Students at Wilson High School will now be free to go off campus for lunch starting today.
The school has been a closed campus since 1965 when two different car accidents occurred during lunchtime and took the lives of students.
A student-led movement to restore open campus began with petitions circulated in the spring, but leaders found it a hard time to take the issue further at that time. The issue was renewed when school came back in session in August.
"Students have to sit in the hallways, and they prefer to eat from local businesses than the cafeteria," says junior Ashlyn Briscoe. "The student body wants it. It gives us a sense of freedom. We're in high school, and I think we need that responsibility."
Students took the issue to Principal Gary Labeth. Conversations led to the development of a policy in which open campus was a privilege to be earned with rules that helped address the concerns of adults.
"It's a great reward system," Labeth says. "It gives my kids incentive to be off the ineligible list and not be in my office. It will help decrease tardies and truancies, because being able to go is directly tied to those things."
Then they presented to the school board, with Briscoe delivering a short speech on the matter.
"I was excited and nervous. I was scared it wouldn't get passed, and I would let the school down," she said.
Briscoe gave the following reasons during her speech to the board on why the policy should be implemented:
"1. It could be used as an incentive. The high school students have no incentives. If students misbehave or become ineligible, they would not be allowed to leave campus.
2. There are only 25 percent or 33 to 35 students that go eat at the cafeteria. Most students bring their lunch, order food and have it delivered or simply don't eat at all.
3. This would be a way to give back to our local businesses. They are always doing so much for our school.
4. If students are late to class from lunch, they could lose their privileges.
5. For safety, the police could possibly patrol like they do in the morning and evening.
6. With approval, I believe that the number of students on the ineligible list would decrease along with behavior issues."
The police patrol was an idea the students came up with to address safety concerns.
"The police already patrol before and after school," Briscoe says. "The No. 1 concern we heard was safety. Parents worry about kids. I know my mom does, so I put that in there so it will pass."
Other students attending the board meeting were Ethan Smith, Keedric Emerson, Mason Sanders, Megan Llanas, Jordan Lambert, Haley Butcher and Autumn Whatley.
The board unanimously approved the policy, which requires each student and their parents to sign a permission slip before being allowed to participate. The board will revisit the issue in upcoming meetings to make sure everything is going smoothly.
The petition for the policy change became a lesson in itself, one that will be important for the students to grow into productive citizens.
"They did things the right way. They approached me first, then the superintendent," Labeth says. "It's a great learning experience for them in how to handle issues you want to bring up."