Open noon hour issue at high school takes center stage at citywide forum Tuesday

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Parents, students, faculty and other members of the community gathered at the Alta High School library Tuesday night for a rousing debate concerning the fate of open noon hour for Alta High School students.

The meeting, which lasted well over two hours, was highlighted by arguments from people falling on both sides of the issue, as those in attendance either supported keeping the noon hour open for students or closing the lunch period in some form.

Four options were presented to the citizens: open campus with modifications, closed campus for everyone with upgrades in the dining options, closed campus for everyone except seniors who meet certain guidelines and open campus for everyone except students with a note from parents saying their child should not have the open campus privileges.

Alta Superintendent Dr. Fred Maharry, who led the discussion, said the primary reason for the topic becoming an issue in Alta was the safety of students.

"Our greatest concern is students who choose to go off and drive during that time," Maharry said. "We don't want our kids in cars. The driving is the biggest issue for us."

"The number of people that have come up to me and told me they were concerned about kids driving around town has been amazing," school board member Kevin Cone said. "Quite frankly, I quit counting the number of people who have brought it up with me at 100. I didn't even know some of the people that were talking to me."

Doug Allerdings, who has children in high school, said he agreed with Maharry and Cone about stopping all the students driving during noon hour.

"If I send my kid to school, I assume that's where they're at," Allerdings said. "I don't think kids need to be out of school driving around town at all."

Senior Greta Lichtenberg, however, was one of several students who said they did not see the need for a change in an open noon policy that has been on the books for 35 years.

"We're trying to keep this," Lichtenberg said. "We don't want to lose this and I think kids this year have done a better job because they know it might be taken away.

"The 10 kids that don't follow the rules aren't representative of the 200 in the whole school," Lichtenberg continued. "I haven't broken any rules over lunch hour, so I don't feel like I need to be punished for something I didn't do."

Juniors and seniors who travel to school-to-work, Iowa Central courses and peer helper classes are allowed to drive to other destinations, and faculty member Dave Curbow said if all student driving is banned over noon hour, then Alta would need to provide alternate transportation for those students.

"If we're truly concerned about kids and liability from driving, then the school will have to pony up some money and provide school transportation," Curbow said. "It's going to cost us some money, but if that's what it takes, then that's what will have to be done."

Several audience members also said if the school board makes the decision to close noon hour, new dining options such as an ala carte line or pizza stand would need to be added in order to serve all of the students which would be at the school.

"If you're going to close the campus, that's fine," junior Megan Bishop said. "But if you do that, then you need to offer us more choices for noon hour. If you take away all of our privileges, then that will be a big problem."

The idea of a floating lunch hour, in which students would be divided into three lunch sections, was also raised as a way to prevent overcrowding in the lunchroom if a closed noon hour becomes a reality for students in the future.

"I don't know if everyone can fit in the lunchroom right now at the same time if we do this," faculty member Brad Nesbitt said. "We're going to need to figure out a place to put all of those extra kids."

After hearing the remarks, Maharry said school officials would undergo an exhaustive study on the issue, which would include a survey of every high school student, staff input and research from other school districts in similar situations.

The third and final meeting will be held Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

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