MT ban on lunch visits a puzzler
In a move said to be aimed at student safety, Manheim Township School District next month will impose a ban on parents joining their children for lunch on school grounds. An exception can be made for National School Lunch Week, but that's about it.
The specter of "unsupervised visitors" roaming the halls, references to the shooting spree that left 20 students and six teachers dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and general references to student safety are the explanations given for the ban.
A number of commonsense factors weighing against these explanations cause many parents to suspect there's more behind the ban, perhaps one or more incidents at one or more of the district's schools.
Among the confounding realities are the following:
If, as Superintendent Gene Freeman asserts, there always has been a concern about unsupervised visitors in the schools and, "Sandy Hook has changed the way we think about everything," why did it take so long to institute the ban. After all, Sandy Hook was five months ago.
Why, if unsupervised parents are such a danger, are they being asked to serve as hallway monitors for the months of March and April, during PSSA testing at Landis Run Intermediate School?
On the district's website, under the heading, "Volunteer Information," the district appears to take a more welcoming view of parents. There's the note indicating that not all adult volunteers need to get fingerprinted before helping out on school trips and at school events.
Then the district says, "Thank you for choosing to be a volunteer in our district! Many events and programs could not happen without the help of volunteers."
And the largest puzzler confronting this policy is startlingly obvious: What evidence is there that parents are a danger at all? No incident of extreme violence involving a parent at his or her child's school springs to mind.
If the concern is about non-custodial parents taking their children out of school, using lunch as a pretext, could this not be handled just as the district now handles school pickups?
If there is a better monitored parental visit than a school lunch, it is hard to imagine it. Few parents take advantage of the current policy allowing school lunches. And those who do must first sign in at the office. And they are not unsupervised, unless the children are, as well. School lunch aides are on duty during school lunch times.
The final factor that makes the district's no-parents-at-lunch policy hard to justify is this: If student safety is the concern, shouldn't the district be looking closer at school playgrounds, the weaker link in the security chain? A parent who visits to have lunch with a son or daughter now checks in at the office. A malefactor with violent intentions could easily walk on to most of the district's playgrounds.
While the district's new policy is cheaper than putting up gates or posting guards at playgrounds, it appears to be a solution in search of a problem -- unless the district's position is that parental visits, in general, are a problem, except when their help is needed as hall monitors or chaperones.
If there is a better monitored parental visit than a school lunch, it is hard to imagine it.