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Duluth high school principals want to stick with open campuses

The principals of Duluth East and Denfeld high schools want an open campus for all students during lunch periods next year. The School Board last month asked them to research options for closed or partially closed campuses in response to ongoing ...

The principals of Duluth East and Denfeld high schools want an open campus for all students during lunch periods next year.

The School Board last month asked them to research options for closed or partially closed campuses in response to ongoing neighborhood complaints about student behavior and safety concerns regarding unlocked doors during lunch. At Tuesday's education committee meeting, principals Tonya Sconiers and Laurie Knapp presented pros and cons for closed and open campuses, but asked board members to consider maintaining open campuses with a few changes:

  • Increased adult supervision outside during lunch.
  • Outdoor cameras in more locations.
  • Improved food choices to attract students to school lunch. "It is difficult as principals to advocate for a closed campus when the majority of our kids are responsible and are doing the right things," Knapp said. "Our job as a high school, in part, is to help transition our students into adulthood."

    An open campus is one good way to learn some of those lessons, Knapp said.

    She asked that the board try what they asked instead of being reactive to neighbors' complaints.

    Sconiers said closing campus at East and Denfeld and having more students in the building during lunch would cost the district about $239,000 the first year. Each cafeteria would need additional chillers and warmers and East would need more seating. A couple of supervisors and custodians would need to be hired and additional storage, registers and technology for scanning ID badges would need to be purchased.

    Sconiers said some of the advantages to closing campuses included decreased truancy, which could lead to better student achievement, reduced substance abuse and crime, a more neighborly atmosphere for residents, better security and less potential for accidents. Disadvantages, she said, include less physical activity, decreased partnerships with area businesses, increased district liability, limited food choices for students, a lack of a break for students outside of school and more supervision needed to track students.

    Board members, who will vote next week on the issue, appeared split on the decision.

    Members Mary Cameron and Mike Miernicki said they wanted campuses to remain open.

    "It's like trying to capture mice; there are too many doors and exits. You just can't do it," Miernicki said. "And it's going to cost a lot of money we don't have."

    Knapp said the East commons/cafeteria area has nine exits with four people covering it during lunch.

    "Kids know how to get around," she said. "It's a big game. I have kids addicted to tobacco. Doors marked with 'alarm' don't faze them. They walk out and the alarm goes off."

    Members Judy Seliga Punyko and Tom Kasper advocated for a modified closure, allowing seniors off campus. Seliga Punyko was concerned about the possibility of student vehicle accidents during lunch and Kasper about long-ago promises made to neighbors who are tired of inappropriate behavior during lunch.

    "We are still hearing concerns from neighbors," Kasper said. "Maybe we are making progress, but it might not be at the pace some of those neighborhoods had hoped for."

    Cameron said appeasing neighbors would hurt businesses.

    "What I have learned in 16 years on this board is you can't please everybody," she said. "I don't think the board should be making promises to neighbors because new boards come and new administrations come."

    Member Ann Wasson said she was conflicted about the choices, and said if open campuses were maintained a third administrator added back to each school would go a long way to help deal with problems.

    "I've been asking for a closed campus for some time," she said. "But I don't think closing campus or opening campus teaches them anything more than what we do in our six-period day."

    She noted that unlike at Denfeld, East students don't even have access to businesses and restaurants around their school unless they drive several blocks in either direction.

    Superintendent Bill Gronseth said when he was a student, leaving school for lunch meant time to regroup at home.

    "The freedom of leaving campus for some kids means something we haven't talked about: the feeling of getting oneself back together before heading back to class," he said. "It's also a time we're dealing with fights, dealing with kids' poor decisions; when we're worrying about them the most. But if we can't do it well, we shouldn't."

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