Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) seniors would like to leave campus for lunch, and a pilot program planned by students for this spring may help district leaders learn more about the concept.
Seniors Matt Hovey and Sam Downs approached the School Board at its Thursday meeting with a plan that would allow most seniors to leave school for 30 minutes at lunchtime. The two developed a pilot program concept that included rules that would dictate when a senior would qualify for the free time: seniors with at least a 3.0 grade point average (B) from the previous trimester, and who had two or fewer detentions and no Saturday school or suspension, would be allowed to leave campus.
Board member Steve Schild took issue with academic requirements for students to participate in open lunch, asking that other options be presented for eligibility. "The question I'm going to have is why shouldn't that privilege apply to any student?" he said.
Downs told the board that he and Hovey hoped to target students who were in the C+ grade range, "on the cusp" of performing in a higher academic range. The program could function as an incentive for those students to keep their grades up and stay out of trouble, he said.
Seniors would lose the privilege if they racked up two or more tardy notices after leaving for lunch, or if they were suspended or assigned to Saturday school. Downs said he hoped the board would implement the pilot program for a few months this spring to see if it was a worthwhile idea.
High School Principal Kelly Halvorsen said if the board supported the concept, she was very much in favor of a trial period during which the program could be evaluated and any problems could be identified and addressed.
"They've definitely done their homework," she said of the seniors who came up with the plan. Halvorsen said the open lunch concept is one that has been discussed for years. This time, however, the group of seniors studied the idea more thoroughly than has been in the past. For instance, Halvorsen said, the seniors met with the food service director to ensure that a senior open lunch program would not have a significant negative financial impact on the food service program at the high school. Most of the students, she said, would just like to go home for lunch. "But it still is bringing students out of the building. I think we're trying to keep it at a manageable number that's not going to impact our food service employees," she said.
Downs told the board that based on numbers generated in the first trimester, if the program were implemented using the qualifying requirements they had come up with, 120 high school seniors would be eligible for the open lunch privilege.
Board member Ben Baratto said he would like to have a legal opinion on the arrangement, recalling an incident in California in which a student who left a school campus for lunch was severely injured, and the district was held liable for the injuries. Halvorsen said she had a draft "hold harmless" letter for parents to sign.
Board member Jeanne Nelson asked whether the students had queried any parents on their feelings about the proposal. Downs said they had discussed the idea with their parents, and that most of the students who would get the privilege were those soon to be headed to the workforce or college. By comparison, he said, the students would be making a "minimal set of decisions."
Data collected by seniors on the idea will be forwarded to board members for review in the coming weeks.