C. W. Wagner School Building

Litchfield High School Principal Jason Michels proposed changes to open lunch next year during a school board meeting Monday.

Michels told the board he wanted to discontinue open lunch for juniors, which allows students to leave campus for 53 minutes during their flex period. The proposition comes after a concern for safety of students, staff and district, Michels said. Although there have not been any major behavioral problems from the students leaving campus, Michels said the district shouldn’t look at the past because situations may change.

“It is important for us to be proactive … and think about the future,” he said.

Board member Chase Groskreutz said he wasn’t enthusiastic about this proposition because some students benefit from leaving campus for a few minutes and coming back immediately after.

“When you get to a certain age, whether it’s 17 years of age as a junior or 18 years of age … that’s something they look for,” Groskreutz said. “They get (to take a breath), to get out of here … get out of the classroom, get out of the school for a half-hour or whatever it is. Taking that away from them is a big thing. We do live in a nice rural town. … I’m just not with this yet.”

Board member Greg Mathews said he knows things have changed in the last four years. Students using electronic cigarettes was not a big thing in the past as much as it is today, and this frightens administrators and athletic directors in other school districts, he said.

“I’m sure we’re not immune to that,” Mathews said. “In fact, that we have given our students the opportunity to leave the building for half-an-hour could increase the chances of that happening. Four years ago, I was a major advocate of supporting (open lunch), and now I’ve changed my mind because of (e-cigarettes).”

Justin Brown, athletic director and assistant principal for Litchfield High School, said with the proposed changes students can also take full advantage of the school’s flex period. During this period, students can partake in extracurricular activities and academic support and eat lunch within the first or last 15 minutes.

“Our objective is to make sure that we give our kids the best education that they can possibly get,” Brown said. “We’ve asked our teachers to utilize this flex block to provide academic structure and try to provide the best academic teaching that they could provide. And I feel like a lot of those students who leave during that time are missing out on that opportunity to utilize that flex time with those teachers.”

Utilizing the flex period is especially an important concern for students who are struggling academically, Brown said.

“I struggle with when students are failing classes and they leave (during) open lunch, and we’re providing an academic structured time to them to take an opportunity,” he said. “And I think there’s some pieces in there that we’re working on with our teachers (who) think we could better utilize that time even more to reach our students who are struggling.”

Michels said that the vast majority of the students are responsible and make good decisions in balancing their lunch period between academics and extracurricular activities. But he also wants to ensure that students who need more support in creating an academic structure will have that opportunity.

The board will continue to discuss open lunch options at its next meeting.

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