The Issues: Open Campus at the High School

Candidates running in the Nov. 8 Benicia Unified School District board election answer questions posed by Benicia Patch with input from readers.

Every day at lunch there’s an exodus of students, some in cars headed to fast food restaurants around town (some say to other cities) others walking to nearby parks.  There are health and safety issues involving possible drug use and speeding cars as students try to beat the bell.

Today’s question (from a reader): Should Benicia High School go to a closed campus at lunch?

With the great work done by staff, and parents as well as the work of the Great Neighbor’s committees, we have a great cafeteria. A logical future step is to review the feasibility of closing the campus at lunch. I think we are one of the only open campuses in Solano County.

BUSD has the only high school in 40 miles that have an open campus. I think we have been very lucky to have not had any serious problems. I have seen BHS students walking in In & Out in Pinole at 12:30 and wondered how they are able to order their food and make it back safely to school by the bell. I know they also go to In & Out in Fairfield and Sonic in American Canyon, just to name a few. BUSD has the responsibility of keeping all students safe during school hours. I know the high school has been giving lunch detention for being late to class after lunch but have been told not all teachers are enforcing that. I know closing the campus has the support of the Benicia Police and many neighbors around the high school. I think we need to look into providing more lunchtime on campus activities (class competitions, music, special events, etc.). Continue improving the cafeteria / food, and then maybe students won’t want to leave.

The new food service at the High School is very successful.  It offers a variety of healthy choices and a fun environment in the student center that enables different socializing opportunities that are well received by both students and staff.  With this development, closing the high school campus during lunch seems more than workable.  The concern was that all students could not be served in a timely schedule, but that problem, with current choices available, seems diminished.

A closed campus would also contribute to less truancy and has a potential for developing student focus on classes and school goals

I would like to see a compromise regarding this issue.  Keeping students on campus for lunch would encourage a positive school community and decrease tardiness for fifth period, but it is clear that Benicia High School facilities cannot accommodate each student during lunchtime.  By limiting whether students can go off campus by grade level and/or day of the week, we mitigate the issues posed by an open campus while keeping in mind the limitations of our facilities.


Elaine October 11, 2011 at 02:38 PM
You can't close the campus until the facilities are able to feed all of the kids in a timely fashion. In the middle school, the lines are too long and take too long to get through, so I have to make my daughters lunch every day and hot lunch isn't much of an option. Once upon a time I was one of those kids eating lunch in the Pinole shopping center, coming from De Anza...we always made it back in plenty of time. A closed campus is fine if the high school is fully prepared to feed ALL of the kids.
Karen LaRiviere October 11, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Several years ago, after the California Healthy Kids Survey results came out for Benicia, it showed that an alarming number of students admitted to drinking alcohol and smoking pot "during the school day." A number of parents began to look into the situation and learned that BHS is the ONLY high school with an open campus within a 30 mile radius. Many high schools closed their campuses when the new driving laws restricting new drivers from having any passengers for 12 months was passed, others after 9/11, others had always been closed. The tardies after lunch, or students who just don't return are very high. Students are breaking the law every day, while the school district looks the other way when cars full of kids, many of whom do not belong in those cars, race off to In N Out in Pinole or Fairfield. The students only get 38 minutes for lunch. If that's not a nightmare waiting to happen, I don't know what is, but we have all been very, very lucky. These same parents went to the schools in Vallejo with the same size population, smaller facilities and ONE lunch period. They were serving about 400-600 lunches per day. We were serving 95 because we were only able to take cash. After these parents formed the Wellness Committee with the district, we were able to get grant money from the Good Neighbor Steering Committee initially to purchase Nutrikids to speed up the entire process.
Karen LaRiviere October 11, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Because the old payment system had no confidentiality, many students who were eligible for "free & reduced" lunch didn't take advantage of it causing the district to lose a huge amount of federal money every year. Now those eligible are participating and the high school is serving close to 400 lunches a day. The GNSC money also allowed BHS to remodel it's entire cafeteria & install food courts. They are working hard to improve the quality of the food to encourage more students to stay on campus. Part of the justification for this money was to "lower the carbon footprint" with fewer cars racing off campus wasting their parents gas. Also, BHS has FAR MORE available seating, inside and out, than either Jesse Bethel or Vallejo High, and they are able to feed their students in ONE lunch period. Prior to Hogan closing, both Bethel and VHS had about 1700 students. The principal has worked very hard in the last year to have activities for the students during the lunch period to encourage more school spirit. Parents have argued against it because they feel it punishes "the good kids" but if you look at who some of the biggest offenders are, many of them are the "good kids." The kids feel it would make the school a "prison" but if you ask the kids at the other schools if they think they go to a prison because they can't leave for lunch, they just laugh. That's all they've known. Pretty much every argument against closing the campus has been debunked, it's just having the will to do it.
Karen LaRiviere October 11, 2011 at 03:51 PM
I would hope that we could accomplish this BEFORE a tragedy and not in response to one. There is another compelling reason to close the campus - the Benicia Police ran a report of the number of calls between 12 noon and 1:30 for an 18 month period. The numbers were staggering. In this day of reduced services and funds, I would think that the public would want their police available to patrol Southampton for problems rather than rounding up goofballs down at the 9th St. Park getting stoned and forgetting to go back to class. There would have to be some reworking of the Campus Security, but not insurmountable and to those who argue the kids are still going to smoke pot and drink anyway, just on campus, true, but it will be a lot easier to keep track if everyone is in one place and not racing around in cars sometimes under the influence trying to get back to campus before the bell rings.
Donna Covey October 11, 2011 at 04:22 PM
As someone who closed a high school campus for lunch - it can be done. Our community was demanding it. However, it not only takes facilities that can provide lunch during a 30-40 minute time period(s) we had multiple lunches - but it also takes noon supervision to monitor the campus and very importantly it takes an administrative and faculty team to enforce the rules consistently within a school-wide clearly delineated discipline plan...(phew). Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Karen LaRiviere October 11, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Donna, can I ask what the total population of your school was? Every school we spoke with, some even larger than BHS had a 6 period day with 1 lunch period. I believe Rodrigeuz High may have 2 periods for lunch but they also have 2400+ students so that makes sense. All the schools that were the same size had 1 lunch period recognizing that not all students are going to eat anyway. Also, that we are currently serving 400 lunches with an OPEN campus is pretty darned impressive. Benicia is pretty resistent to change and I know money is always an issue, but I would think when everything is added up, police, safety, gas, absences and tardies, closing the campus would actually be more cost effective in the long run.
The Gateway October 11, 2011 at 05:01 PM
We are one of the school's neighbors (just one block away). We have an after-school program for the students on Wednesdays ("The Stand") and also a fantastic youth group meeting on Wednesday evenings. Parents drop off and pick up their children in our parking lots. All of that to say, we are enthusiastic about providing a safe and nurturing environment for BHS (and BMS) students. We cringe (and time our arrivals and departures carefully) when we see them racing towards Southampton Road at lunchtime, because that racing has at times been accompanied by the sound of screeching tires and crunching metal. And, unfortunately, we've had considerable issues with students taking advantage of the privacy of our corner of Benicia during the lunch hour. We hate to call the police when we see them secreting themselves away to participate in illegal activity, but that's what we've been told to do by the school authorities, who can't patrol every inch of the surrounding neighborhoods at all times. Well, the police can't be everywhere all the time, either. Closing the campus at lunchtime would promote safety and wellbeing, in addition to increasing accountability. If, as Ms. LaRiviere states, some would argue that kids are still going to smoke pot and drink anyway, just on campus, well, that situation definitely needs to be addressed, too. Let's at least make an effort to keep the kids safe and accountable.
JB Davis (Editor) October 11, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Thanks for the comment Elaine. My understanding from the head of food services is that the High School can easily feed all the kids if they move to 2 lunch periods. I have been a substitute teacher in the past and have been to many schools that have 2 lunch periods. It seems doable if there is a will on the part of the school board.
Karen LaRiviere October 11, 2011 at 07:23 PM
This is a reply to JB - I don't know why there isn't a button to reply to specific posts, unless I missed it. Every school that we talked to with the same number of students has a 6 period day with ONE lunch period. Our newly remodeled cafeteria is more than adequate to accomodate the students in one lunch period as it is FAR superior to the surrounding schools that seem to manage quite nicely. The current Food Services Director was not here when all of the initial legwork and site visits were done and we really have not had any meetings with him to discuss thoroughly what the options might be. The common response from those who have not had any discussions regarding this subject is generally that "it can't be done" because: "we're too big, our cafeteria can't handle it, there aren't enough seats, we'd need more than 1 period, the school will be a prison, there will be more fights, the kids will still get stoned. . ." Pick your poison, but most all of those issues have been addressed, however those of us who worked on this from the beginning have not actually met formally with the new Food Services Director to discuss this particular issue. But the usual response from anyone that "2 periods would be needed" is not necessarily accurate.
Cheryl Ford October 11, 2011 at 08:30 PM
I think closing the campus is a great idea. I agree that the kids who drive are riding around other kids which is againist the law for new drivers. Most new drivers are excited to drive but this creates dangers for all invovled. Accidents by student drivers occur weekly in the BHS parking lot or near by. Most of the fender benders are not even reported. Do whatever needs to be done to keep the kids safe; add two lunch periods and close the campus.
Judith Tata October 11, 2011 at 10:04 PM
One of the stipulations in obtaining the money for the cafeteria revamp was that it was going to a green cause - meaning by providing decent food in a nice setting, we would get the kids and their cars off the roads. As Karen La Riviere noted, some of the schools that we visited prior to embarking on this improvement venture, had both smaller and less elaborate grounds. In comparison, there seem to be no obvious reason why BHS can not be on par at least with the Vallejo schools. As for the set-up at BMS, if a la cart items were removed - or severely limited - and mainly full lunches were served at all stations, maybe some of the lines would move faster...
Donna Covey October 12, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Karen, I can't speak to how things are being handled now - but at the time our school had 2,000 students and we were on a block schedule.
Elaine October 12, 2011 at 01:09 AM
Re: BMS... I'm for doing what ever it takes to improve the long lunch lines at BMS. Kids should not have to spend their entire lunch period waiting in a line to get their food.
Gary Wing October 12, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Elaine, My understanding since Nutrikids pay system started at BMS, that the student at the end of the line is at the counter in 5 to 7 minutes. Lunch is around 40 minutes.


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