By Emily Polanco-Barahona, 17, Manual Arts HS
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Photos by Emily Polanco-Barahona, 17, Manual Arts HS

Returning from their Thanksgiving weekend, Manual Arts High School students were greeted not only by their teachers, but also by a new 10-foot, steel gate installed inside the science building.

Many students and teachers were outraged because they thought the gate was ugly, inconvenient and potentially unsafe.

"I think it’s just a hazard and a waste of space," said senior Vanessa Ceja.

Manual Arts principal Ed Robillard said school officials and the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to install the gate to prevent students from leaving school through the science building, which they’re not supposed to do, and to keep trespassers out.

But the co-chairwoman of the teachers’ union at Manual Arts, Gloria Hernandez, said teachers were concerned that the gate blocks a fire exit. School officials said that the exit is not used in emergencies.

"We exit to the football field," Assistant Principal David Garcia said. "There are three other exits that students will use."

An inspector from LAUSD’s Environmental Health and Safety Services said in an interview with the school newspaper last December that the gate could not be locked unless the school got a permit. Robillard said that the school has not been issued a permit and the gate remains unlocked. However, there is a lock on the gate, which makes it appear as though it’s locked.

Some teachers had said they were worried that if the gate were locked and no one were around to open it, they would have to find someone around campus with a key. That exit leads to the staff parking lot.

Does this gate even help?

Students like Luis Guandique, a senior, questioned the gate’s effectiveness.

"What is the point of [the gate] if students are just going to find another way out?" he said.

The principal said that while the gate deters ditching, its main job is to make sure no one leaves or enters campus without permission. Robillard said that of the seven years he has been at Manual Arts, which is near USC, he personally feels safer now than during any other year.

"It’s an inconvenience, but we live in a dangerous area," Robillard said.

The new Manual Arts High gate appears to be locked to deter ditching and trespassers. But it's kept unlocked to meet school safety rules, the principal said.

Senior Miguel Mejia agreed that the gate makes the school safer. "It will prevent break-ins, it doesn’t pose any safety hazards," Mejia said.

Responding to criticisms that the gate, which extends from floor to ceiling, was installed unannounced, Robillard said he didn’t know that the gate was going to resemble the fence outside the school. Like many opponents of the gate, Robillard agreed that it’s ugly and said he is open to suggestions, such as perhaps cutting off the curved spikes or painting it.

"It does make [the school] look like a prison … it’s depressing," said government teacher Jennifer Gottlieb.

Many parents said they like the safety the gate provides, even though there are already security guards who are supposed to watch the exit. However, they’re often found sitting in groups under the covered eating area.

Robillard said that if the security guards are bunched up, he’d talk to talk to one of the assistant principals and get them unbunched. Manual Arts has enough security to have one guard at the gate at all times, but that security will be gone in about a year because the grants that fund them are expiring, according to Robillard.

Before an article about the gate appeared in the school newspaper, The Toiler Times, school officials tried to censor the headline: "New Gate Causes Legality Controversy." They also accused the reporters of making factual mistakes and twisting their words. As editor-in-chief I knew that was not the case. The reporters’ information was checked and they asked students and their teachers for opinions and asked administrators about the facts.

The school administration did not expect bad reactions from the student body because the gate had been in the works for years.

"I think [the students’ criticism] was out of line. We heard the concerns," Robillard said. "Most people are reasonable … I think it was a lot of hoopla. If some people were offended, I apologize. I’m gonna have to take flak and I’ll take flak for doing what is right … I thought I was doing a good thing and still do."