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Board of Education Votes Down Open Campus Plan

The proposal, which failed by a 4-3 vote, would have allowed qualified high school seniors to arrive late and leave early.

seniors will not be allowed to arrive late or leave early in the second semester after the Board of Education rejected an open campus proposal Tuesday night by a 4-3 vote.

Superintendent Stephen Falcone, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Matt Byrnes, and Darien High School Principal Dan Haron . It would have pertained only to seniors who do not have classes in the first or last time slots of the day, who earn at least a 2.5 grade point average, who do not have disciplinary problems, and who receive parental approval.

“The fact is that seniors who are about to leave for college are about to make decisions for themselves,” Haron said Tuesday night. “The fears I have about letting students off campus were alleviated by the conversations I had with the principals.”

Districts with similar demographics allow their seniors this privilege, and have experienced positive results, Byrnes said. He cited Greenwich, New Canaan, Weston, Wilton, and Ridgefield high schools.

“It is nice for seniors to have privileges,” Byrnes said.

Board member Heather Shea voted against the proposal, citing concerns about academic performance being undermined and the safety of elementary school students who live near the high school campus.

“I am having trouble, because when we opened that new high school, we took away class distinctions,” Shea said. “…The fact that we are putting in a special privilege for seniors seems to be heading in the wrong direction.”

Board member Jim Plutte favored the proposal, saying it would encourage seniors to be responsible for managing their time.

“The single biggest reason for failure among college freshmen is a student being unable to manage one’s time. We make a decision based upon the information that is available to us,” Plutte said. “I do not think you compromise the integrity of a high school. Do I think this will never, ever be abused? No.”

Board member Clara Sartori voted against the measure, saying she wants twelfth graders to be in the school building for the entire day.

“Overall, I think a student is better off being in school than not being in school," she said. “You must have compelling reasons to support students not being in school.”

Board member Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross wanted to know how freshmen, sophomores, and juniors would be prevented from arriving late and then entering the high school through a side door.  

Haron conceded that the younger students could sneak into the building through a side door, and not be recorded as having arrived late to school. “The truth is that signing in at the front desk is not a burden anyway,” he said. “Most students do it the right way.”

In the end, Shea, Sartori, Morgan Whittier, and Amy Bell voted against the plan; Hagerty-Ross, Plutte, and chairman Kim Westcott voted for it.

Correction: Due to an editing error, the original version of this article incorrectly stated that board members Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross, Jim Plutte, and Kim Westcott voted against the plan. In fact, they voted for it. Patch regrets the error.

eat September 07, 2011 at 03:01 PM
This was a difficult decision made by the Board and I respect their decision. Although I might have leaned towards introducing it on a pilot basis. Sometimes I think the Board needs to be presented with ideas in baby steps becuase they are inherently risk-adverse and rightfully so when it comes to safety. It would prove to the Board that these types of things can work with guidelines and puts the seniors on notice that the responsibilty is also theirs to make the idea work for not only this year, but next year's class as well. But if it is not successful given a set of agreed upon parameters, then it gets pulled for the following school year.
victor September 07, 2011 at 03:49 PM
"Districts with similar demographics allow their seniors this privilege, and have experienced positive results, Byrnes said. He cited Greenwich, New Canaan, Weston, Wilton, and Ridgefield high schools"... We missed an opportunity here folks. Having a pilot program would've proven the seniors are capable. The kids looking to be sneaky are going to get away with it regardless - experience shows. So the good kids who can handle this responsibility to get to an afterschool job or sleep in or do homework in the morning or whatever will suffer.
mom in town September 07, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Did the BOE consider how the plan could help alleviate the traffic issues present at dismissal? Many seniors drive to and from school and an opportunity to have students leave at different times could positively impact the traffic back-up. In addition has anyone considered that flexible school hours could help those student who (gasp) have after school jobs? We need to stop coddling the students and treat them like responsible citizens rather than continuously denying opportunities out of fear of a few who act irresponsibly.
Kara Glover Billhardt September 07, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him. ~Booker T. Washington
Peter Bigelow September 07, 2011 at 07:38 PM
As a parent of three now DHS graduates, I find it interesting that the oldest of my three had this privilege while the younger two missed out. Prior to the construction of the new building Darien students demonstrated they could handle the responsibility of an open campus. More interesting is the fact that while the BOE boasts mightily about the great universities/colleges DHS graduates attain admission into – they appear to NOT have confidence -- or respect -- that those same students have the maturity to handle this very basic change responsibly!
John Sini September 08, 2011 at 02:12 AM
I'm pretty disappointed with this decision. Isn't a key part of the high school experience the development of personal responsibility and independence? I know my three years of high school open campus better prepared me for self-motivating to (most) of my college classes.
Chris Noe September 08, 2011 at 02:42 AM
2.5 Grade Average??? Seems a little low. How about 3.5 average to qualify for this privilege. This incentive could benifit 9-12 graders not just seniors.
Dave September 09, 2011 at 12:08 AM
Why would our Board of Ed not follow the recommendations of the professionals they employ? I may be wrong, but I think the only BOE member with any education experience is Jim Plutte. My college student did not learn responsibility until he was given it.
sebastian dangerfield September 09, 2011 at 01:24 AM
its always easier to say no. the boe is made up of advocates for their kids. Without knowing, Im guessing that no boe member has a senior in high school. When they get some, then the rules will change. Thats why they should adopt some rule to have non-school parents on the board. other perspectives need to be considered and have a vote. that means those in town who pay taxes with no kids--or with kids who have graduated. All we have are pro spending advocates-(smart people by the way--but their agenda is colored. And im not meaning to be offensive-- just analytical. There really should be a change in the make up of the board to include at least one or 2 people without kids. actually george reilly may qualify...not sure.
Charley September 09, 2011 at 01:47 PM
The BOE is so wrong, we can't even let them out the door in addition to having a police officer inside the school. We're doing our kids a disfavor. Vote the neigh-sayers out.
mark September 10, 2011 at 05:04 AM
I graduated from DHS when it had a "open" campus some time ago. Sure I made a some mistakes, but I learned from them and grew to appreciate my freedom and how to use it wisely, a lesson that I still benefit from today. We need to stop hovering over our kids and let them grow up!!!

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