Underclassmen will have closed campus lunch

Nathan Domenighini

Next year’s freshmen and sophomores will not be allowed to leave Morton High School’s campus during lunch hours after the Morton District 709 school board approved a “partial” closed campus lunch for the next school year April 29.

A unanimous vote in favor of removing open campus lunch among the two classes came after a nearly hour-long debate between school board members about the change and its effects among the administration and the students. The new policy will affect about 500 students at the high school.

Three different perspectives seemed to be the topic of discussion — some members expressed concern for students’ safety and security; some were concerned about the lack of space and amenities for those who are required to stay at the high school; and others mentioned concern about a small percentage of students “making bad decisions.”

The item, initially posted as a discussion item, moved to an action item after school board member Nancy Overcash suggested the current board make a decision prior to the transition of board members — Noah Menold and Clint Heinold were assigned to the school board Tuesday night, board president Linda Menold and member Gary Rassi left their positions following the meeting.

Overcash said current school board members spent more than a year researching the possibility of closing the campus during lunch periods and suggested they make the decision considering their knowledge of the situation.

The change, considered “partial” by District 709 superintendant Roger Kilpatrick, will allow school administrators, as well as board members, to evaluate the effect among students, facilities, food service and cafeteria space.

School board members John Applen and Doug Riddle requested to know if the vote for a partial closure meant the board was considering the same for juniors and seniors in the future. Kilpatrick said that could be the case, but closing the campus for all students was too excessive in the intial phase.

“That is too much to do in one year and do an effective job,” Kilpatrick said. “It would be better to observe on a smaller number of students.”

“I can’t help but say we’re going to learn things from it,” he added.

The school board wants feedback from students and administrators to better understand how the change will affect the high school.

“There are advantages, and, naturally, there are disadvantages,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s beneficial to know where students are during that period of time.”

The decision came after administrator Troy Teeter offered a brief discussion about school security. Administrators are considering adding ID readers at the entrances of the high school. Doing so would allow a computer system to log whether a student has entered or exited the building.

School board members said they have considered closed-campus lunches for more than a year, but never acted on it because the administration was still researching the possibility.

“We wanted to make sure we had a clear understanding of it,” Menold said. “No one can argue the safety issue for kids.”

Though for many school districts, closed-campus lunches seem to be a popular trend, Menold said that does not necessarily mean it is ideal for Morton students.

“We may not be like other districts,” she said. “We want the juniors and seniors to learn how to be more independent.”

Applen said by not making a change to the policy, the school district is testing its luck.

“We’re waiting until something bad happens,” he said. “I’d rather we be proactive. It’s important we let the parents know some of the things we know.”

Board member Tom Neeley said he would have liked to see better on-campus options for students during the lunch period ahead of time.

“There’s things we could have done to make it more inviting for the kids to stay and eat there,” he said.

Riddle expressed concern for the small percentage of students who make bad decisions.

“My concerns are different,” Riddle said. “There is a small percentage of kids making bad decisions.”

“This parallels, very much, what we did with drug testing,” he added.

Riddle said he would favor an all-or-nothing approach to the issue, suggesting the board close the campus for all students rather than just a portion.

“What we’re doing here doesn’t really address what is going on,” Riddle said. “Its a very neutered proposal.”

Kilpatrick said a fully-closed campus would create a “higher level of chaos.”

“I think that’s just too much of a burden,” he said. “My intent would be to come back for juniors and seniors.”