LONG BEACH — While teachers at Millikan High School praised the start of a tough new tardiness policy last week, students and some parents continued to criticize the program as inflexible and unproductive.
Students who are even a few seconds late for class at the east Long Beach school are sent to a special detention hall for an hour. Once there, they are supposed to sit erect with their eyes forward, forbidden from talking, reading or studying.
The policy prompted a campus sit-in Nov. 14 by about 180 Millikan students who were subsequently suspended for several days. And the parent of a sophomore has started a petition drive, asking parents and students to protest the program, which is modeled after a similar one at Cajon High School in San Bernardino.
"There is a real dislike for this program," petition organizer Suzanne Shipp told school administrators at a Thursday afternoon meeting last week attended by faculty and PTA members.
Motive Is Working
But Principal Wendol M. Murray and numerous faculty members, along with PTA members, enthusiastically defended the program, saying they had already noticed a marked improvement in students' efforts to get to class on time.
"I've been around this school for 20 years and this is the first time I've ever seen kids run to class," said faculty member Dick DeHaven, who supervises some of the detention periods. "I think it's wonderful. I think this program will work," said Pauline Stenberg, past president of the PTA.
A faculty petition in support of the policy also is being circulated.
Murray, who plans to discuss the policy with parents and students at a series of three Monday night meetings starting this week, said the number of tardy slips has plummeted from an average of 1,200 a day before the policy took effect to about 120 at the end of last week. About 2,400 students attend the school.
"We're not out to get kids and the program is not out to get kids," said Murray, who conceded that there had been some "overzealous" enforcement of the program in its first days.
Waste of Time
Some parents complained that students with legitimate excuses for being late were still sent to detention, where they wasted an hour, unable to do any work.
Murray said attempts will be made to correct any problems that have emerged.
"The idea may be great, but it sure is lacking in educating my child," said parent Sharon Loveless. She said her daughter, a sophomore, was unfairly sent to detention and forced to spend two extra hours there because she raised her hand to ask a question and on another occasion placed a book on her desk.
Faculty members said that the whole point of severely restricting the students' activity is to make their time in the detention hall an unpleasant experience that they would strive to avoid. If students were allowed to talk or study, the hall would turn into an excuse to escape class, teachers argued.
Murray says he received 50 to 60 calls from parents last week, the majority of them protesting the tardiness policy. But since they were largely parents of the suspended students, Murray said he did not think their complaints were necessarily representative.
By Thursday afternoon, Shipp had gathered about 300 signatures on her petition, 60 from parents and the rest from students.
"We hate it," declared 15-year-old Leonor Garcia, who signed the petition at a table Shipp had set up on the sidewalk in front of the school after classes. "We don't come to school to sit in a room and not read, not write, not put our books on our desk."
Garcia had just spent an hour in detention with a friend, after the two of them were found in a restroom when the bell rang. "We couldn't do anything. You can't even move your head," recounted Garcia. "If you move around, you get another hour."
Murray's Monday night meetings are scheduled for 7:30 Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.