Community splits on CVHS open-lunch debate

Community members appear divided about the possible elimination of Crescenta Valley High School’s open lunch, with some characterizing any change as an unnecessary punishment and others ripping district officials for not moving quickly enough to stem the student-related problems identified in a recent report.

Glendale Unified officials announced last week that they were reviewing the open-lunch policy after drawing a connection between it and ongoing disciplinary problems, absences and student tardiness. In doing so, they ignited a debate among Crescenta Valley residents who are proud of their high-performing high school and yet acutely aware of its lingering student drug problem. 

During the Crescenta Valley Town Council meeting Thursday, Crescenta Valley High School senior Aimee Yeghiayan, 17, said students who want to cut class or use illegal substances will do so no matter what the lunch policy is. Others argued that if district officials decided to close the campus, they would be punishing the entire student body for the poor choices of a small minority. 

“You hold them personally accountable and responsible for that drug use, not everybody else’s kid on that campus,” parent Dave Devens said. “Where is the individual responsibility and accountability when you have the student’s name at the time he is found high on campus?” 

But some said that the open-lunch policy creates opportunities for bad behavior, and called on the school board to close the campus immediately. 

“My two children and my two nephews were parking the car after lunch and they were offered drugs by older teenagers, maybe 19 to 20 [years old],” said parent Victoria Gutierrez-Kovner. “They immediately reported it. I reported it to law enforcement. Law enforcement said we will increase our presence. Today I went throughout all that area at lunch — there was no increased law enforcement presence.”

Other parents said their concerns go beyond drug and alcohol use. 

“It is about other risky behaviors,” said Kevin Cordova-Brookey. “It is about my kid getting propositioned by a male student wanting to go to his house during lunch to have sex. That is what it is about for me.”

In one heated exchange, Crescenta Valley Town Council member Harry Leon criticized the school board for not doing its part to address the years-old drug problem.

“This is wrong, this is frustration,” Leon said to school board member Mary Boger. “What are we doing as a community? You are an elected official. I am an elected official. What are we doing?”

District officials said they are at the beginning of what will likely be a months-long discussion about the implications of open lunch at Crescenta Valley High School. But recently compiled data indicate that some students are using the freedom to engage in risky behavior, they added. 

The La Crescenta campus is the only Glendale Unified high school that maintains an open lunch, Deputy Supt. John Garcia said during his presentation to the Town Council. It also has the highest drug-related expulsion rate — 41 during the last five years, more than twice that of Glendale High and more than three times higher than that of Hoover High. 

“Drugs are a problem for an entire community,” Garcia said. “From a school perspective, that community problem moves onto our campus when the students are at school 180 days a year.”

In addition, during the 2010-11 school year, Crescenta Valley High School averaged 37 unverified absences a day during fifth period, Garcia reported. Total unverified absences during periods one through four averaged 29 a day. 

Tardiness rates for fifth period are also substantially higher compared with earlier periods, according to the district.

“We are not at a point where we are saying keep it open or keep it closed,” Garcia said. “We are at a point where we ... are very concerned about our students’ safety, and we are presenting the statistics …. to really begin the dialogue on what it is we need to do,” Garcia said. 

A proposed timeline on the possible elimination of the open-lunch policy is slated to be presented at the school board meeting on Oct. 4. 

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