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High school seniors can leave building during study hall period

May 15, 2013

The Elmbrook School Board on Tuesday approved a student-submitted proposal that will allow qualified seniors to leave campus during a study hall period.

The student councils from Elmbrook's two high schools have been crafting the Senior Privilege Option throughout the semester, and have brought it to the board on several occasions for review.

Board members have been skeptical of the plan in the past, and asked for several revisions before eventually supporting it Tuesday in a 5-2 vote.

The plan is intended to create an incentive for freshmen, sophomores and juniors to maintain a high grade-point average and good attendance throughout their high school career, said Jessica Schmeling, a senior Student Council member at Brookfield Central High School. The policy is modeled after similar programs at other schools, including Wauwatosa East and Arrowhead high schools.

Having now been approved, the Senior Privilege Option goes to the Teaching and Learning Committee, where it will undergo some tweaks in language. The course will be available to seniors in the fall for the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

The new plan

Under the plan, students could leave campus during their study hall period, which could fall in any of the four block periods throughout the day.

In order to enroll, students must have parental consent, a cumulative 3.5 GPA, no unexcused absences their junior year and no record of school suspensions.

Previous drafts of the proposal had a 3.25 GPA benchmark, and did not require parental consent.

The privilege would be revoked if seniors receive a D or F letter grade in a class, or have an unexcused absence.

Principals from the two high schools, who have stated that they support the plan, checked the approximate numbers as to how many students they might expect to enroll in the incentive program.

More than 175 seniors at Brookfield Central enrolled in a study hall last year, and 117 of them would meet the academic and behavioral qualifications. At Brookfield East, 160 seniors took a study hall last year, and 117 of those students would qualify. For both schools, the numbers show that roughly a third of seniors could enroll in the class.

Brookfield Central Principal Don Labonte said he doesn't anticipate the Senior Privilege Option will put a strain on teachers or the staff member who monitors the school's parking lot. He said the school's guidance department would mostly oversee the enrollment because it already tracks similar criteria for other classes.

Proceed with caution

Before going to a vote, some board members expressed their concerns about district liability and parental notification and consent.

From what he's seen with similar programs from area districts, Hansen said he doesn't anticipate any liability issues.

Board member Meg Wartman pointed out that age-majority students are already leaving campus as a sort of cloaked privilege, and with the Senior Privilege Option, parents have the overwhelming power to say "no" before students enroll.

Before voting in favor of the senior privilege, Board President Tom Gehl said that he would work quickly to revoke the privilege should things go wrong.

"I'm going to support it, but the first hint of trouble — and by trouble I mean any sign of parental dissatisfaction, or administrative staff who says this is a lot more work than I thought it would be — I'll be in the boardroom next year saying I want to do away with it," he said.

Sally Flaschberger, who has a son at Brookfield East, petitioned administrators to make the Senior Privilege Option more inclusive for special-education students, who might not be as capable of reaching the GPA benchmarks.

Board members agreed to look at a more inclusive policy as the plan moves to the Teaching and Learning Committee.

Students really want to a have a voice in what the school does, Schmeling said. The process of creating the proposal and collaborating with students from Brookfield East was as rewarding as the new afforded privilege.

"It's really empowering to work with our school across town and to really have a say and make change," she said.

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