Good half-measure on open lunch

Board wise to let seniors, juniors keep privilege

By The Mercury

It’s hard to take issue with the Manhattan Board of Education’s 5-2 decision to require Manhattan High School sophomores to eat lunch at school beginning next August. That said, the board, which is expected to revisit the “open lunch” policy for older students in the future, was wise to stop with sophomores.

State driving regulations were the impetus for closing lunch for sophomores. As Doug Messer, the district’s transportation director and a former school board member, pointed out earlier this month, Kansas drivers younger than 17 or who have not had a restricted license for at least six months are prohibited from driving with more than one friend under age 18 in the vehicle.

That might not cover all sophs, but neither is the board’s prohibition overly restrictive. After all, construction has vastly improved the ambience in the dining area as well as the rest of the high school. Moreover, though open lunch has existed so long it might seem like an entitlement, it is, indeed, a privilege.

We hope it’s a privilege that juniors and seniors hold on to when the board revisits the issue in the spring of 2014.

The two board members who opposed open lunch, even for juniors and seniors, were Pete Paukstelis and Walt Pesaresi. They argued that closed lunch would eliminate the risk of students being killed in car accidents during lunch.

“Why are we willing to take that chance?” Mr. Paukstelis asked, saying he didn’t know “what I would tell the parent of a student who was killed during an accident at lunch and why I thought it was OK to keep it open.”

Such a death would be a tragedy. Nevertheless, board members needn’t feel culpable unless their policy required students to leave school for lunch and exposed them to potential hazards.

In our view, even with better lunch facilities at MHS, there is little reason to require juniors and seniors to eat lunch in school. As board member Leah Fliter pointed out, Riley County Police Department Director Brad Schoen, whose children graduated from MHS, indicated that open lunch was not a safety problem. In fact, he said the school resource officer, an RCPD officer assigned to MHS, thinks allowing students to leave for lunch gives them a chance to let off steam.

Board President Dave Colburn made an important point in noting that parents (who more often than not own and insure the vehicles their children drive) can prohibit their children from going out to lunch — or even from driving to school.

Now that the board has a new policy, it must enforce it. That could be difficult. Short of hiring someone to check the year of every student coming or going at lunch, perhaps the best the high school could do is sharply curtail entrances and exits during lunch and conduct enough random checks to give sophomores pause before sneaking out. Hopefully, enough of them will find, as board member Beth Tatarko did, that lunch in school can be quite enjoyable — and a lot less hurried.

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