New Policy Allows OPP To Open Locked Rooms

Starting this year, OPP inspectors will be able to enter every student’s room to inspect for fire hazards, regardless of whether the student is present at the time. According to the newest policy, if a student is not in his room or does not answer the door, the OPP inspector may now ask the house counselor of the dorm to unlock the door. This proposal was set forth last June after conversations between the Deans and Tom Conlon, Manager of Phillips Academy Public Safety (PAPS). They were concerned about rooms remaining unchecked for long periods of time. The new rule aims to prevent students from intentionally or unintentionally avoiding room inspection. Every one or two weeks OPP fire inspectors circulate the dorms unannounced, ensuring that there are no fire hazards in student’s rooms. These hazards include furniture that does not meet fire code, posters covering more than 50% of total wall space, lava lamps and teakettles, among others. However, an overly messy floor is also considered a fire hazard and is the reason most students fail inspections. In previous years, a fire inspector did not have permission to enter locked rooms. They could, however, check an unoccupied room if the door was left even slightly ajar. Most students understand the need for the new policy. Although some were initially uncomfortable with the idea of a stranger opening their door in their absence, the majority find the policy fair. However, a few students do feel this somewhat infringes on their privacy. Chad Green, WQN Cluster Dean, responded to some of these concerns, saying “The reality is that you give up a certain amount [of privacy] in community living. The intent [of the new policy] is to ensure safety of not just the individual, but the larger group.” If the student is consistently absent, the inspector will make a note and leave it with the house counselor. The house counselor could then talk to the student and check the room themselves. Old versions of The Blue Book state that “It is the student’s responsibility to make sure his or her room is inspected at least once a month.” However, this was difficult to keep track of and was generally not enforced. Therefore, many students in the past deliberately avoided room inspection. Teruyo Shimazu, Instructor in Japanese, expressed her support for the change in policy. “We have to make sure the room isn’t hazardous. Students can be crafty and pretend not to be there,” she said. Ms. Shimazu recalls instances in which certain students refused to allow the OPP to enter their rooms. One girl in particular did this so many times that Ms. Shimazu unlocked the door for OPP herself. Although the occupant was offended by her house counselor’s actions, Ms. Shimazu has no regrets. “It was really dangerously messy. [I’m glad] we checked it,” she said. House counselors have always the authority to unlock student’s doors if serious concern arose. The only line added to this year’s Blue Book reads “A house counselor will provide the inspector access to a student’s room if he or she is not home at the time of the inspection.” However, Mr. Conlon said, “[The fire inspectors] won’t be looking through closets and drawers. They’ll just be taking a visual inspection.” Although the Blue Book does not explicitly state this, Ms. Edwards and Mr. Conlon both confirm that inspectors will only use this measure to inspect rooms that have gone unchecked for a significant period of time. In addition, the house counselor will be present during the inspection. The only occasion where only the inspector is permitted to actually enter the room is to prevent immediately hazardous material from causing fire. For example, if a burning candle is found in a room, the inspector can enter the room to put it out. According to Mr. Conlon, the school has improved its fire safety significantly in recent times. Clyfe Beckwith, Flagstaff Cluster Dean, remembers times when some dorms on campus were so cluttered that residents ran the risk of being forcibly evacuated. The policy regarding a room search for contraband has not changed. Naomi Sobelson ’08 summed it up, “I think it’s fine, privacy isn’t a first priority in community living.” Luke McMahon ’08 said, “[it would be helpful] to be present to hear what tips the inspector has. [The policy has] inspired me to keep my room clean.”