Several students who spoke recently at a D.C. school board meeting criticized a board proposal to prohibit pupils from leaving school grounds during lunch-hour periods.
Elementary and junior high school pupils should be required to have parental consent to leave school during the day, but no such restrictions should be applied at the high schools, the students said.
About 10 students spoke at the meeting that is held annually to allow board members to hear student opinions on a range of issues. The meeting was held at Logan Elementary School, Third and G streets NE.
"Students on the high school level should be able to do our thing," said Larry Graham, 17, a senior and president of the Cardozo High School student council. "We worked hard to get to high school, so I think you all should give us a break."
Aleashia McKinney, 16, a sophomore at Dunbar High School and a student council officer, said, "I don't think there should be closed campuses schools that restrict students from leaving during lunch . A lot of students don't eat cafeteria food. They go to neighborhood stores" and fast food restaurants. Some students enjoy visiting the homes of friends who live nearby at lunchtime, she said. "Lunch time is the only time we get a break from school."
Closed campus restrictions would be burdensome to students and impractical, McKinney said. "No one wants us hanging in the halls . . . and oftentimes you can't go onto the football fields because the gates are closed. So, what will we do during that hour -- sit around and do nothing?"
The board proposal resulted from regular reports that students were vandalizing stores and participating in other illegal activities during lunch-hour periods, and that they were failing to return to school for afternoon classes.
However, the student witnesses urged school officials not to penalize the majority of students, who they said attend classes regularly and on time, for the misdeeds of a minority. "Deal with the students who want to learn," one student said.
After hearing the students, D.C. Schools Superintendent Floretta McKenzie declined to take a position on the proposal, but she said, "We need to do a better job of teaching kids to be independent, because maybe some of the things that we are doing makes them dependent." She suggested that officials examine ways to encourage students "to act properly" as opposed to restricting their movements.
On other issues:
* The students agreed that pupils should continue to be required to maintain a C average in order to participate in extracurricular activities such as student government and sports.
* Mckinney said that Dunbar students dislike a new policy requiring latecomers to sit in tardy hall instead of attending classes.
* Melvin Campbell, 14, a Fletcher-Johnson student, suggested that the board replace its current system of banning suspended students from schools and instead allow these students to receive their punishment in school.
After testifying, some of the students said they believed that board had confused them by asking them unnecessarily elaborate questions. Camilla McKinney, the student representative on the board, who chaired the meeting, agreed. During the meeting she clarified for students, some of whom were as young as 13, several questions posed by school board members.