OC HIGH / STUDENT NEWS & VIEWS : To Have and to Hold : If the Lockdown on Lockers Continues, Students Will Be Without Personal or Storage Space of Their Own

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nate Barksdale is a senior at Sunny Hills High School.

School lockers--those corrugated metal boxes that for generations have lined the halls of schools and echoed through them--are disappearing from more and more Orange County high schools.

The student locker has gone the way of the $20 prom ticket, remaining only in the minds of graduates and syndicated reruns of "The Wonder Years."

Throughout the county, schools are weighing the problems associated with lockers against the convenience of each student having a few cubic feet of space at school to call his or her own.

Some schools are standing by their lockers; others are locking them up permanently. New schools are being built without them.

Last year, the lockers at Valencia High School in Placentia were welded shut or placed behind steel bars. When students returned this fall, they were already accustomed to not having lockers.

Ben Ferrari, a senior at Valencia, viewed the change as more of an inconvenience than a problem.

"My backpack got heavier," he said, "but most of my classes have extra sets of books so you don't have to carry them around."

Since Valencia removed its lockers from use last year, student protests have been minimal, according to assistant principal Karen Wilkins.

"The kids don't seem to have missed lockers much," she said. "We were surprised at how smoothly it went."

Valencia, like a growing number of area high schools, has forsaken the convenience of lockers in an effort to improve campus safety and save the district time and money on repairs.

"Hours of custodial time were being taken up by kids whose lockers were jammed and needed to be fixed," Wilkins said.

"Lockers would be vandalized over the weekends, and students would use going to their lockers as an excuse for tardiness. It became difficult to deal with."

Wilkins said a committee of students, parents and teachers recommended removal of the lockers.

"Everybody thought it was a good idea," she said.

To keep students from having to lug around all their books all day, the school decided to keep a separate set in the classroom for students to use while on campus.

Although the initial expense for double sets of textbooks was high last year, Wilkins said costs will even out.

"This year the classroom sets are already there, so its not as expensive. We only change textbooks every five years."

Students, however, don't have the luxury of extra books at La Habra High School, which eliminated lockers about seven years ago.

"We had them removed because of graffiti, vandalism and stolen property," activities director Dave Van Breemen said.

"Kids would leave their books in lockers and never take them home," Van Breemen said.

Now that the textbooks either stay at home or in the students' book bags, the books stay in better condition.

"The book bags don't seem to be a problem for students. They like having their things with them," he said.

As more schools decide to remove lockers, some campuses choose to retain them despite the problems.

One of George Giokaris' last acts as principal at Buena Park High School four years ago was to have the lockers removed.

As new principal at Sunny Hills High School, he watched some of Buena Park's old lockers installed at Sunny Hills, which needed more.

But, Giokaris said, lockers have only remained at Sunny Hills because of parent support.

"The school cannot afford to maintain the lockers," he said.

So Sunny Hills' Parent-Teacher-Student Assn. pays to keep the lockers in working order and covers district costs for custodial overtime when lockers are vandalized.

"I look at lockers as an issue related to convenience," he said.

Giokaris said that every year he brings the school's locker policy up for review, and every year the PTSA reaffirms its desire to keep them.

Although the lockers remain, they still pose problems for students. Every year, dozens of students arrive at school to find their lockers empty, the locks pried off by vandals.

Most are lucky; their belongings are found by custodians and placed in the school lost and found.

Others have to pay for missing textbooks; Sunny Hills policy states that students are responsible for items left in their lockers.

"I don't think we should be completely dependent on lockers," Sunny Hills student body president Hasmig Minassian said.

Minassian says that although she uses her locker during the day, she heeds the administration's warnings and takes her books home overnight.

"Last year my locker got broken into, but none of my books were inside," she said.

Administrators also worry that students may use their lockers to store what Giokaris termed "inappropriate items," namely drugs and weapons.

"In four years here at Sunny Hills, we've found two questionable items in student lockers," he said.

One was a lead pipe, the other a squirt gun.

Although Minassian did not know of any weapons being stored in lockers, she acknowledged the possibility.

"The youth are coming up a little more violent today," she said.

"In the past, we've had the luxury to take a more lenient approach with lockers. We don't have that anymore," Giokaris said.

Although Minassian doesn't advocate removing lockers, she said that great efforts shouldn't be made to save them.

"If they were going to rebuild the school, I'd say do it without the lockers," she said.

That is exactly what has happened at two of Orange County's newest high schools.

Aliso Niguel High School, which opened this year in Aliso Viejo, appropriated funds for extra textbooks at its high-tech, lockerless campus.

When Brea-Olinda High School was built in the late 1980s, lockers were included only in athletic locker rooms.

Student body president Carl Daucher said that Brea-Olinda had planned to buy class sets of textbooks, but funding fell short.

"The teachers try to help you so that you don't have big book bags to carry around," he said.

Daucher said that some classes use previous editions of textbooks for classroom work, allowing students to leave their newer texts at home.

"They'll tell you which days you'll be needing your books so that you don't have to bring them on the other days," Daucher said.

The debate over lockers continues, as convenience is weighed against expense and safety. But as some schools have shown, it's too early to slam the door on lockers just yet.

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