MILTON-FREEWATER — Officials with the Milton-Freewater Unified School District took one step closer to more campus security at a public meeting Tuesday night.
Superintendent Rob Clark and his school board have asked for community feedback on a proposal to close the McLoughlin High School campus at lunch to certain students.
A final decision is expected to be made in August, and another public meeting will take place before then, Clark said.
The conversation surrounding student safety encompasses much more than who leaves and who stays for lunch, however, Clark told the small group of attendees.
The district is responsible for students from the first bell to the last — for bus riders, it’s from step on to step off — and right now, high school students are leaving campus during class periods as well as at lunch, and some of them are doing unsafe and illegal things, he said.
“We need to stem this as much as humanely possible.”
The topic has been on the minds of the administration for about a year, Clark said, but getting student and family buy-in is an important step.
“I want input ... the policy is not ready; it’s a work in progress. We want people to say, ‘I like this, I don’t like that.’ We also want a policy we can enforce.”
Kids leaving campus has a ripple effect that can impact their entire lives, M-F school officials said. It’s not unusual for students to be late getting back for class, if they bother to come back at all. A child not in school is not getting that day’s lessons, and that exacerbates learning, emotional and social problems, attendance experts say.
The closest coffee stand in town is a huge draw both at lunch and when students have free periods in the school day, as are the nearby fast food spots and convenience markets, Clark said Tuesday.
At Mac-Hi, all 500-plus students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch, thanks to federal programs for schools with high numbers of low-income families. Getting that in place has increased the numbers of participants beyond the seating capacity of 200 in Mac-Hi’s cafeteria. It also has made supervision difficult, he said.
Clark, along with Mac-Hi Principal Mindi Vaughan, is proposing a layered approach to addressing security and other issues currently plaguing the high school, including the following:
Split Mac-Hi’s current single lunch period into two; the first for freshman and sophomores, the second for juniors and seniors.
Allow only juniors and seniors to go off campus, providing grades and attendance warrant the privilege.
Hire one to two campus security and attendance staff, including a school resource officer in partnership with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office. Such personnel would monitor hallways, bathrooms, security cameras; patrol campus and parking lots; supervise detention; help with detaining kids leaving campus and charging students under the influence of drugs and alcohol; monitor who is coming inside the high school; search backpacks.
Enforce keeping all food inside cafeteria or designated outdoor eating areas. Students taking lunches to other parts of the school is making the hallway and library carpet filthy and adding to the custodians’ workload.
Work with the district’s food service provider to make extra food available for purchase, such as a second hamburger, etc. Standard school lunches are not always adequate for athletes and other students who are burning a lot of energy during the day.
Number and assign parking spots for students. This will not only allow for better campus supervision, but help identify students who are strewing trash from their vehicles.
Refresh outside picnic seating and see if students will use it and keep the area clean.
Return to formally using an alternative school site for students who won’t obey school rules. That won’t include kids with disabilities, Clark said, but will include habitual school skippers. Freewater Elementary School will be available for such a setting, he said.
Create and enforce practical policies that don’t punish students who are obeying school rules. Of particular importance is standardizing the process when students return to school high on drugs.
Clark said he would like to see local law enforcement agencies respond to those instances with a “tougher” attitude. He is currently working with Umatilla County’s juvenile justice center to determine effective approaches to the problem.
Board member Mike Lesko said he’s heard from the community “loud and clear” that they see student substance abuse as a big problem for the learning environment. Those people don’t view the school as taking enough action about it, he said.
The district also plans to offer in-house drug counseling one day per week next year, Vaughan told the group.
Community members now have about eight weeks to form questions and comments. The district will advertise the August meeting time and date later this summer, Clark said.