Open vs. closed lunch on menu

By Bryan Richardson

Members of the public will get a chance to make their feelings known about Manhattan High students leaving for lunch during the USD 383 school board meeting Wednesday. The board’s meeting begins at 5:45 p.m. at MHS’s Rezac Auditorium, with feedback on the open lunch topic scheduled for around 7 p.m.

The board is considering not allowing students to leave during lunch in order to take advantage of the fact that school’s recently completed renovation project provides more dining space. Board members won’t take part in Wednesday’s discussion, and won’t make a decision until their Oct. 17 meeting.

Board member Walt Pesaresi said one of the reasons the MHS cafeteria was enlarged “was to have a closed lunch.”

Currently, students at MHS West can leave during the lunch period. Ninth grade students, who attend the east campus, have to stay during lunch.

“We moved the meeting to the high school in anticipation of a lot of people coming,” board president Dave Colburn said.

It is expected to draw many students who have overwhelmingly shown support for keeping the current open lunch policy. “I’m sure the student wouldn’t like to take away the (open) lunches,” board member Darell Edie said. “It’s a privilege.”

In a survey of MHS West students, 1,157 said the school should continue to have an open lunch hour while only 14 disagreed with that statement.

A majority of MHS parents who were surveyed also supported the open lunch idea, but the issue was a closer call. Of responding parents, 331 said 10th through 12th grade students should have open lunch and 236 favored closed lunch.

This won’t be the first time the school board has addressed the issue, which was also taken up during the 2000-01 school year.

At that time, the MHS site council recommended keeping the open lunch policy due to a lack of space and various financial implications. The financial implications at that time included the possible loss of free/reduced lunch reimbursement, more staff, and more lunch equipment.

Board members said they would be interested in what MHS administration, faculty and staff have to say since they would be enforcing the rules.

In addition to more cafeteria space, Colburn said the renovation project also provided a more secure building, which might be undermined with students leaving for lunch.

“Is there a way to have the benefit of kids getting out and blowing off some steam and still securing campus?” Colburn asked.

Board vice-president Curt Herrman said there has been feedback about higher truancy numbers after lunch and traffic violations, but he hasn’t seen any traffic numbers about lunchtime violations.

Board member Leah Fliter said she would like the Riley County Police Department to help provide this information.

“I’m looking for numbers or anecdotal evidence to help decide whether it’s going to be an open or closed lunch,” she said.

There is data concerning absences and tardies. MHS had an average of 4.3 unexcused absences per hour and 2.4 tardies per hour for the 2011-12 school year.

For both periods following lunch, the average tardies are on par with other hours in the school day. The only exception is first-hour tardies, which are higher.

Unexcused absences are at their highest point during 5th hour with a 5.8 average. For 6th hour, the average is 4.1 unexcused absences, a figure that is on par with the rest of the hours.

Board member Pete Paukstelis said he’s looking for confirmation that the school could handle a closed lunch.

“The design of the cafeteria was to be able to offer lunch for all students,” he said. “I want to see if that’s possible.”

Even if he gets that confirmation, Paukstelis said there are a lot of options to consider, even having a mixture of open and closed lunch depending on grade level.

Herrman said he also wants to know what level of increased staff support would be needed in the kitchen and monitoring students.

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