After Newtown, Is Open Campus Even an Option?

By Justin Rinaldi
Staff Writer

The year 2013 has great things in store for Naugatuck High School. With the recent renovation plans starting, Naugatuck looks forward to a new school with new perks.
The new school renovations, scheduled for completion in 2017, have students looking forward to newer classrooms and a larger building, filled with new features like a “senior lounge,” dance studio and offices for the Board of Education. The senior lounge is a designated space where seniors in good academic can go to get homework done in a mature, senior-friendly area.
The new building plans bring new ideas to the table, and one that has been talked about is the luxury of having an “open campus.”
Having an open campus allows students at Naugatuck High School to  leave school anytime the student has a study hall or lunch. Having an open campus in a high school sets the tone for college in the following years.
Having an open campus also sets the tone of a more mature educational setting, along with a feeling of mobility and responsibility.  Students would no longer feel confined to the hallway/classroom/cafeteria setting and would feel a sense of freedom.

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     December 14, 2012 was the day that changed education and the way we view the safety of children in school, forever. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle, Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and opened fire on their students, killing 26 first-graders and teachers.
Since that day, schools have been reviewing their security procedures and protocols as well as ways to improve safety for everyone in the school building.
Naugatuck High School had already undertaken this task before the Newtown shooting. Last year, IDs and lanyards were passed out and their use was mandated by Principal Janice Saam. With resistance from the students, implementing this security measure required diligence and penalties for noncompliance.
The recent tragedy in Newtown shed light on the importance of safety and the NHS ID system as an easy way to identify Naugatuck students from visitors.
Another way Naugatuck High School is planning to stay safe is to practice the drills and codes more frequently to make sure everyone in the building knows how to properly react to an emergency in the future. Practicing our responses can help students manage a crisis and improve their chances of survival in the event of a school shooter.
Codes that will be practiced include Code Blue, Code Red, and Code Black. Calling a Code Blue requires all staff and students to evacuate to the NHS football field; a Code Red requires an immediate lockdown of all classrooms and hallways, including closing blinds; a Code Black (get info here!). The codes and drills are put into place for our safety. “If we don’t practice seriously, you won’t know how to react in a serious emergency,” said Saam in a meeting regarding school safety.
Saam also mentioned new upgrades to the school security with the renovation project. The renovated facility of Naugatuck High School will have a designated entry point and about five entrances that will only be unlocked by a barcode reader on the door.
The barcode on your I.D. will be programmed to only allow certain people access into the building at different programmable times.  Each time a barcode is read it is logged into a computer of who scanned, at what time, and what time that person left the building.
The new security upgrade also includes new doors with alarms that, if left open for an extended period, will sound an alarm. That way if an intruder is using an item to keep a door pried open, after a short period of time an alarm will sound, alerting security and staff.
The new security will also include the installation of more than 100 cameras that can be accessed through the I.P. address of the computer monitoring system, insuring 24-hour monitoring of the school facility.
So how could an open campus policy be part of the school in the wake of heightened security and the threat of violence? Does the practicality of the open campus concept outweigh the risks? Is open campus still even a thought after the Newtown tragedy?
For Mrs. Saam, that is a question that is still being explored.
With the liberty of leaving school for a class period also comes the potential for abuse. Leaving school would have to be a more organized process with a way to “clock out” and “clock in” again.  There would also need to be a clear punishment system for students who never “clock back in.”
“The students that respect the rules will respect the rules, but the problem students will continue to be the problems students,” said Mrs. Saam.
If open campus did come to NHS, Saam said she’d “open the opportunity to only seniors in good academic and behavioral standing.” After all, open campus is a privilege and she is willing to promote and reward good behavior. Open campus is one way to reward those responsible students.
But when thinking about the idea of open campus, you begin to think about what you’d do with the 44 minutes. Naugatuck does not have many options for students during the school day. While many restaurants line Rubber Avenue, it is about the only place for students to go besides the borough’s library.
If given the opportunity to leave for 44 minutes, it would provide enough time to run over to  McDonalds, Subway, various pizza places and perhaps even Chinese food, but it is not enough time to have a sit-down meal.  For many students, it would not even be enough time to run home for lunch and return for class.
Students look at open campus as an opportunity for more freedom but the question might be: Freedom to do what?
The 44-minute window doesn’t lend much opportunity to get anything more accomplished because 44 minutes is simply not enough time.
When talking with students about the idea of open campus, students mentioned the opportunity to have a meal outside of the school cafeteria.  That can be accomplished without open campus. New outdoor patios will be built for students who are looking to eat outside on a nice day. The current front patio will be enclosed and the narrow grassy areas between Judd and Goodyear will be an area for students to sit on benches outside and enjoy some fresh air.
Current policies in place already allow students to leave if there is an emergency and seniors who are 18 years old can sign themselves out of school. If a student needs to rush home to get their glasses or to a book left behind, students can call home and get a note to leave and return. If that’s what they are hoping open-campus would accomplish, it is an option already available to them.
Our current facility doesn’t seem to lend itself to the perks of open-campus yet, but with new renovations to the building, it could offer students more freedom and responsibility as well as insuring a safer environment.

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