Are Open Campuses a Good Idea?

Most students look forward to their lunchbreak. Why shouldn’t they decide how and where to spend it? Two Choices teen advisers weigh in.

YES

Every Tuesday, my friends and I take advantage of our school’s open campus policy. During our lunch hour, we head to a local Mexican restaurant, snag a table in its backyard, and devour a few tacos. It gives us an opportunity to support a local business, take a breather during the day, and learn to manage our time and our money. Yet even though we have the freedom to leave, it comes with rules: We have only 50 minutes to buy and eat our food, we can only go a few blocks in either direction of our school, and we can’t be late to our next class.

I’m a good example of why more schools should adopt open campus policies. Last year, I often ran out of lunch money by the middle of the week because I bought things that were too expensive. With time, I learned to stretch my weekly allowance by visiting places that offered student discounts.


Getting off campus for a short time also had a positive effect on my class performance. In elementary school, being stuck inside for so many hours made me antsy and jittery by the end of the day. Now I get fresh air and have the chance to run around at the park across the street from my school. As a result, I am much more focused during the afternoon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking a quality break during the day improves students’ memory, attention, and concentration. This is why I think more schools should consider open campus policies—they might help some students be less disruptive in afternoon classes.

I understand why some parents and teachers might be concerned about student safety, but an open campus gives us an opportunity to prove ourselves and show that we can be responsible. Plus, my school addresses safety concerns in two ways. There are teachers on every block around school to make sure students cross the street safely, and my principal stands outside of the building until everyone is back inside.

The open campus lunch policy is one of the best things about my school. It’s already taught me so much about managing time and money, allows me to make my own food choices, and shows me the value of a real break during the busy school day.

NO

Being at a school with an open campus is fun—but the risks outweigh the rewards. Sure, these policies might give us more food options at lunch, but there’s no guarantee we’ll make the healthiest choices or even use the time constructively. Yet nearly 1 in 3 high schools across the country allow students to leave during lunch, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. In my opinion, these schools are ignoring important drawbacks. 

First, open campus policies make it harder to keep students safe. Venturing to a nearby restaurant or park means leaving the supervision of teachers and other adults. This is especially important when you think about how quickly the lunch hour flies by. A student who is in a rush to get to or from a nearby spot might take unnecessary risks in crossing busy streets. This could cause an accident and puts students and drivers in danger.


Besides keeping us protected, staying on school grounds also helps maintain the school community. If most students choose to leave during breaks, then school clubs might suffer. There are other social issues that come with allowing students to buy lunch off campus. This freedom ultimately favors wealthier students who can afford to purchase lunch elsewhere. The middle school I attended had an open campus policy, and I saw a lot of problems with it. It divided students into two groups: those who could afford to eat out and those who could not. This often left some students feeling isolated, because they couldn’t go out to eat with their friends. 

I can see why schools are opting to relax the rules around leaving. But giving students this kind of responsibility could cause more problems than it solves. I think there’s a better way to give students a change of scene. There’s no reason we have to spend the lunch hour in the cafeteria. Schools could open up spaces that are usually closed off—like auditoriums, gyms, and even classrooms. Or they could invest in outdoor lawn furniture that students could lounge on. This would keep us protected while also giving us a little more space to roam. Best of all, no students would feel left behind. 

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