West York board doubles-back, will vote on Lunch and Learn

Rising junior Madge Myers, daughter of Jennifer Myers, who started a petition to stop the West York Area School District Lunch and Learn program, speaks out for her classmates on why the program won't work. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

The West York Area School Board reversed a previous decision and will now vote on its Lunch and Learn program — which had caused an outcry from parents, who spoke against the program in May.

Previously, the board had decided that it would let the program move ahead without a vote. 

The program would offer high school students an unstructured 80 minutes where they can eat, meet with teachers or participate in group activities. Many of those hoping to kill the free time say it lacks educational value and will exacerbate fights and bullying. 

More than 50 people  showed up at a Tuesday meeting seeking answers about the program, which had petitions both in support and against it. 

"It shows we all care about our kids," said high school principal Carrie Jones, who proposed the program.

There were more than 550 signatures on the petition to kill the program as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. More than 260 had signed the student-led petition in support of it. 

Jan Ruman speaks to the West York Area School Board Tuesday about her concerns with an anonymous teacher survey and the district not being ready for the Lunch and Learn program. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Some issues brought up at the meeting included the fact that surveys showing teacher support were not anonymous, and other schools did only 50-60 minute programs and had rotating days so student athletes would not always miss class.

And since students are not required to sign up for their activities, how will teachers know where they are at all times for safety, district resident Sharon Allen asked. 

Sharon Allen, a West York Area School District resident, speaks out at a Tuesday meeting about safety concerns with the district's Lunch and Learn program. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

It's supposed to be a pilot program, but no clear answer was given on how long it would last, a few parents noted. And both parents and board members were concerned about how success would be measured.

Many parents were concerned that students would abuse the free time. 

Jones said she believes in setting high expectations for students, regardless of sex, race or income and added that they deserve a principal who believes in them.

This was a theme that continued later Tuesday, as board member George Margetas rallied for trust in the students. 

Rodney Drawbaugh agreed, saying district officials can't help children rise above if they see them as problems.

"Brains don't change from just doing more of the same," he said. "We owe it to all of our kids to give it a try."

Jones addressed concerns about discipline, saying "that will happen swiftly," and for safety there will be greater supervision, a swipe system for students leaving the building for lunch and 50-plus cameras.

Principals in other schools where similar programs have been implemented have reported significant improvement in student behavior, she said, but board member Donald Carl noted Central York had considered the program and nixed the idea. 

"Shame on them for not having the courage to try something," Margetas said. He said the board should trust the staff and administration they hired to work on the plan.

"Hitler would probably still be in power over in Nazi Germany if nobody tried an invasion," he said.

West York Area School Board member George Margetas debates with his fellow members about voting for the Lunch and Learn program. He argues in favor of giving it a try. Superintendent Todd Davies (left) looks on at a Tuesday meeting. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Board member Lynn Kohler agreed with trusting staff, saying he likes that the district is giving power to principals to make decisions at the building level. But he said he'd love input on how to better involve parents in the future.

And board President Todd Gettys echoed  thoughts about trusting leaders. He said the community needs a board that leads through pragmatic policy, not popularity.

Board Vice President Jeanne Herman said the district will not get community support without trust, and Carl added that part of governance is responsiveness to community.

"Are we stonewalling and just doing what we want?" he asked.

District resident Ruth Fletcher argues that parents have not been given enough opportunity to be involved in the West York Area High School Lunch and Learn program proposed for the fall. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Ruth Fletcher, of West Manchester Township, said the board claims it wants parents involved, yet there was no forum for them to weigh in, and she doesn't feel ideas are being taken into consideration now.

"This is basically a humoring session for us," she said.

Tracy Conrad, also of West Manchester Township, said it's not that taxpayers don't believe in the administration or board. They just want to make sure they're asking the right questions before moving forward.

The program is scheduled for a board vote Tuesday, June 18.

Tracy Conrad reassures the West York Area School Board that the community is not against the Lunch and Learn program but wants to understand it and be confident the district is ready to move forward. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)