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Mat-Su

A spate of shoplifting has shut down off-campus meals at Mat-Su’s Colony High School

PALMER — A policy allowing seniors at Colony High School in Mat-Su to travel off campus for lunch has been temporarily suspended after a recent string of students shoplifting at nearby stores, according to a letter sent to parents by school officials Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, we have had multiple reports from Carrs and Three Bears that our off-campus lunch privileges have become troublesome for them from an asset management perspective,” says the letter from head Colony High student counselor Peter Olson. “They have reached out to (Colony High School) administration to address the situation, so we are suspending off campus privileges temporarily.”

The incidents occurred at a Carrs on Palmer-Wasilla Highway in Palmer and Three Bears, also on Palmer-Wasilla Highway.

“I can confirm we’ve had shoplifting for at least a year — it happens all the time,” said Palmer Police Department Detective Sgt. Luke Szipszky. “There have been no criminal charges filed recently.”

Palmer High School is about 1.5 miles from Carrs in Palmer while Colony High School is about 4 miles away. Juniors and seniors at Palmer High School who meet grade and discipline standards are permitted to travel off campus for lunch, according to a school bell schedule. Palmer High School hasn’t suspended its off-campus lunch plan, school district officials confirmed.

School resource officers from the Palmer Police Department are stationed at Colony High School and Palmer High School. When managers spot shoplifting, they work with Palmer police, who contact the school resource officers for help identifying students. Students and their parents are then contacted by the school and officers to address the problem, which can include an apology and paying back the store and possibly legal action, Szipszky said.

Student shoplifting is a more than weekly occurrence at the Carrs in Palmer, a manager there said. Shopping in small groups and primarily targeting drinks and deli items like hot chicken wings, students typically either scan one item at the self-checkout area while sliding additional items into their bags without paying, or skip checkout completely, he said.

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The incidents are either witnessed by store personnel or caught later on a series of about six security cameras mounted above the self-checkout area, he said. In the past, shoplifters have been identified as Palmer High School students, and officials have worked directly with the school resource officers there to address the issue with the students and their parents. A series of recent incidents, however, resulted in also contacting Colony High School officials, he said.

A loss prevention official with Three Bears didn’t immediately return a request for comment. A manager at the Three Bears store confirmed the incidents occurred there and were specific to Colony High School, which is about 2.5 miles away.

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Colony High School officials said they plan to restart the off-campus lunch allowances later.

“Our goal will be to create a different policy and procedure when we are able to reinstitute this privilege for students,” the email from Olson said. “Once this new policy is created, we will send it to parents for consent.”

Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.

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