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Newly-elected associated student body president and vice president present open-campus lunch idea to school board

Natalee Litchfield and Emilie Mendoza were elected as the Molalla High School Associated Student Body president and vice president respectively for the upcoming academic year. But they didn't wait for a new school year before advocating on behalf of the student body. The two went before the school board at the board's May meeting to push for open-campus lunch.

After the presentation, plus comments from Superintendent Tony Mann, the board decided unanimously to direct Mann to draft a project plan that would allow the board to make an informed decision about open campus.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Students push to allow students to leave the Molalla High School campus during lunchtime.

The students' request didn't come on a whim; instead, the two had surveyed the student body and found that 79 percent of respondents were highly in favor of having open-campus lunch.

They also met the week before with Mann and Molalla High School Principal Brad Berzinski.

"It's easy to brag about our kids; it's also very easy to brag about these two young ladies and their leadership and their ability to communicate and think through complex issues," Mann said to the board. "They gave a lot of thought to this and met with Mr. Berzinski and I a week ago, and walked us through their early thinking.

"We asked some good questions to be able to sort of tease out some of the considerations we might want to have on the table as a community to have this kind of conversation, because it affects a lot of people," Mann said.

More Freedom

The potential change would offer students more freedom, something students said is lacking at the school.

"When talking to a bunch of students in our class and around the school, we've noticed that a lot of them feel like there have been a lot of new rules that have been set in place…" Mendoza said. "It's kind of made students feel that they're not being respected."

Mendoza added, "A few comments that some students have said is that it feels like they're in prison at school, or that they don't feel like they're being properly prepared for college because of the different changes that have been put on us. Like I said, they feel like they're not being respected."

To this, Director Craig Loughridge said he felt compelled to say something.

"I appreciate your comments, but they're nothing new," Loughridge said to the women. "Students going back time immemorial say: 'It feels like a prison,' 'We feel disrespected,' 'We want an open campus.' At McNary High School in 1978, we were doing the exact same thing—every year."

He continued, "In reality, it's just part of growing up. I've seen this as a student, as a parent, as a community member and now as a board member. I absolutely support if you guys want to do that, you know, work out a deal. But, don't feel like we disrespect you. It's nothing personal."

Litchfield then respectfully and boldly responded, pointing out the potential for a change in the way it has always been.

"I think we can still make strides to improve relationships between students and the administration." -Natalee Litchfield, 2019-20 student body president

"I think that students might always in a sense feel disrespected. To some extent, that's inevitable," Litchfield said. "But I also think that that doesn't necessarily mean that we should just throw in the towel, and say, 'Oh, that's just the way that these relationships work.' I think we can still make strides to improve relationships between students and the administration. But I do see where you're coming from."

Creating a Plan

As for open-campus logistics, the board expressed some concern over the length of the students' lunch period, 30 minutes, and whether it would be feasible for students to go off campus for lunch and return to class on time.

Litchfield said they have talked to students from open-campus schools who make the 30-minute period work. She proposed moving to open campus on a trial basis to see how well students respect the allotted time-frame for lunch.

In the end, Mann suggested to the board that the administration draft a "project charter," which would essentially be an analysis to evaluate all of the variables that would go along with having an open campus. This would include student, teacher, parent and community feedback; an evaluation of the potential risks and liability and more.

The board voted in favor of having the administration draft this project plan, which Mann said he could have to the board by August at the earliest. He acknowledged that the students had hoped to roll out open campus in the 2019-20 academic year, but he said that's likely not feasible.

"The likelihood of that is really slim given the kind of thoughtful data that the board would need to make that decision," Mann said. "So, that is a learning experience in democratic process and change management. So, I would look to, at the earliest, bring that project charter to you in August that would probably have a work plan that was 6-9 months long."

It's still a 'maybe'

With the idea moving forward, Mann was careful not to create false hope.

"By doing that, it could create some level of expectation among the community or among the student body that we are in fact going to move in that direction," Mann said. "I just want to emphasize to the board, the community and student leaders, that conducting that analysis does not a decision make. Right? It's to be able to provide the board with information so they can make a thoughtful decision."

Kristen Wohlers
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