A split vote shot down Winona Senior High School (WSHS) seniors’ hopes of leaving school for lunch. A proposal prepared by students Sam Downs and Matt Hovey would have allowed seniors with parent permission, good grades, attendance, and discipline records to leave school during their 30 minute lunch period. The “open lunch” would be a treat for students who behaved and worked hard and would teach soon-to-be college students independence and responsibility, Hovey and Downs said.
The young men presented their plan for a pilot program to try open lunch, with WSHS Principal Kelly Halverson’s backing and mixed staff support, at the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) board meetings this spring. Board members expressed concerns about students’ safety. Thirty minutes was not enough time and the school’s only exit is a dangerous and congested intersection, they said. Their fear was that students might get in an accident while rushing to get in or out of school in time.
“I think you’ve done a wonderful job,” board member Jeanne Nelson told Hovey and Downs. “My difficulty is that the lunch hour is just a half hour and it is so short.”
Board member Ben Baratto echoed those concerns, “Are people going to speed and get into an accident?” He added that teenagers do not have fully-developed senses of judgment.
Board chair Mohamed Elhindi was also worried about student safety. “Maybe I am protecting myself more than anybody else; I don’t want to carry the guilt,” he said. “That is what is causing me to be troubled — seeing somebody get hit.”
Board approval of the program would not be to blame for an accident, board member Brian Zeller said. “Obviously it would be a tragedy, but there is also parent permission.”
Downs responded to safety concerns, saying, “I don’t think any of us think that the Sarnia intersection is that great but around 150 students already leave for service learning [during the day] and after school the intersection is pretty crazy. [Seniors] are used to dealing with that intersection.”
However, board concerns about safety carried the day. The proposal failed in a 3-4 vote.
“The 30 minutes [for lunch] and that intersection — I think those are big and inherent shortcomings of this,” board member Steve Schild said.
Though they will not be around for it, Hovey and Downs said they had hopes for an open lunch program being approved in the future.