PLACENTIA — Students at Valencia High School will get a back-to-school surprise when they arrive on campus in September--closed lockers.
Adding to a trend that is becoming increasingly common in Orange County schools, school officials announced at Tuesday's meeting of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District board that they have outlawed the familiar storage places. Starting this fall, the lockers will be sealed behind gates in an effort to reduce vandalism and eliminate hiding places for alcohol, drugs, weapons and other contraband.
In an interview Wednesday, Valencia High School Principal Joe Quartucci said that while concealment of contraband has not been a major issue at the school, the ban was imposed to make the campus less prone to theft and other problems.
Lockers "are just another place for distracting things to happen," Quartucci said.
The announcement at Tuesday's board meeting drew no protests. In fact, the incoming president of the school's Associated Student Body was among members of a committee formed to study the problem who recommended closing the lockers.
"Most students don't use their lockers anyway," said Prachi Karnik, who will be a senior at Valencia in the fall and will take over as student body president then. "Most of the students I talked to thought (closing the lockers) was a good idea."
Karnik agreed with Quartucci that the move will make the campus safer. "I know people keep alcohol and things like that in their lockers," she said.
While most high school graduates may remember lockers as social gathering spots and a place to mount stickers and store books and other supplies, the clanging of locker doors is fast becoming obsolete at high schools across the county. School officials increasingly are arguing that locker areas are sites of loitering and troublemaking and should be closed.
When the Brea-Olinda Unified School District built a new high school campus in the late 1980s, lockers were not included, except in athletic facilities.
Buena Park High School eliminated lockers about three years ago, a move prompted mainly by recurrent vandalism. Every Monday morning during the school year, the school was littered with books and papers from vandalized lockers, Principal Christine Hoffman said.
Since the lockers were removed, Buena Park High has become a cleaner, quieter campus, Hoffman said. Students no longer linger at lockers, which has reduced tardiness.
At Westminster High School, which eliminated lockers last year when costs of maintaining and supervising them became prohibitive, Principal Bonnie Maspero said the move has reduced theft and eliminated excuses for tardiness, not to mention saving costs.
"Budget cuts made it difficult to put in the man hours necessary for upkeep, supervision and security," Maspero said. She estimated that the school has saved about $10,000 annually in maintenance costs without lockers.
Eliminating the lockers has also eliminated a safety threat, Maspero said. The lockers were stacked three high, and students with bottom lockers risked books and other items falling on them. The constant jostling of the locker bays also caused trouble, she said.
"In crowded areas, kids were bumping into each other. They were all in a hurry, and hostile situations developed," she said.
Eliminating lockers has required school officials to make a few special provisions, however.
Most schools purchase extra sets of textbooks for each classroom so students do not have to carry books to and from school. The extra cost is offset, principals said, by the increased life span of textbooks as well as a decrease in lost books.
Westminster High has not purchased extra textbooks, but the school did juggle its schedule so students only attend half of their classes each day, reducing their book load, Maspero said. The school has also eliminated texts entirely in some subject areas.
Negative reactions from students have been minimal, Maspero, Hoffman and other school officials said. At several schools, student committees suggested the move.
Valencia's Quartucci said complaints from students are inevitable, but he expects that most will understand the decision.
"They might see it as losing a perk, but in the long run, when we present the whole case, I think they'll be supportive," he said.