Seemingly Never-Ending String of High School Lunch-Time Car Accidents Fuels Debate Over Open Campuses

A fatal car accident involving students driving off of school grounds during lunch period has again focused attention on whether open campus is a concept that should be ended.

Following a crash on April 10, 2008 in which two West Hempstead High School students were killed and another seriously injured, New York State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) renewed his call to enact his bill that would ban all school districts in the state from permitting students to leave campus in vehicles during school hours. Assemblyman Gianaris introduced Assembly Bill A.9619 this past January.

As a result of the accident, in which passengers Quinntin McDonald, 17, and Saul Hernandez Lopez, also 17, were killed and the driver, Herbert Martinez, 17, was seriously injured, the West Hempstead district on Long Island suspended its open-campus policy pending further review by the school board.

A 2002 study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that school districts with open campus policies had accidents at a rate three times higher than other districts. Other practical benefits include improved attendance in classes immediately following lunch period and increased cafeteria sales.

Proponents of an open campus say that it teaches high school students responsibility and prepares them for the less structured environment of college.

Newsday reported that a sample of 32 districts across Nassau and Suffolk Counties showed 19 have an open campus policy, while the other 13 restrict their high school students from leaving once school has started.

The Jericho district ended its open campus policy in 2005 after Matthew Ravner, 17, died in a accident near the end of a lunchtime break at Jericho High School. Ravner was crushed under the rear tire of his friend’s 2000 Ford Excursion after he fell off the running board of the moving vehicle in the schools parking lot.

The Herricks District changed its policy in 2001, after the death of four students in a car accident during lunch when a speeding car crashed into a tree. Juniors and seniors are now allowed to leave the campus only if parents give written approval, reversing the previous policy that allowed the students to go off campus unless parents objected.

The Smithtown district is being sued arising from an accident that occurred on October 31, 2007, when two seniors from Smithtown High School West were killed after the car they were riding in crossed a center divider on Jericho Turnpike and struck a minivan. The teenage driver survived. A passenger in the minivan, John Aruanno, 13, later died from his injuries. In their lawsuit, the Aruanno family is contending that school officials are liable because, with just one period for lunch, students were bound to race back to school.

The lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving motor vehicle accidents. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. If you or someone close to you has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. To learn more, watch our videos.

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