With the start of the new school year, new rules were implemented, leaving students confused and frustrated. These rules range from new restraints on the back parking lot, to rules about the flow of the stairs, as well as many others. All of the school’s new rules stemmed from a state-wide mandate issued shortly before school started that all outside entrances have to be locked.
“The state law requirements push [all the other rules] down,” Principal Joaquin Hernandez said. “That’s where it all came from. The locked doors, the gates, the one-way stairways. It all boils down to, we got one rule two weeks before school started that all the external doors had to be locked. The outside doors have to be locked, I have no choice, it’s a state rule now. Securing the perimeter has to be done, so that also affects where you can park.”
Parking has been another topic of discussion so far, as the back parking lot gate is now closed, locking students parked in the back until the end of the school day. Not only is the gate going to be locked, but a fence is also in the process of being constructed around the school.
“Change number one is the fence that’s gonna happen in the back, but right now it’s the locked gates,” Hernandez said. “Why are we locking the gates? Because in the back, the parking lots were wide open, they were not being supervised, and we had some instances that happened in the back parking lot that were not the best situations. The locked gates now provide one less opportunity for strangers to drive in and out.”
Even though the closed campus policy is the same, students are now not able to leave the school to get lunch elsewhere.
“The big one for me is the argument that I stopped you guys from going to get tacos at lunch,” Hernandez said. “Well you were never supposed to get tacos for lunch, it’s never been an open campus. There are no open campuses in NEISD.”
Despite the district policy, Principal Hernandez is not opposed to an open campus policy being implemented in the future.
“I think that if there’s a system that the district would approve, whether it was some kind of UberEats style delivery service that was done in a way that could be supervised and checked, then I don’t think it would be a problem, ” Hernandez said. “I think that if there was a way for us to manage it in a way that keeps us safe, then I’m open to it.”
As of now the district still doesn’t allow students to leave for lunch or for students to order food or have food brought to them by their families.
Another controversial change at the school has been the designated up and down stairwells during passing periods. Since all doors have to be locked, the principal and APs often have to stand at doors to let students through.
“We’re trying to figure out what makes the most sense,” Hernandez said. “What I don’t like is that everybody gets jammed up at [the A/B-wing stairs]. That becomes an excuse for a tardy, and I’m trying to remove the excuse for tardiness. So if that makes more sense to be just up or just down, then we’ll go there. I’m just trying to make the process as efficient as possible.”
Mr. Hernandez plans on releasing a survey for students to voice their opinions on the flow of the stairwells in the main building. While most students have been against the change, they can use the survey to pick the direction of each staircase to have a flow of their choice.
“I’ve talked to some kids, I’ve talked to some groups,” Hernandez said. “I’ve had conversations with kids as they come by me. I’ve had some of the APs talk to kids and just kind of listen to the teachers too. Ultimately we’re going to have to do a survey, and we’re going to have to figure out what everybody invests in.”
When school started, students were also not allowed to go to the courtyard during lunches. Since the first week though, the school has come up with an adjustment that allows for students to hang out in the courtyard with the rule that no sports can be played in the middle.
“The courtyard can be a nightmare of noise when we allow sports, chasing, and all of that,” Hernandez said. “Think about all the classes around the courtyard, it becomes a disruption. Then talking to a student, they were like ‘why do you let them play?’. So we said come back to the courtyard, no playing, so now you don’t hear anything. If giving back the courtyard and just eliminating sports in the middle is what works, that’s an easy win and that was an easy compromise.”
Despite not being able to play in the courtyard, students who want to play sports during lunch are still allowed to play on the JROTC pad. The school is still renovating the JROTC pad, as lunch tables have been added and more improvements are being considered for the future.
“The other thing that I’m starting to think about is, shade,” Hernandez said. “If I do a shade on both ends, which I’m pretty close to saying we’re going to do, then I’m going to have somebody come out and give me a quote on designing that whole space. Do I build auditorium-style concrete stairs so that we use the pad to hang out or have movies in the park or whatever? I’m working through what you guys would use it for, and then if you guys will use it then we’ll spend the money on it.”
Starting this year, the freshmen have all been separated into the ‘Five Star Academy’ which was formally called the science building. With this adjustment, the school is aiming to make ninth-grade students more comfortable on campus before incorporating them with the rest of the grade levels.
“What we hoped to accomplish with the Five Star was easing the transition,” Hernandez said. “What we hoped to accomplish with it as well as being able to provide a more direct and in-depth coaching model to the teachers working with the ninth-grade kids. Ultimately, what’s hard about a ninth grade is they come in from all these different schools at all different levels, and we need kids to be academically successful. We figured that if we consolidated, and we put our academic deans there to support them, then we could then do a better job of teaching our ninth graders in our English, math, science, and history. Ultimately, I need the teachers to give you guys the best you can get academically.”
As we approach a full month into the school year, the rules are starting to make more sense as students realize which ones are mandatory for the school to follow and how to adjust to them. Ultimately, every new change stems back to the school attempting to make the school as safe as possible.
“If I’m supposed to keep you guys safe, then I have to do my job, which sometimes can make people bothered, sad, or angry,” Hernandez said. “I’d much rather you be mad at me that I inconvenienced you, than your parents be mad at me because something happened to you.”