The Arlington County School Board has agreed to study a plan that would ban open campuses at the four county high schools, imposing strict limitations on times when students could leave school grounds or classrooms.
Currently, according to school officials, most students can leave school grounds only during their lunch hour or "free time," although H.B. Woodlawn, an alternative high school for gifted students, has a more liberal policy for students in the upper grades.
The proposal to ban open campuses, presented to the school board last week by Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Henry E. Hudson and Police Chief William K. Stover, is among several proposals from Hudson and Stover aimed at reducing juvenile crime in the county.
"There has been a considerable increase (in juvenile crime) over the last three years," Hudson said. "And when I was running for commonwealth's attorney, one of the principal issues I kept hearing about was what should be done about juvenile misbehavior in the county."
Although board reaction to the proposals generally was favorable, the three board members at last week's meeting said they may not agree with specific suggestions and ordered a staff study of the suggestions.
The proposals, according to Hudson, are the result of a year-long study by his office that involved almost weekly conversations with school principals, teachers, students and youth resource officers, who are plain-clothes police officers assigned to county schools to promote better cooperation and understanding between students and police.
In a memorandum to the school board, Hudson and Stover said: "We reject the notion that juvenile misbehavior is a 'school problem' -- except to the extent that such behavior disrupts the educational environment.
"Public schools should be recognized as an invaluable resource in addressing delinquent behavior, particularly in the identification of persons with behavioral problems."
In asking that open campuses be banned, Hudson and Stover said that more than 60 percent of daytime burglaries in the county are committed by juveniles, according to police statistics. In addition, the memo from the two officials said, police and the prosecutor's office have received numerous complaints about school-aged children drinking or smoking marijuana on off-school property during school hours. More than 20 students were arrested in the past school year for such offenses, according to the memo.
Officials at three of the four county high schools -- Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown -- said all students must have parental permission to leave school grounds during lunch hour, and when on campus they must be in classrooms, study halls or the school cafeteria except for the short breaks when classes change.
At Wakefield, Principal Victor Blue said, "We have not had an open campus for a number of years. We don't have unscheduled time when students can come and go as they please, and we're the only school that has supervised study halls."
At Washington-Lee, according to Principal William Sharbaugh, students also can leave the campus during free time, if they have their parents' permission, while at Yorktown, Principal Steve Kurcis said juniors and seniors are allowed to take five academic classes, with a sixth free period. Students must schedule the free period for the end of the day, Kurcis said, when they are allowed to leave the grounds.
The major exception to those policies is at H.B. Woodlawn, an alternative school for students in grades 7 through 12. Woodlawn Principal Ray Anderson said grades 7 and 8 operate under a "closed campus," while parents of students in grades 9 and 10 are allowed to decide whether their children should operate under closed or open rules. Students in those grades have the option of arranging their schedules so they may leave at 1:30 p.m. instead of at the regular closing time of 3:30 p.m. Juniors and seniors, Anderson said, are allowed to leave school during any free periods.
Despite the more liberal policies, Anderson noted that all Woodlawn students are actively encouraged to help in arranging their own schedules and that free time is scheduled for special academic work, such as research projects on Capitol Hill, and is an integral part of the program.
"Our (free time) is part of the design of the school," Anderson said, "and allows students to have greater flexibility."
Among other suggestions made by Hudson and Stover was one they described as "creative discipline," which would require students convicted of crimes committed on school grounds to perform some type of maintenance tasks for the schools. Students suspended for possessing drugs or alcohol at school, they suggested, should be evaluated by a drug counselor before being allowed to return to class.
Hudson and Stover also expressed concern that assaults on teachers and other crimes committed on school grounds were being under-reported. They suggested that school employes take a three-hour legal seminar that would cover basic criminal law, juvenile court procedures and the legal rights of educators.