Theo Fleischer (‘23) tries to walk into school at 2:57 p.m. As a senior with privileges, he spends his last period, a free period, at home. With his cross-country practice starting at 3:15, and Nick Ricciardi, a coach who’s a stickler for tardiness, Fleischer likes to get to school with ample time to change into running clothes. He rushes from his Prius to the front of the school, ringing the bell to notify the office to unlock the door, but it stays locked, and he is stuck outside. Due to new practices, the front office won’t let him, or anyone else, into the school until 3:00 p.m., the end of the school day.
Oyster River High School is one of many schools across the country intensifying school safety. Recent school shootings have dominated the news cycle and led to a cultural shift in how safety is viewed in schools. In Oyster River High School, new practices have been created this school year, along with old practices being enforced with new vigor. These changes have created a response of resigned acceptance among staff and students. Although they might be an extra annoyance to busy people, they appreciate the importance of approaching school safety with a new sense of cautiousness.
New practices include the front office taking car keys from visitors, giving them a visitor badge, and urging staff to stop and talk with any person on school property they do not recognize who is not wearing a badge.
Old practices that will be more strongly enforced this year include keeping all doors inside the school in a locked position, keeping all exits closed (not propped open), having staff and students leave only out the front office door, and staff signing out before leaving.
With COVID having loosened restrictions when it comes to privileges and many freedoms, this new stricter environment has been a shock to many. “It’s so much harder to tighten the reins on something that’s been so open for so long,” Jennifer Weeks, an English and film teacher, said. Over the past two years, administration has wanted kids out of the school building for their safety, encouraging kids to leave during lunch or free periods. Now, administration wants students to stay inside the locked doors of the building. “Our perception is just skewed,” Deacon Throop (’24) said on how these new practices are being viewed by students because of the different environment caused by COVID-19.
ORHS staff has overwhelmingly welcomed the change, stating they are irritating but in everyone’s best interest. “It gives us black-and-white boundaries, which we haven’t had in a long time,” Weeks says, referencing what she explains as a more laidback time of COVID. The principal at ORHS, Rebecca Noe, added that students “are under our care. [Staff] are responsible for you, and that’s a very big responsibility.” Having those clear-cut rules for staff and students to follow relieves some of the stress around the responsibility for keeping students safe.
These new practices for John Morin, an EPW teacher at the high school, can create an uncomfortable environment. In previous years during the beginning of school, when the days were still hot, the gym doors would get propped open to circulate air through the stuffy room and alleviate discomfort. This year that is not allowed; all entrances to school must be locked and unpropped. Morin has accepted this discomfort. “Everyone’s safety is more important than that,” he said.
Students have a similar response of resigned acceptance. They feel frustrated when they are banned from leaving the lunchroom, exiting out a door that is close to their car, or forced to knock on a teacher’s door after returning from the bathroom, but they understand how important these practices are. For other things, including eating in the senior core and teachers wearing name tags, some students do not understand how these practices are going to help in an emergency. “It’s just not necessary. How is wearing a name tag going to stop a gun or a fire?” Fleischer said.
Administration does not see it this way. “Safety, then education, then fun” is a catchphrase coined by Noe, which she has repeated many times this school year. She recognizes that these practices may take away from the fun of school, but that fun is not her number one priority. This is an attitude shared by Mark Milliken, who says, “our priority is the safety of students.” These practices are how they are keeping students safe, and not enforcing them would be disregarding their jobs.
Theo Fleischer had to wait an extra three minutes before entering the school that day, an added inconvenience that he found unnecessary. Yet, he was still able to make it to practice on time. It was overkill in his book, but to those responsible for his safety, it was necessary.
– Hazel Stasko