The Arlington School Board voted last night to allow next year's high school seniors to leave campus during lunch hour if they have parental permission, despite angry opposition from some citizens who live near the schools and some law enforcement officials.
The board's action, recommended by Superintendent Arthur W. Gosling and endorsed by high school principals and school staff, reversed a 1983 board decision to gradually phase out Arlington's so-called "open campus" policy by the end of this school year.
This year only seniors have the privilege of leaving the school grounds for lunch.
Some of those who live near the county's four high schools have argued that open campuses have led to littering, loitering and vandalism, while students say seniors deserve a certain amount of independence and the right to budget their own time, especially in view of the fact that many are old enough to drive and vote.
Margaret Dawson, who lives across from Wakefield High School, said the policy had encouraged students to loiter and throw cigarette butts, bottles and fast food wrappers on the street.
"The open lunch period has put a lot of children on the street," Dawson said. "It's a real problem."
Jennifer Mayer, a junior at Washington-Lee High School, urged School Board members to "please give students this chance to demonstrate they're worthy of this trust."
Her remarks drew long applause from about 40 students in the audience.
"I think our youngsters have shown they can handle the senior privilege," said board member Frank Wilson.
"I would like to give them a vote of confidence."
Board member Margaret Bocek, the board's lone Republican, cast the only negative vote.
"I feel it is really irresponsible for the board to ignore the tremendous amount of evidence from [the community] simply to satisfy the self-interest of the senior class," she said.
The board authorized the expenditure of up to $47,000 next year to hire as many as five full-time aides to help monitor the program and agreed to reevaluate the policy next spring.