Students, faculty seek spot at table during discussion of open lunch policy

By Bryan Richardson

Manhattan High administration, staff and students spoke in support of keeping the school’s open lunch policy at the USD 383 school board meeting Wednesday.

The topic is being considered after renovations increased the school’s seating space to accommodate a third of the students. The board is scheduled to discuss and vote on the issue during its Oct. 17 meeting.

The board held a hearing at MHS’s Rezac Auditorium to listen to public comments about whether the west campus should continue to allow students to leave campus for lunch.

MHS Principal Terry McCarty said open lunch helps teenagers learn about fiscal and time management as the school tries to build adults. “It took me all of two days to figure out that this is probably one of the best things going on at Manhattan High School,” he said.

McCarty said many students choose to stay on campus during lunch, but they like having the option to leave. “I think that validates them as young adults,” he said.

McCarty said there’s the occasional minor incident involving open lunch, but he said these issues could happen regardless. “I don’t really blame that on open lunch,” he said. “I blame that on the nature of that student.”

In arguing for continuation of the open lunch policy, Patrick Day, MHS student body vice-president, acknowledged a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that 16- to 19-year-old drivers are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.

However, Day said the driving time that teenagers get now will help them become the calmer, more experienced drivers that older drivers are cited as being. “How do young drivers become experienced to drive if you don’t allow them to drive?” he asked.

Day said adults sometimes forget what it’s like to be a teenager, which involves not being given enough credit for doing the right thing.

“We don’t like it when adults clump us into one group of irresponsible kids,” he said. “All you adults in this room take time to remember what it’s like to be a responsible teenager and how you felt when adults looked down on you purely based on your age.”

No one who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, either for or against open lunch, presented data indicating whether accidents related to the policy were or were not at a high level here. In addition to student safety, board members have also expressed interest in whether open lunch causes truancy issues.

Two MHS students, Brent Middleton and Mitchell Harris, said the concerns about truancy are misplaced. “Closing lunch won’t stop students from skipping,” Middleton said. “They’ll do it regardless.”

Harris said students skip classes at all times during the day, not just after lunch. “They don’t like a teacher, they won’t go to that class,” he said.

Not everyone spoke in support of open lunch. Transportation director Doug Messer, a former county emergency preparedness official, said he believes it’s a safety issue for students driving in a hurry for lunch as well as packing the car to unsafe levels.

Messer said he had a chance to witness students returning from lunch Wednesday. “It was a clown car,” he said. “You had five or six kids in the backseat alone.”

In his former career, Messer said he had to respond to incidents involving MHS students away from school during their lunch period. “Sometimes I think those 16-year-olds aren’t going to make the best choices because their friends are going to influence them,” he said.

At the very least, Messer said the board should consider not allowing 10th grade students to have open lunch since they would still have restrictions on how many passengers they could have in their cars.

Other board happenings:

* The school board accepted on first reading the schematic design for the MHS-W south parking lot. The design calls for a 120-car parking lot on the corner of Oak Street and Westwood Road.

* The board approved the purchase of three used 72 passenger buses for $187,500 and one new 12 passenger, five wheelchair lift bus for $88,372.

* The board will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, at the Robinson Education Center to make a decision about whether to swap start times for elementary and secondary schools.

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