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Freshmen freedom – NOT!

Cory Fisher

Cheryl Shirley’s disappointed.

The South Tahoe Middle School eighth-grader says she’s been looking forward to the open campus at South Tahoe High School for three years. Now it looks as though Shirley and her classmates will have to wait at least another year – possibly more – before taking midday trips into town.

Beginning in the fall of 1998, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to close the high school campus at lunchtime for freshmen. After future evaluation, the new policy may include sophomores in years to follow.

“That’s totally not fair to people who don’t get into trouble,” Shirley said. “Everyone wants to get away from the cafeteria – it gets boring after awhile. The kids who are doing something wrong are ruining it for us, and those kids aren’t going to get any better.”

Although STHS Principal Karen Ellis says roughly 85 to 90 percent of freshmen – not yet old enough to drive – already remain on campus at lunch, the number of “inappropriate and/or suspendible behaviors” have primarily involved freshmen who are off campus during school hours. In addition, many who don’t catch rides with upperclassmen attempt to run to the “Y” for food, failing to make it back in the allotted 45 minutes, one student said.

“There has been concern for a number of years regarding younger students off campus,” Ellis said. In a recent survey, parents were asked to name one change they would like to see at the high school. “Parents said they would like to see freshmen, or freshmen and sophomores, to stay on campus at lunch – that caused us to take a harder look at the possibility.”

As there will be no additional staff to monitor the greater number of students on campus, Ellis said no definite plans have yet been made to include sophomores in future years – the topic will, however, remain under discussion. Next year, the administration will be evaluating the new rule’s impact on food services and staff, as well as congestion issues.

In addition to enclosing the outdoor eating area behind the cafeteria, Ellis said attempts will be made to create more “satellite food stations,” offer videos at lunch and expand the lunchtime intramural program.

STHS senior Danisha Sullwold wonders if the upcoming rule is realistic.

“This will be impossible to enforce – students wouldn’t like it if they started spot checking cars for freshmen,” Sullwold said. “I think they should focus more on problems like smoking and cutting classes.”

Ellis says she doesn’t envision a “spot checking” scenario, but “the expectation to follow the rules will be there.

“We didn’t want to change the rules midstream for students who are already here,” Ellis said. “But older students will be held responsible if they take younger students off campus in cars.”

“An open campus is an earned privilege,” said LTUSD board member Linda Mendizabal. “It’s pretty clear that parents will be more comfortable not having their kids out in a car with someone they don’t know.”

Some students say they feel the freshmen are being singled out unfairly. Not so, says Ellis.

“In a family, often the younger siblings have fewer privileges than the older ones,” she said.

Junior Garret Gonzalez agrees. “Freshmen are the ones ruining it for everyone else,” he said. “They’re trying to be cool and then get into trouble – all we want to do at lunch is get something to eat.”

LTUSD board president David Kurtzman said the change in policy is a sign of changing times.

“It’s a different high school than it was 10 years ago,” he said. “We’ve got new leadership, the size has grown, we’ve introduced block scheduling and there’s been a change in attendance patterns and discipline issues. I think it’s a reflection of the high school taking a look at itself and trying to improve – as well as responding to parental input.”

Gladys Astronomo, a senior, says she, too, has noticed a change during her three years at the high school – and it’s not all bad.

“The cafeteria is small, but there is better food for sale on campus now,” she said. “The school is getting stricter with dress codes and stuff – people are taking the rules more seriously.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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