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Campus plan aims to taper truancy

By Ben Lumpkin Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday February 24, 2001

The school board, parents and many students support a plan by Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch to implement a “closed campus” for freshman next year, prohibiting the ninth graders from leaving campus during the school day. 

“Our younger kids cannot handle the freedom of going off campus,” Lynch told the school board at its regular meeting Wednesday.  

“There’s an attitude of ‘if you go to class or don’t go to class it doesn’t make any difference,’” Lynch said in an interview. “We want to provide an environment where we keep them on campus until they reach a certain level of maturity.” 

Lynch said he would like to implement a closed campus for sophomores as well by the fall of 2002 and is proposing the hiring of a truancy officer to make sure parents get the message when their kids skip class. 

Parents can be held culpable by the district attorney when their children are truant, Lynch said. But the letters and phone messages school administrators use to notify parents of their kids’ truancy are often intercepted by the youngsters themselves before parents ever see or hear them, he added. 

Board directors welcomed Lynch’s suggestions Wednesday, pointing to links between skipping classes and poor academic performance, and to the need for police to patrol downtown at lunch time to deal with trouble-making High School students. 

Board Member John Selawsky said as many as 80 percent of students flunking two or more classes at the high school had missed 15 or more days of classes because of truancy. 

“If we expect our kids to achieve and succeed, they have to be in the classroom,” Selawsky said. 

Even Student Director Niles Xi’an Lichtenstein lent his support to the idea. “Looking back, I wish we didn’t have that temptation there,” Lichtenstein said, referring to the temptation to leave campus at lunch time and not return for afternoon classes. 

Director Selawsky said in an interview Friday that he did have some concerns about the plan’s implementation, however.  

“I’m a little skeptical,” Selawsky said. “I don’t know how we’re going to close the campus for ninth graders and not for everyone else.” 

Selwasky also pointed to the fact that more than 800 freshman would have to be served lunch on campus under the plan, more kids than the school’s lunch program can serve currently.  

Some Berkeley High students are even more skeptical of the plan. 

“It’s cool to a certain extent because a lot of people don’t know how to act when they go to lunch and they mess up downtown by starting fights,” said Berkeley High junior Richard Haymon. But Haymon questioned why the plan was being proposed for freshman and sophomores only. Seniors are the biggest trouble makers off campus, he said. 

Haymon and others also worried about the quality of food students would have to eat if kept on campus.  

“There’s so much more variety of food off campus,” said junior Joy Broussard. 

“If we eat McDonald’s at home what makes you think we’re going to come to school and eat salad?” Haymon asked, calling the school district’s preference for healthy, organic foods unrealistic and wasteful. 

Freshman Michelle Lopez said she would support the plan only if it applied to all students, and not just to freshman and sophomore. As for the loss of restaurant privileges, Lopez was unfazed.  

“I could bring my own lunch to school,” she said.