A proposal to study the open campus policy at Alexandria's only public high school was defeated soundly last week by the Alexandria School Board, despite concerns of most board members that the policy could be the most important issue in the future of the school.
"Madame Chairman, I fear this open campus at T.C. Williams is having a negative effect not only on some of our students, but on 90 percent of our students . . . we need to look at it," warned J. Harvey Harrison, one of three board members who supported the study.
Most board members shared Harrison's concerns, but contended the proposal, sponsored by board member William Euille, was unclear, and that the issue should be studied by the T.C. Williams Parent-Teacher-Student Association rather than the school board. Board chairman Shirley N. Tyler, who voted against the proposal, said the defeat did not signal disinterest, but a shift in emphasis.
Euille, however, said later he considered the rejection an abdication of responsibility and a reflection of the board's unwillingness to confront controversial questions.
"It really shocked me," he said after the meeting. "We've been talking about this thing for 2 1/2 years and then nothing. The board isn't interested in education . . . they're more interested in baseball.
"We'll talk about baseball for hours and hours . . . but then when we get to a concrete issue and the board dismisses it without fanfare. It's always the same response, 'Gee, that's a good idea, but we'll let someone else handle it.'"
The open campus recently came under attack by some parents, teachers and administrators who feel the unwritten policy, first initiated in 1971, gives too much freedom to the 2,500 students at T.C. Williams. The schools' PTSA informed the school board last week it was considering studying the issue, but no decision has been made.
One of the major objections to Euille's proposal concerned the composition of the committee, which would have included staff, teachers, students and parents. Several board members questioned whether teachers and students should be included, suggesting that they would have a predetermined bias on the issue.
Euille said that if that was the problem amendments should have been made:
"We do this (amend) with every other motion that hinges on what appears to be a minor problem in a proposal. The board has made a big mistake and is going to be slapped in the face when the results of the minimum competency tests are released this spring and everyone wonders why the scores are so low. Then they'll start rationalizing and begin looking at open-campus."