Liberty Bell High School (LBHS) has temporarily suspended its open-campus policy after three students were in a rollover car accident during the lunch period on Monday (Sept. 18).
There were three students in the car. All were transported to Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak for evaluation and were released to their parents Monday afternoon. All three returned to school on Tuesday, LBHS Principal Elyse Darwood told the Methow Valley News.
Witnesses to the accident reported that a vehicle traveling on Highway 20 abruptly hit the brakes, prompting the vehicle behind it to brake quickly as well. The third vehicle in line — containing the students — lost control upon braking and swerved to avoid the vehicle in front of it, resulting in the vehicle rolling twice as it left the highway, Darwood told the News.
“Many other students were on the road at this time, some of whom witnessed the accident and may be experiencing heightened emotions as a result,” Darwood and Independent Learning Center Principal Sara Mounsey said in an email to parents on Monday afternoon about the accident.
Under Liberty Bell’s open-campus policy, juniors and seniors were permitted to leave the campus during lunch — with parental permission.
Darwood and Mounsey are soliciting feedback from families about the policy. Darwood has already talked with parents, community members, students, staff members, and leaders of Liberty Bell’s Associated Student Body. Although many students say they prefer to eat lunch off campus, they understand the need to pause to evaluate the school’s practices, Darwood told the News.
Suspending the open-campus policy will allow administrators to assess the situation and determine whether the policy is wise, Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable told the News. Taking time to review the policy will allow the district to balance the interests of juniors and seniors for freedom and flexibility with the safety and welfare of students and others on the roads, he said.
Suspending the policy affects only students who leave campus for lunch, not those involved in Running Start, internships or work-study programs. Liberty Bell students who take auto tech or welding classes will be transported to the TwispWorks campus by bus while the district evaluates the policy.
School administrators reviewed the open-campus policy this fall. Students were required to sign a form that emphasizes safe, lawful driving practices; time management; and the potential for lost off-campus privileges if students returned late from lunch, disrupting their learning and the learning of others, Darwood told the News.
At a recent meeting of superintendents of Okanogan County schools, the administrators discussed their open-campus policies. In many communities, where schools are within walking distance of eateries and other businesses, all students — freshmen through seniors — are permitted to leave campus. Many business owners in those communities have said they support policies that allow students to get lunch off-campus, Venable said.
Katie Paz, the owner of Katie’s Pony Expresso, who supports suspension of LBHS’s open-campus policy, is exploring ways to bring her business to campus several days a week, Darwood said.
The school district doesn’t keep records on how many juniors and seniors ride the school bus, Transportation Manager Leanna Jensen said. It appears that most high school students get to school on their own or with a friend, Venable said.
As the school evaluates its policy, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the vehicle accident in July that claimed the life of a Liberty Bell graduate and seriously injured another graduate and two others, Venable said.
Counselors, teachers and administrators are checking in with students and offering support to students as they process what they experienced or witnessed, Darwood said.