Many Denver Schools to Close Campuses During Lunchtime

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

Beginning with the fall of 2006 school year, many high schools in the Denver schools system will close their campuses during lunchtime. This means that Denver schools students will not be allowed to leave campus to eat at nearby restaurants, fast foods, and convenience stores.

Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennet introduced the final draft of the new policy, called the Denver Plan, in the spring of 2006.  Bennet believes his plan will reduce the increasing afternoon truancy within the high schools.

The Denver schools plan has taken several drafts to reach implementation.  The first draft was introduced to Denver schools principals in November of 2005, suggesting that schools could submit waiver requests by April to exempt the older students in 11th and 12th grades. A second draft was presented to the Denver schools principals in February 2006, amending the original policy by stating that more time was needed to determine how the policy would be implemented. At a March meeting of the Denver schools principals, administrators presented the final plan, which requires all freshmen to remain on campus. Waivers may be requested for the other grades of 10th, 11th and 12th.

After the meeting, principals scrambled to make the new Denver schools policy work. Since the lunchtime schedule dictates the classroom schedules, the new Denver Plan is causing an upheaval in many Denver schools, where they have a common lunchtime for all students and teachers. Small cafeteria capacity means multiple lunchtime schedules must be implemented. For example, Denver schools East High School enrolls 2,092 students with a cafeteria that seats only 258. If only the 750 freshmen are kept on school grounds during lunchtime, at least three lunch periods will be required. This also upsets the activities by possible by a common lunch period, such as club meetings, students meeting with classroom teachers, and students socializing with their friends and siblings who are in different classes.

The Denver schools principals must submit waiver requests for their schools before April of each prior school year, which will be granted based upon the quality of the school’s truancy reduction plan. Principals consulted with staff and solicited input from students and the community before deciding for which grades to request waivers. To support their waiver requests, they included student data, such as attendance.  Additionally, it is unclear whether Denver schools with current good attendance rates will receive special treatment; however, the plan has a 97 percent attendance rate goal for all schools.

Though Denver schools principals received the new policy with mixed reviews, the students vehemently oppose it. Hundreds of students attended a student forum on the topic and completed an online survey. It was the hottest topic at the end of the Denver schools 2005-2006 school year. Even the middle school children were hotly debating the subject, since the policy will affect them in the near future. Students are in total agreement that the Denver schools would be better served by targeting their anti-truancy efforts at the students with actual attendance problems. The students see the new policy as a punishment for all students.