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OPEN CAMPUS POLICY FOR SENIORS COMES TO AN END

The 22-year-old open campus policy at Hamburg High School seniors is kaput.

What many students had come to relish as they became seniors is officially gone -- wiping out what had become an institution of sorts that allowed students to leave school for up to 1 1/2 hours a day.

The change -- implemented by the school's new principal, Jean Kovach, on the first day of school -- drew mostly praise from School Board members Tuesday night. Students have not embraced the change so enthusiastically.

"I am absolutely thrilled to know the program no longer exists," said Trustee Sandra L. Holden. "I never thought it should have been. Now, I believe kids are where they should be -- in school, taking courses."

In place since 1976, the open-campus concept at Hamburg, more commonly known as senior alternative plan, was first introduced as a way to help alleviate overcrowded conditions and study halls in the school. At that time, the school housed grades 10-12 and each class numbered 500 students for a total of 1,500 pupils in a school whose capacity was 1,200.

But administrators Tuesday said the program became abused over the years and became more difficult to track students and their whereabouts throughout the course of the school day. Students were able to sign in and out of school for up to two class periods a day and those times did not have to be consecutive periods.

"Once the class sizes (went) down, it was hard to take away. And then it became abused," said Board President Eileen Rucker.

In an interview, Mrs. Kovach said her decision to pull the program centered greatly on student safety and security. "The whole issue is safety and security of students," she said. "I think that's paramount. I know the students are probably still unhappy with the changes, but I think they realize the time has come."

Mrs. Kovach is meeting with representatives of the senior class to work out a possible senior lounge within the school as a compromise. In addition, a separate eating area for seniors has been established in an alcove of the cafeteria, with extra tables added.

Superintendent Peter G. Roswell stressed the importance of liability risks facing the district, had the open campus policy continued. "You can't surrender legal responsibility as the school, and you had no idea where students were going or what they were doing," he said. "It is a serious liability issue."

The district has a responsibility to parents to know where their children are during the school day, whether they're freshmen or seniors, Roswell said.

To be able to have open campus privileges, students had to have parental permission the previous May leading into their senior year, and not be failing school or have discipline problems. Otherwise, their senior alternative plan privileges could be pulled, administrators said. Seniors also were supposed to carry senior alternative plan identification cards when they had left school during the day.

Trustee Steven Hanson didn't endorse the demise of open campus at the high school.

"It seems to me that in the bigger picture, it's helping seniors transit to college life," he said. "I wonder if there isn't a way for the off-grounds potential for college courses, so seniors have the chance to (adjust) toward college."

Roswell said the overall emphasis is focusing on more students getting to class and school on time, as well as offering more structured study halls and an academic learning center. Mrs. Kovach also has cracked down on smoking just outside school grounds, at one tree in particular at the corner of North and Division streets that many dub "the smoking tree."

Students also are not allowed to wear hats in school or in class. Previously they were allowed to wear them in the halls and take them off at the discretion of their teachers. Now, they can wear them into school, but then must put them into their lockers.

Attendance at student assemblies also has been targeted, with students not being excused for doctors' appointments scheduled during mandatory assemblies. "Apparently there had been a chronic problem with seeing hundreds of doctor excuses," Roswell said. The school plans to offer more compelling assemblies for students.

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