Jericho High School closed its campus after a fatal accident in 2005 in the student parking lot. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

Should high school students be allowed to drive off school property for their lunch break?

The question has resurfaced in the wake of a single-vehicle crash that killed a Plainedge High School senior last week as the 17-year-old was driving home for lunch. Within hours, Plainedge schools Superintendent Edward A. Salina told high school students that they are not permitted to leave for lunch or free periods until further notice.

Overall, policies across Long Island’s 124 public school districts vary. Some close their high school campuses during the school day. Others allow qualified students to leave during their lunch period.

Many of the schools that maintain an open-campus policy require parental permission and that students attend safe-driving meetings. Seniors at West Hempstead Secondary School must complete community service to qualify for the perk.

Supporters of such practices say they help prepare teenagers to take on more responsibilities as they transition into adulthood.

“Part of cultivating adults is giving people successively more responsibility over time,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history of education at the University of Pennsylvania. “The best way to raise adults is to teach them proper behavior. And the only way to teach them proper behavior is to allow them to engage in it.”

At Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, open-campus privileges are available for juniors and seniors with parental consent. Only seniors can park on campus.

“If their parents are allowing them to drive a car and they're doing that legally, the only way that they're going to learn how to be safe on the road is through practice,” Principal Heather Dvorak said.

“It's a tough balance as an educator and personally as a parent. You have to be able to trust your children to understand the risks that you're taking when going out into the world,” she said. “I have no problem encouraging them to learn and practice but, of course, prepare them for the seriousness of the conditions on the road.” 

Critics, on the other hand, argue high schoolers are bound to rush in and out during a roughly 40-minute break so they can return in time for their next class.

“They've got 50 minutes to get from the classroom to the car, to the pizza place to order lunch, to eat lunch and drive back,” said Peter Wunsch, a former Commack school board member. “There's not enough time.”

Wunsch, of East Northport, advocated for Commack to close its campus after a high school senior died in 2002 on his way back from a lunch break when his car was struck by another car with three other students inside. Commack High School is now a closed campus.

“There are other things they should be doing to teach them that responsibility than sitting behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle that can kill someone, and themselves,” Wunsch said.

From 1994 through 2008, at least seven fatal vehicle-related incidents occurred during lunch period across the Island, killing 14 teenagers who were 13 through 17 years old, according to Newsday archives. That includes John Aruanno, 13, a passenger in his mother’s van, which was struck by a vehicle driven by a 17-year-old on lunch break in 2007. Two Smithtown West High School students in the driver’s car also were killed.

“Innocent people are getting hurt,” said John Aruanno, the boy’s father, who lives in Virginia. “One accident affects hundreds of people in a way that is permanent. … There's no real reasoning that you need to get out for a half-hour during the school day.”

In a study published in 2005, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found crash rates over lunch hours were significantly higher for teenagers in two North Carolina counties with open-lunch policies compared to one without them and concluded such policies contribute to motor vehicle crashes in teens. 

The Jericho district closed its high school campus after a fatal incident. In 2005, a high school senior jumped onto the running board of a friend's moving vehicle, fell under a rear tire and later died. Earlier, in 1995, two Jericho High School students on lunch break were killed when their car veered off the road on a rainy day.

When the decision was made to close the campus, the district faced pushback from students and parents, schools Superintendent Hank Grishman recalled.

“Because the seniors were not happy with the decision, we created a senior lounge in our cafeteria,” Grishman said. “We did that [as] kind of a compromise with our seniors.”

Patchogue-Medford High School also closed its campus after a 1994 crash that killed a 17-year-old. The policy stands today. It lowers the chances of something bad happening, high school Principal Randy Rusielewicz said.

“If they are running late, it may cause them to hurry back to school, which can lead to unsafe driving,” Rusielewicz wrote in an emailed statement.

In West Hempstead, where two seniors died in a lunchtime crash in 2008, Superintendent Daniel Rehman wrote in an emailed statement that the policy to allow qualified seniors to drive off campus is “designed to balance students' independence with safety considerations.”

In light of the recent crash, Zimmerman, the university professor, said the way to prevent them is “via education, not via prohibition.”

“This is an awful tragedy,” he said. “But the answer to that is not to ban kids from leaving campus. The answer is to teach them more about safety and responsible driving. The do's and don't's of adulthood. It's not to treat them like little kids.”

For Alexa Hakim, a senior at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, the news may already be a form of education.

“It’s a really scary thing to hear about. … My mom always told me to be careful going … in and out of campus,” she said. “I try, after hearing this news, to be as careful as I can be.”

With Shari Einhorn

Should high school students be allowed to drive off school property for their lunch break?

The question has resurfaced in the wake of a single-vehicle crash that killed a Plainedge High School senior last week as the 17-year-old was driving home for lunch. Within hours, Plainedge schools Superintendent Edward A. Salina told high school students that they are not permitted to leave for lunch or free periods until further notice.

Overall, policies across Long Island’s 124 public school districts vary. Some close their high school campuses during the school day. Others allow qualified students to leave during their lunch period.

Many of the schools that maintain an open-campus policy require parental permission and that students attend safe-driving meetings. Seniors at West Hempstead Secondary School must complete community service to qualify for the perk.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The question of whether high school students should be allowed to drive off school property for their lunch break has resurfaced after a crash that killed a Plainedge High School senior last week.
  • Some Long Island high schools allow the practice, and supporters say it helps prepare teens to take on more responsibilities as they transition into adulthood.
  • Critics argue high schoolers are bound to rush during a roughly 40-minute break so they can return in time for their next class.

Supporters of such practices say they help prepare teenagers to take on more responsibilities as they transition into adulthood.

“Part of cultivating adults is giving people successively more responsibility over time,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history of education at the University of Pennsylvania. “The best way to raise adults is to teach them proper behavior. And the only way to teach them proper behavior is to allow them to engage in it.”

At Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, open-campus privileges are available for juniors and seniors with parental consent. Only seniors can park on campus.

“If their parents are allowing them to drive a car and they're doing that legally, the only way that they're going to learn how to be safe on the road is through practice,” Principal Heather Dvorak said.

A bumper sticker on a vehicle in the senior parking lot...

A bumper sticker on a vehicle in the senior parking lot of Plainview-Old Bethpage High School. Open-campus privileges are available for juniors and seniors at the school, with parental consent. Credit: Newsday

“It's a tough balance as an educator and personally as a parent. You have to be able to trust your children to understand the risks that you're taking when going out into the world,” she said. “I have no problem encouraging them to learn and practice but, of course, prepare them for the seriousness of the conditions on the road.” 

'There's not enough time' 

Critics, on the other hand, argue high schoolers are bound to rush in and out during a roughly 40-minute break so they can return in time for their next class.

“They've got 50 minutes to get from the classroom to the car, to the pizza place to order lunch, to eat lunch and drive back,” said Peter Wunsch, a former Commack school board member. “There's not enough time.”

Wunsch, of East Northport, advocated for Commack to close its campus after a high school senior died in 2002 on his way back from a lunch break when his car was struck by another car with three other students inside. Commack High School is now a closed campus.

“There are other things they should be doing to teach them that responsibility than sitting behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle that can kill someone, and themselves,” Wunsch said.

From 1994 through 2008, at least seven fatal vehicle-related incidents occurred during lunch period across the Island, killing 14 teenagers who were 13 through 17 years old, according to Newsday archives. That includes John Aruanno, 13, a passenger in his mother’s van, which was struck by a vehicle driven by a 17-year-old on lunch break in 2007. Two Smithtown West High School students in the driver’s car also were killed.

“Innocent people are getting hurt,” said John Aruanno, the boy’s father, who lives in Virginia. “One accident affects hundreds of people in a way that is permanent. … There's no real reasoning that you need to get out for a half-hour during the school day.”

In a study published in 2005, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found crash rates over lunch hours were significantly higher for teenagers in two North Carolina counties with open-lunch policies compared to one without them and concluded such policies contribute to motor vehicle crashes in teens. 

The Jericho district closed its high school campus after a fatal incident. In 2005, a high school senior jumped onto the running board of a friend's moving vehicle, fell under a rear tire and later died. Earlier, in 1995, two Jericho High School students on lunch break were killed when their car veered off the road on a rainy day.

When the decision was made to close the Jericho High...

When the decision was made to close the Jericho High School campus, the district faced pushback, schools Superintendent Hank Grishman recalled. Credit: Newsday

When the decision was made to close the campus, the district faced pushback from students and parents, schools Superintendent Hank Grishman recalled.

“Because the seniors were not happy with the decision, we created a senior lounge in our cafeteria,” Grishman said. “We did that [as] kind of a compromise with our seniors.”

'Education, not ... prohibition'

Patchogue-Medford High School also closed its campus after a 1994 crash that killed a 17-year-old. The policy stands today. It lowers the chances of something bad happening, high school Principal Randy Rusielewicz said.

“If they are running late, it may cause them to hurry back to school, which can lead to unsafe driving,” Rusielewicz wrote in an emailed statement.

In West Hempstead, where two seniors died in a lunchtime crash in 2008, Superintendent Daniel Rehman wrote in an emailed statement that the policy to allow qualified seniors to drive off campus is “designed to balance students' independence with safety considerations.”

In light of the recent crash, Zimmerman, the university professor, said the way to prevent them is “via education, not via prohibition.”

“This is an awful tragedy,” he said. “But the answer to that is not to ban kids from leaving campus. The answer is to teach them more about safety and responsible driving. The do's and don't's of adulthood. It's not to treat them like little kids.”

For Alexa Hakim, a senior at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, the news may already be a form of education.

“It’s a really scary thing to hear about. … My mom always told me to be careful going … in and out of campus,” she said. “I try, after hearing this news, to be as careful as I can be.”

With Shari Einhorn

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