As Port Jefferson school officials continue to seek ways to improve the safety and security of students within the district, one such privilege that's been around "for as long as anyone can recall," according to Superintendent Ken Bossert, may be at risk: Port Jefferson's open campus policy for seniors.
Following the Jan. 8 Board of Education meeting, the school superintendent was directed by the board to draft a policy for the board's next meeting, on Feb. 12, regarding having the campus closed. On Jan. 31, the public will have the opportunity to give their two cents on the idea at a community forum led by Bossert.
"One of the things that concerns us, and has the board looking carefully, is that seniors tend to drive, and tend to drive far outside the village," Bossert said. "Our concern is safe speeds. And I think out job as administrators is to reduce risk whenever we can identify risk.
"In the event of a student tragedy, we would close the campus the next day. So why not proactively not have a tragedy take place?"
In addition to considering closing the school campus for seniors – who need parental permission in order to travel off campus during lunch periods – the school board is considering safety upgrades such as camera and public address improvements, as well as boosting physical security presence in both schools. Temporary hires have already been made by the district until permanent, full-time security staff is expected to be hired in February.
Bossert was with the Three Village School District when administrators decided in 2010 to close their campus, a decision that sparked debate on both sides, as evidenced by the 4-3 vote on the matter, according to a Times Beacon Record report of the board meeting.
Alan Baum, principal of Ward Melville High School, said enacting a closed campus rule was a two-year process during which there was some significant push-back from the students. The school board finally voted in favor of the closed campus effective Sept. 1, 2010.
"The more we discussed the topic and the benefits associated with the move, the community as a whole was supportive of the switch," Baum said in an email to Patch. "We have seen a decrease in the number of student vehicle accidents, lateness to school/class and an increase in the number of students taking a full/nearly full schedule of classes."
Baum also said that in the current conversations about school security taking place nation-wide in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the concept of a closed campus is "absolutely" more important than ever.
Port Jefferson Board of Education Trustee Jim Laffey agreed that "After the events in Connecticut, everything became fair game when looking at security measures ... the safety of children is our paramount responsibility as members of the board, and parents of students in this community."
Laffey serves on the school board's Facilities Committee along with Vincent Ruggiero and board Vice President Rob Ramus. The committee recommended to the entire board at its Jan. 8 meeting that Bossert draft language proposing the change, and after the open Jan. 31 meeting – which begins at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium – the board may vote on the measure on Feb. 12. Two readings, and two affirmative votes, would be required for the policy to be adopted.
Both Laffey and Ramus noted that should public opinion heavily favor keeping the open campus, they would be open to consdering otherwise. However both seemed to agree, at least at first glance, with the logic of keeping seniors on campus.
"I'm not opposed to closing the campus," Ramus said. "Again, I would want more information from the community to see how they feel about it. But I do agree with the rationale behind it."
Requests for comment from Board President Kathleen Brennan, trustees Mark Doyle and Ellen Boehm, and Port Jefferson PTSA members were not immediately returned.
With reporting from Christine Sampson.
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