Duluth students' lunchtime strolls under scrutinyEating lunch off school grounds will probably not be an option for most Duluth high school students next year, and possibly not for any of them.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Eating lunch off school grounds will probably not be an option for most Duluth high school students next year, and possibly not for any of them.
The Duluth School Board will vote May 21 on whether to close campus during lunch, a proposal it has been considering for a couple of years. Denfeld High School principal Tonya Sconiers spoke to the board Tuesday about options and what closure might involve.
After complaints from neighbors regarding loitering, parking and smoking when Denfeld re-opened and East moved to the former Ordean Middle School in 2011, the board considered closing both campuses then but chose to give the schools a grace period.
“We were asked by the principals to give it some time and allow some integration into the neighborhoods,” said board Chairman Tom Kasper. “I as a board member continue to hear those concerns about inappropriate behavior.”
Sconiers will present two plans: one for complete closure and one for a modified closure. The details of that haven’t been finalized, but could include closure for freshmen through juniors only or closure for everyone except students who’ve earned the right to leave for lunch. Currently, all students at East, Denfeld and Unity high schools can leave campus for lunch.
“There are complexities with a closed campus and complexities with an open campus,” Sconiers said.
She said security is an issue with a partially closed campus, and student dissatisfaction with school food is an issue with a completely closed campus. She and other administrators went through student surveys for Denfeld recently and students repeatedly cited specific food complaints.
“They went into detail about the orange sweet potato fries,” she said.
Denfeld has also benefited from relationships formed with area food shops like Erbert and Gerbert’s and Jimmy John’s, Sconiers said.
But students who stay in school all day are less likely to get in trouble, she said, citing research that shows shoplifting and drug and alcohol use decrease when students are in class. But kids might need help with smoking cessation, she said.
Any kind of closed campus is going to cost money, Sconiers said, whether it’s reallocating money the school already has or finding new money.
Board member Mike Miernicki wanted to know how doors would be supervised in a time of fewer resources so students couldn’t leave the campus during lunch unchecked.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth said all doors at East and Denfeld are controlled electronically and are equipped with alarms. The main doors have cameras, and if a student leaves, the departure is recorded and can be addressed later.
Member Judy Seliga Punyko said she’d talked to high school staff who said it’d be easier to supervise students if they remained at the high school “than if they were taking off going out on the Lakewalk or smoking or going into the neighborhoods.”
“But I like seniors having that option if they have passing grades and good attendance,” she said.
Kasper said the district has to meet Food and Drug Administration guidelines in student meals, and standards were tightened this year along with portion control.
“I am saddened we’ve spent so much money upgrading our kitchens … and kids still aren’t enjoying the food,” he said. “We have to meet those standards, and oftentimes it’s not as good as what you get at Jimmy John’s.”
The idea of bringing in vendors, as long as they meet meal guidelines, was discussed. Gronseth said that had the potential of creating a stigma for students who can’t afford to purchase such food at school.
Most board members said they were in favor of closing campus in some form.
Sconiers said funding is important, because scheduling will be an issue along with custodial work. If staff need to check identification of students going out to lunch, that would be a cost, too, along with any technology needed.
“As administrators we’re not for or against it,” she said. “We want our kids to want to be at school.”