Open or closed?
Something happens on weekdays at 12:27 that turns Donner Pass Road into a congested mess of bodies and cars. It’s the sounding of Tahoe Truckee High School’s lunch bell, and the mass exodus of hundreds of students scurrying to grab a bite and beat the clock back to class. Students enjoy the freedom, teachers relish the momentary quiet, and near-by merchants welcome with business. But outside the Tahoe Basin, very few high schools are maintaining open-campus policies, citing safety and attendance as primary reasons for keeping teens locked-down.
“Eighty-five percent of districts in California have closed campuses,” said Folsom High School principal Paul Richards. “Ever since Columbine, and even prior, it became easier to keep track of kids by keeping them on campus. Parents expect their students to be supervised all day, and it keeps kids from coming back drunk or loaded.” But Truckee High principal Mike Finney maintains that his students make good decisions and return to school on time. Owners of eateries within easy walking radius of the high school agreed. “Our kids here are real polite,” said Treat Box owner Lee Eufresne, who is bombarded daily by swarms of teens. “We try like heck to get them fed and back to school on time. We even have parents come in and thank us for taking care of their kids.”
Perhaps that’s one of the perks to living in a small community. North Tahoe and South Tahoe High Schools also allow students to leave for lunch, and South Tahoe principal Marcia Kaster said she rarely has discipline problems associated with the policy. Local businesses certainly appreciate it. Bill Akers, who is the parent of a sophomore and the owner of Nik-n-Willies Pizza, located near the fire station on Donner Pass Road, said he makes 5 to 10 percent of his annual sales during the 30 minute student lunch rush. “[Students] have a fairly significant impact on business,” he said. “The kids that I’ve had in here have been great, but I don’t get out on the road and see the traffic.”
And traffic there is, often backing up Donner Pass Road from Northwoods Boulevard to the Highway 89 intersection. “The chances for accidents are high because they are all rushing around,” said parent Richard Waller. “I’m very much against [the open campus policy]. Interpersonal problems such as fights happen away from the school, not at school.” Waller’s wife Lauri said she didn’t have a problem with giving teens some responsibility and space, but did mention that having the ability to get into serious mischief was a concern.