Jersey City's high schools students, business owners battle community over open-door lunches
Published: Thursday, March 01, 2012, 3:03 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 01, 2012, 12:41 PM
By Terrence T. McDonald/The Jersey Journal Neighbors fight to close Jersey City high schools for lunch - gallery (13 photos)
It starts soon after 11:30 a.m. every weekday. Minutes after the city’s public high-schoolers are let out for lunch, the streets and sidewalks surrounding the schools are filled, some say clogged, with hungry students headed to Chill Out Pizza Lounge, near Ferris High School, Larry and Joe’s Pizza, near Dickinson High School, or Rodriguez Brother’s Supermarket, near Lincoln High School.
The students get 45 minutes for lunch daily, and most of them, excluding some freshman, are allowed to leave school grounds for the entire period. The six high schools have a total enrollment of 6,361.
Donavin Parker, 18, a Snyder High School junior, talked to The Jersey Journal
on a recent Thursday afternoon after grabbing lunch from a nearby Spanish restaurant. Parker is not in favor of closed lunches. “We don’t want to be cooped up inside all day,” he said.
But a Jan. 10 stabbing outside Ferris during the school’s lunch break has led to renewed interest in having a closed-door lunch policy for Jersey City’s public schools. The students and business owners are in favor of keeping the policy as is, while some neighbors mostly those who live near Dickinson High School say they are sick of thousands of kids flooding their neighborhoods every day for 45 minutes. The local teachers union is also in favor of closing the schools’ doors for lunch.
Rich Boggiano, a retired Jersey City cop who heads the Hilltop Neighborhood Association, said he’s been fighting the open-lunch policy for decades. “Two thousand kids coming out into the neighborhood during the day? What a disaster,” said Boggiano. “They throw their garbage . . . they sit on everybody’s steps.
“It’s a disgrace,” he said.’KIDS ARE KIDS’
This isn’t the first time residents have clamored for closed lunches at the schools. The issue arose last after a 1999 lunch time melee outside Snyder led to a 28-year-old man stabbing two teenage onlookers.
After the Jan. 10 stabbing outside Ferris, The Jersey Journal
conducted an online poll asking if students should be allowed outside for lunch. Out of 848 total votes, 589, or 70 percent, voted no.
Some students who spoke to The Jersey Journal
agree that some of their peers can be loud and prone to fighting during their lunch breaks. But Maxine Henderson, 16, a Snyder sophomore, said fights won’t cease if kids are kept indoors for lunch. The fights will just move indoors, Henderson said. “Kids just do whatever they want,” she said.
Amy Lynn, 16, a Ferris junior, said she and her friends shouldn’t be punished because of other students who act poorly. “It’s some people, but not all,” Lynn said while grabbing lunch time pizza at Chill Out Pizza Lounge on Brunswick Street, north of Ferris. “They can’t put it on everybody.”
Owners of the businesses near the high schools also prize the open-lunch policy, crediting it with substantial midday business. Chill Out owner Bob Bhatti, 43, said only a “handful” of the Ferris students who come to his pizzeria for lunch are troublesome. “They’re absolutely no problem,” he said.
Christina Papageorgiou, owner of Larry and Joe’s Pizza on Newark Avenue, echoed Bhatti’s sentiment. Papageorgiou, 51, whose pizzeria sits about one block west of Dickinson, said neighbors are not blameless when it comes to litter. “Stop by in July, and tell me what difference there’s going to be,” she said. “It’s not always the kids.”
Asked whether Dickinson students are a problem, a man who runs a Newark Avenue convenience store said: “Kids are kids.”’REALLY SCARY’
Court House Place, which runs for two blocks near Dickinson High School, is quite popular with students during lunch hour, residents there say. One woman, who asked not to be named, said she regularly has to call police to keep students from sitting on her steps. Even her front gate doesn’t keep them from congregating there, she said. “They felt free to let themselves onto our property to sit and eat their lunches, and all too often smoke marijuana,” the woman said.
By Lincoln High School, meanwhile, Crescent Avenue resident Juanita Livingston said students there are “no problem” during lunch. Livingston, 33, said they don’t bother anybody. “They’re kids they’re all gonna be loud,” she said.
The school district pays 10 off-duty police to monitor the neighborhoods around Dickinson, Ferris, Lincoln and Snyder high schools, according to district spokeswoman Paula Christen.
Taxpayers have incurred $350,000 since the start of this school year for school security by off-duty police, but that includes all off-duty work, including security for sporting events, Christen said. The district does not keep tabs on how many incidents involving police occur during lunch, she added.
Asked to comment, police spokesman Lt. Edgar Martinez said it’s up to the Board of Education to keep the high schools’ doors open for lunch, adding that the police would prefer them closed. “It would simplify things if there were closed-door lunches,” Martinez said.
Though the district would have to revamp the high schools’ class schedules to stagger lunch periods and keep the students inside, that could happen soon, if comments by interim Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker and teacher union president Tom Favia are any indication.
Though a Jersey City Education Association official expressed opposition to closed lunches after the 1999 Snyder stabbing, Favia said the group has always favored the idea. Open lunches lead to unsecured schools, Favia said. “You have this flow of kids in and out of the building, and they can’t secure the building, so the outside influences that are there . . . (students) bring them into the building,” he said.
Walker said he was the School 16 principal in the 1980s when the district stopped permitting elementary school students to leave school grounds for lunch. It was a successful move that could be replicated in the high schools, he said. “We’ll really give it some serious consideration, and there are some possibilities that we can in the very near future possibly start something along those lines,” he said.