Killeen Independent School District Superintendent John Craft said a change to the current high school lunch policy is needed for the upcoming school year.
During a March 7 school board meeting Craft said he believes changing the open campus lunch policy by not allowing ninth-grade students off campus is the best option available, and he said the policy change is likely.
As KISD has grown over the years, cafeteria workers at the district’s four high schools have had trouble feeding all the students, and cafeteria buildings are not large enough to seat every student.
By the numbers
KISD has the capacity to feed 63 percent of all enrolled high school students, meaning more than 3,000 students must either go off campus for lunch or bring their own food to school.
Based on the capacity of each cafeteria, the district can feed up to 1,336 students at Ellison High, 1,368 students at Harker Heights High, 1,398 students at Shoemaker High and 1,398 students at Killeen High. Currently all four campuses have two, 45-minute lunch periods.
The four KISD high schools have more than 2,000 students each, and about a third of them eat lunch at an on-campus cafeteria.
At Ellison, 629 students eat cafeteria food every day on average, according to KISD data in January. Shoemaker has about 669 students eat lunch in the cafeteria, and Killeen High has most, with 742 students eating daily at the cafeteria on average. Harker Heights High had the least, with about 594 students eating lunch every day in the cafeteria.
Previous issues during lunch
Currently all high school students in KISD are allowed to leave campus during their lunch period to get food. Students can regularly be seen walking more than two miles from campus to get food. Grace Christian Church was feeding some Ellison students a hot meal at lunch. Most students leaving other campuses were choosing nearby fast-food restaurants.
While the open campus lunch policy has solved the lunch serving issue, other problems have occurred as a result of unsupervised students being able to leave campus. Over the last two years various incidents and altercations have occurred during open campus lunch periods.
In November 2015, two KISD high school students were involved in a fatal accident on Trimmier Road during lunch. The two were charged with racing on a highway causing death. One student’s car struck another vehicle, resulting in the deaths of the two adults inside.
In August 2016, Morgan Doremus a KISD high school student, was returning to campus from lunch and was struck by a vehicle while trying to cross Trimmier Road and critically injured. Doremus has since returned home from the hospital, is receiving physical therapy and her physical state is improving.
On some campuses during the fall 2016 semester, large group fights occurred, causing injury during lunch time.
With two KISD school board seats up for election on May 6, the Herald asked the candidates for their opinions on how they would solve the lunch issue at high schools within the school district. Here is what they said:
“As safety is a major concern to all of us, my main suggestion would be to research or reach out to other districts who have been in similar situations. Ask them what has worked and what hasn’t. I’m curious what options Killeen ISD has already discussed and ruled out. I believe involving the community in the solution would go a long way to building cohesion and trust.
“From my research, some districts have restricted off campus lunches to juniors and seniors with issued permits. Other districts to include Copperas Cove have closed campuses, but have added lunch periods from A & B to include C and D.
Another option is to allow food trucks near campus, where they wouldn’t have to cross the street. I know students enjoy the option to eat lunch outside and buy non-cafeteria food.”
“This ties directly to the need to plan better when building future schools; the current situation is a result of bad planning. The schools can feed the kids, there is just no place for them to sit and eat. We need to work with the city, the Chamber and KPD to allow safe ways for students to get off campus as well as local places for the kids to go and eat in a safe environment. I am also open to new ideas such as food trucks and incentives to businesses to open in the local area. The kids are not going to stop going off campus for lunch, we just need to make it as safe as possible. Forcing them into a confined and overcrowded space will only lead to more problems for principals, teachers and support staff. Readjusting academic schedules to accommodate overcrowded lunchrooms is just a bad idea. I believe that there is some merit to forcing ninth-grade students to remain on campus due to reasons of safety and maturity, but other grades should have the option to go off campus.
“We need to look at things differently, instead of just reapplying the same old, tired solutions. It is for this exact reason that we need new blood on the board.”
“In an effort to keep our children safe and ensure they receive the nourishment they require, I propose allowing vendors that reside locally in Killeen an opportunity to partner with KISD this will cultivate our community into one that develops its children and creates opportunities for its citizens. We have world class talent in our beloved city and the opportunity to serve their communities and expand their entrepreneurial endeavors is a privilege which will not only directly benefit the children of KISD but will also create investment opportunities for businesses like Sweet Ds catering, Ruth’s Chicken and Waffles, and dozens more. Each vendor will be properly vetted and will enter a contract with the district and will be required to pay a 5 percent fee that will generate income that could be used to supplement budget deficiencies. As long as vendors remain in compliance of policy and applicable law the contracts can be renewed indefinitely. With effective implementation of a vendor partnership we can then revisit the idea of closing our campuses for our freshman and sophomore students which in turn will foster a safer environment. Tomorrow’s Education includes a progressive and dynamic community and district alliance.”
“I do not think closing the high school campus at lunch would be very effective and would take hours of work for the assistant principals and staff. Students routinely leave the four high schools during lunch for many reasons, classes at the career center, some have early release, some have medical appointments, or other errands to run. My answer would be to have a 75-minute lunch where students may leave or stay. Additionally I think the time may be used for club meetings, tutoring or a study time. If campus is to be closed, perhaps we could start with ninth- and 10th-grade students. The district should continue to serve foods which draw our students to the school cafeteria.”
“If KISD elects to change this policy, then alternatives must be put into place. The first step would be gathering input from high school staff, students and parents on the possible change to get their thoughts and ask for their input to a solution. Another option could be a survey sent to parents, students, and staff for solutions. The School Board should take into account their input before a final decision is made. After input from those with a vested interest, other solutions could be made. For example, one option could be that students in ninth grade cannot leave campus during lunch. All ninth-grade students could be fed in the cafeteria. A second option could be that ninth and tenth grade students could remain on campus during lunch. As an incentive for tenth-graders to leave campus during lunch, these students could have no serious discipline referrals or altercations off campus, or by having a certain number of credits to be able to leave campus, or even students successfully enrolling in Pre-AP classes. Juniors and seniors would be able to go to lunch off campus.
“An out-of-the-box idea could be to work with local businesses and have food trailers come and bring food to the high schools as an option, but these foods must meet the nutritional guidelines that are required.
I believe that closing the campus during lunch at the high schools would negatively impact financially those local businesses who partner and support KISD. I commend the local churches and businesses that support KISD students during lunch.”
“Recognizing that this challenge is not unique to KISD, best practice learning can be very beneficial in this area. Learning from other school districts what has worked best for them in addressing providing affordable, nutritious, appetizing meals for students in high schools with undersized cafeterias would be where I would begin.
“Collaborating with local churches and community organizations in proximity to the school, such as the Grace Christian Center outreach, and working with close proximity eating establishments to have prepackaged meals for the students, competitively priced, based on their ordering patterns, thereby reducing wait times for food, is another opportunity the district may explore.”
“Utilizing vetted food truck services on campus. More lunch periods. Staggered lunch periods. Seniors-only off-campus authorization to leave campus for lunch. Crossing guard utilization at busy intersections.”