The freedom to leave campus to grab burritos at Taco Bell, curly fries at Arby’s or Fruit ’n Yogurt Parfaits at McDonald’s could be taken away next year from high school students in Lawrence.
On the street
I think it’s a pretty good idea. … I think it would help the kids maintain their schedule and stay in the mood for school.
Lawrence school board members say they’re willing to close high school campuses for lunch, at least for freshmen and sophomores — and possibly for juniors and seniors.
Among their reasons: improved safety, nutrition and even personal finances.
“I think we’ll get it done,” said board President Rich Minder, who figures students should be saving money while enjoying cafeteria food. “We’ll be successful.”
The discussion comes as the district grapples with reconfiguration plans that will affect all district schools for 2011-12:
• Elementary schools will be limited to kindergarten through fifth grade.
• Junior high schools will include sixth-graders for the first time, while ninth-graders will be moved into high schools.
• The two high schools — both Lawrence and Free State — will have four grade levels, instead of the current three.
With Lawrence and Free State set to add freshmen for the first time, administrators will be looking for ways to make the transition as smooth as possible, said Ted Berard, associate principal at Free State since the school opened in 1997.
Committees are being formed to discuss changes that could be recommended regarding lockers, scheduling, food service and other matters, he said. Closing lunch already has been mentioned more than a few times, although he knows of no problems that have surfaced from having an open campus for lunch.
“When Free State opened we inherited some of the things that Lawrence High did, and this was one of them,” Berard said, of permitting open lunch. “Nobody’s ever said, ‘We ought not to do this,’ so we continue to do it.
“It’s a personal choice. Some people stay. Some leave. Some stay one day and leave another day. And it’s worked.”
But board members say they’re ready for change.
All but one of the district’s seven board members say the time has come to close the campuses for lunch, at least for freshmen and sophomores. And the lone member who won’t commit, Vice President Mark Bradford, acknowledges that “it is probably a good time to have that discussion.”
They cite safety as the main issue — worries about students leaving campus, usually driving to fast-food restaurants for a quick bite during their 30-minute lunches — although no board member or principal can recall a single incident in which a student was injured off-campus during lunch break.
“Any time teenagers are driving, there’s a chance the student can get into an accident,” said Matt Brungardt, principal at Lawrence High School. “It’s like anything else: There could be an issue any time we do anything. But I can’t point to a particular incident.”
Counters Mary Loveland, in her 20th year as a member of the school board: “It’d be nice to make a decision before we had a tragedy.”
Loveland and other board members acknowledge that they could foresee allowing some students to retain the ability to venture off campus. Board member Marlene Merrill suggests granting open-lunch options to students with good grades or exemplary attendance records.
“Maybe, by the time you’re a senior, it’s a privilege,” Merrill said.
Adds Bob Byers, another board member: “It’s a privilege you earn.”
Brungardt, at Lawrence High, figures that perhaps 10 percent of the school’s 1,200 or so students leave on any particular day for lunch — more when the weather’s nice, and fewer when it’s cold and icy.
The numbers likely aren’t much different at Free State, where students dine during one of three 30-minute sessions. Berard said the combination of adding ninth-graders next year, and possibly preventing students from leaving for lunch, could prompt some changes in operations.
Among the possibilities: having lunch periods “overlap” by five or 10 minutes each, so students arriving for lunch would be showing up just as others would be returning to class. That way, Berard said, the school might be able to squeeze four 30-minute lunch periods into the same time now used for three.
No matter how it shakes out, Berard is certain of one thing.
“The opportune time is to have a preparatory summer and start the school year with the new way of doing business,” Berard said. “What we need to do is implement it at beginning of school year so everybody’s had time to digest it.”