of turning a profit from food service, which now runs a deficit.

The board finally agreed the two matters should be considered separately.

During the 2006-2007 school year, the district closed the campus for freshman lunch because of the large percentage of freshman failing classes, according to a school lunch historical narrative given to the board, written by Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval. A special advisory period and increased student-to-student mentoring accompanied the new rule.

The advisory period, called a “Longhorn period,” functioned as an integrative study hall, with teachers providing homework help and navigating the book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.”

The administration, however, found the Longhorn period ineffective. “The block of 12 teachers resented having as a group to put in the extra time out of their lunch hour every day providing activities to the highly resentful freshman.” The freshman felt singled out.

Positives listed were few. Some freshman ditched the Longhorn period, either with upperclassman accomplices who drove, parents who took them to lunch, or by simply walking off campus.

The link-crew program, which recruited upperclassman to mentor groups of freshman students, was helpful, according to the narrative, and is now combined with a new vocational training program.

The narrative also says closing campus did not significantly impact freshman failures, but did increase rates of disciplinary action because students who snuck out needed punishment, along with any upperclassmen who helped. Campus re-opened to freshman the following year.

Sandoval wonders if closing campus wouldn’t dilute the thing it was supposed to protect — education.

A lanyard and identification card-wearing program implemented about five years ago had a similar impact. The rule resulted in a disciplinary action spike, and turned many previously unproblematic students into ones with detentions or in-school suspensions marring their records, Sandoval wrote.

The time spent enforcing the rules distracted administrators from other duties. “The focus of the school changed significantly to wearing and enforcing the wearing of lanyards,” Sandoval wrote. A teacher said at the time, “All students will come to class on time, ready to learn, and wearing their lanyards.”

Sandoval said at the board meeting, “We’d love to keep them on campus. The big thing is manpower.”

Huff said that he’d ultimately like to see sophomores also stay on campus, and other board members agreed.

Sandoval suggested using freedom as leverage, allowing students to leave once they reach driving age, if they are passing all their classes.

A balance must be found between being a “police state” and offering a positive learning environment, he said.

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