Off-campus teens anger Anchorage residents

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A coalition of Anchorage residents is asking the school district to keep high school students on school grounds all day.

The group says it hopes to get an initiative on the April ballot that would make it unlawful for high schoolers to leave campus during school hours.

High school students now can leave school grounds between classes and at lunch. While most use the break for a fast food trip, the Safe Schools and Community Coalition says far worse problems are routine.

Some kids use their off-campus time to smoke cigarettes, do drugs, guzzle liquor and commit crimes ranging from vandalism to burglary to assault, said coalition spokesman Rick Helms.

Bartlett High School students last May were smoking on Native Heritage Center property and started three brush fires, said center president Margaret Nelson, who is not a coalition member.

That same month, an angry neighbor of Dimond High School marched into a vice principal's office and dumped a wastebasket filled with cigarette butts and other trash on the floor. School officials had placed the wastebasket near his house, in a grassy off-campus area where kids from the school hang out.

Helms announced the initiative plan last week at the Anchorage School Board meeting and said the long advance notice gives the district enough time to prepare to close campuses next fall.

Guy Okada, Dimond High School principal, said the change would present a logistical nightmare. There are about 50 doors leading out of the school, he said, and students with internships, shorter schedules or classes at King Career Center come and go all day.

"When the bell rings for lunch, how do I ensure everyone is still here?" Okada said. "It would take major investment (in) personnel and facilities to make it happen."

Juneau-Douglas High School has an open campus, partly because it is overcrowded and doesn't have a kitchen.

Planners of the proposed high school at Dimond Park, which likely will have a kitchen, have discussed making it a closed campus. Some neighbors of Dimond Park have said an open campus would lead to trespassing on their property, noise, litter, and increased vehicle traffic.

Empire reporter Eric Fry contributed to this report.

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