District may end Crescenta Valley's open lunch

High numbers of drug-related expulsions, traffic accidents and absences have prompted a review of Crescenta Valley High School’s open lunch policy, officials said this week.

The La Crescenta campus is the only Glendale Unified high school that allows students to leave during its 35-minute lunch break — Hoover and Glendale high schools closed their campuses in 1992 and 1994, respectively.

Crescenta Valley High also has the distinction of having expelled the most students for drug-related offenses — 41 during the last five years, more than twice that of Glendale High and more than three times that of Hoover High.

Speaking during a school board meeting on Tuesday, Deputy Supt. John Garcia directly correlated the expulsions, as well as other safety-related incidents, to the open lunch policy.

“During 2010-11 — these are lunchtime-specific incidents — there were three arrests, one weapon-related and two drug-related,” Garcia said. “Two students eluded law enforcement, meaning there was some type of suspicious activity and they ran and they got away.”

Crescenta Valley High School students were involved in a lunchtime traffic accident as recently as Tuesday, he added.

Data also suggests that open lunch leads to increased rates of absences during fifth period, which immediately follows the midday break, Garcia said.

During the 2010-11 school year, Crescenta Valley High School had a daily average 37 unverified absences during fifth period, Garcia said. Unverified absences during periods one through four averaged 29 a day, meaning some students are simply choosing not to return to campus after lunch, he said.

Tardiness rates for fifth period are also higher, Garcia reported.

Students leaving campus midday Thursday balked at the idea of losing their open lunch. Student body president Marita Maffit, 17, who eats off campus about three times a week, said Crescenta Valley High students look forward to the privilege starting in middle school.

“They would have to figure so many things out,” Marita said. “They would have to open up a lot more food stalls here, and I don’t really know if there is room.”

Off-campus food options are less crowded and allow students a brief respite from their studies, said senior Robin Park, 17.

“I have never not wanted to come back just because I don’t want a truancy [citation],” Park said.

At Burbank and John Burroughs high schools in Burbank, open lunch is a privilege to be earned by upper classmen only, principals said. And parents can decline to allow their children off campus.

Glendale Unified officials said they are not ready to formally discuss closing lunch, but several school board members voiced support for the move.

“I think it is a very important conversation for us to have among ourselves and especially with the CV community,” said school board Vice President Christine Walters. “We are responsible for [students’] safety and well-being, even though we are letting them off of our premises. That is part of what raises our level of concern.”

Board member Mary Boger said she supported scratching the policy despite the potential impact to La Crescenta businesses that cater to the lunchtime crowd.

Eliminating open lunch at Glendale High School barely caused a ripple, she said, adding that the food services department was able to accommodate the increased demand.

“As a board member, I have to say that I sincerely hope to see this campus closed,” Boger said. “We are not elected to serve the [Chamber of Commerce] … we are not on the Crescenta Valley Town Council. We are on the school board, and these kids are our responsibility. I think they would be safer at school.”

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