Time for data on open lunch safety

School board needs numbers

By The Mercury

Having aired the topic and found no compelling reason to change a satisfactory situation, the USD 383 Board of Education rightly consigned the question of altering school start times to the trash bin Wednesday.

Parent preference, especially with respect to elementary schoolers, doubtless played a large part. They objected to having the younger children rising at 6 a.m. in order to make buses transporting them to 7:40 a.m. start times. Equally valid were the objections of high school age families, many of whom are knee-deep in after-school sports, club and work activities. Those would have been affected by not ending the day at MHS until 4 p.m. or thereabouts.

Thus the board’s decision to leave well enough alone was the correct one.

  The next item on the board’s kick-around list will be the open lunch policy at Manhattan High. That policy has been in effect for decades, allowing students to leave the school over the lunch hour rather than eat in the cafeteria.

For many years the policy was justified as a practical if undesirable necessity, driven by an inadequacy of cafeteria space. But the reconstruction of the high school included a greatly expanded cafeteria space, renewing the question of whether the high schoolers should still be allowed out on the streets at noon.

To the surprise of few, the students voted almost unanimously to seek continuation of the open lunch option. Parents taking part in a separate survey were more divided, but still basically favorable. On the other hand, it is a fair question to ask why the school district included so much (expensive) additional cafeteria space in the MHS redo if there was no intention to make use of it.

That may perhaps be viewed as a rhetorical question, but here’s a real one: How dangerous is it to have students driving on the streets for lunch? In initial discussions last week, those addressing the board presented only anecdotal views on the question, but no legitimate data. Such data certainly exists, and if the school board hasn’t asked the RCPD to provide it, one can only wonder why not?

Among the questions that ought to be researched: How many accidents occur during the MHS lunch periods involving high school age drivers? How many of those are injury accidents? How many tickets are written to those drivers for unsafe driving practices?

Students appear to mis-interpret the open lunch question as a simple personal liberties issue. Others may interpret it as a commerce question. But it is more validly cast either in terms of utilization of the new building or as a safety issue. Those who rightly view it as the latter ought to want to see actual evidence — not just feelings or impressions — enlightening the basis for that concern.

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