Healdsburg High students said they oppose a proposal from the Healdsburg Unified School District board to ban anyone from exiting the campus during lunchtime.
Currently, juniors and seniors have been allowed to leave campus during the 31-minute lunch break to get food in town.
However, HUSD board members and Superintendent Jeff Harding said there were 24 student expulsions or suspensions in the last two years -- most involving off-campus drug or alcohol use.
Harding said there is only a limited staff to monitor students' comings and goings and to make sure that they are juniors and seniors and not underclassmen.
"If no one leaves, it simplifies our task," Harding said. "Enforcement is a big challenge."
But student body President Raoul Friedemann said most of the 660 or so students at Healdsburg High see the freedom to travel outside the campus for lunch as a privilege.
"We have one of the very few schools in Sonoma County with an open campus," he said. "It's seen as a way to appreciate the school."
Friedemann, a senior, was one of about a half-dozen speakers at Wednesday's HUSD board meeting. About 45 students, teachers, administrators and parents packed into the HHS band room -- most apparently there because of the lunchtime closure issue.
"The most important thing we have in mind is your safety," Board President Genevieve Llerena told the students. "When we see students selling drugs, buying drugs and using drugs, that's not safe.
"This is a very safe town, but the level of drug and alcohol use is high," Llerena said. "Let's not pretend it doesn't exist."
Senior Hade Shoup said the number of students using the lunch period to do drugs or drink alcohol was small compared to the entire student body.
"You're saying you don't trust us because of a small number of kids," Shoup said. "You're saying that all the kids who act responsibly don't matter."
Friedemann, whose father, John Friedemann, is an attorney and who also was a speaker Wednesday night, said liability to the district would rise if the campus were closed.
"Closing the campus would increase the district's liability if kids sneak off campus and something happens," Friedemann said. "There's no liability if they go off with permission, but if you close the campus, then the district is considered liable."
The liability issue was also discussed in an editorial, titled "Closed Campus a Devastating Decision,' in the Nov. 9 issue of Hound's Bark, the student newspaper.
Senior Nelson Diaz said the lunches out -- or takeout lunches brought back to the school parking lot and enjoyed together as a group -- were "community building," he said.
"We're supporting Healdsburg businesses, like Big John's Market or " he said. "Just because other school boards have closed their campuses, doesn't mean you have to."
Also at issue is the size of the student cafeteria and the quality of the school's food. If the campus were closed, not all of the 669 students could fit in the 514- seat cafeteria, said Chiara Nicastro, the student representative on the HUSD board.
"It's pretty crowded," she said.
Board member Donna del Rey said she would like to see "a lunch area that's inviting, and food that makes you want to stay and be with your friends," she said.
Members of the HHS culinary arts program, who were in the audience, could be involved in improving the food, for example, some board members said.
But Nicastro, a senior, said there appeared to be additional issues raised Wednesday that had not been discussed previously. She requested a definitive list of reasons the HUSD board had to support the closing.
"I thought liability and the expulsions were the main reasons," she said. "Now it looks like there are other issues."
HUSD board member Judy Velasquez said the 24 expulsions or suspensions were a "red herring" that distracted from the big picture of student safety.
"The issue is how to manage the campus so that it's safe," Velasquez said. "We need to balance all the issues -- it's very complicated."
Healdsburg High has a checkered -- and confusing -- past on the issue.
In 1995, the then-school board voted to close the campus. But, after it was determined that the cafeteria renovations needed to be completed first, the board modified the policy to allow juniors and seniors to leave.
With the cafeteria finished in 2000, the 2003 school board again voted to close the campus, but, according to an article in the Nov. 9 Hound's Bark, "the policy change went unnoticed and juniors and seniors have continued to be allowed off-campus," the article said.
Parent Cindy Beth, an HHS graduate and wife of said all students were allowed to go off campus during lunch when she attended the high school.
"I think you should look at the infractions that have occurred at the " Beth said. "That school does have a closed campus."
Llerena said the matter was still under discussion and there were no immediate plans to act on the issue. She urged students, parents and teachers to keep in contact with the board via the HUSD website.