Misinterpretations of link lunch policy cause confusion

Anne Ribordy and Noah Walch

Students who spend their unscheduled time, such as lunch and SRT, in the link this year have faced the consequence of being kicked out of the area by paraprofessionals. However, the deans’ office does not forbid the use of these spaces, Ron Bean, dean of students and assistant principal, said.

Students are allowed to eat lunch in the link as long as they remain respectful to classes being conducted and keep the area neat, Bean said. He understands why students spend time in the link, but wants to ensure students do not disrupt the classes.

“Some students need a quiet time or a more quiet space to eat their lunch and are not comfortable with the number of students or the energy in the cafeteria,” Bean said. “What we’re trying to creates a balance, to be sensitive of the needs of students, but also to be sensitive to the needs of the classroom.”

Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel also said she takes pride in the diverse spaces offered to South students during lunchtime, including the link. Her main  concern, however, arises from the fact that many of these less-frequented areas pose safety threats to students.

“In my years here, the link has always been a place that I’ve seen students gravitate towards especially during the lunch blocks because it’s quiet, they love the natural sunlight, it’s warm and so I’ve always been happy that kids utilize that part of the building,” Fagel said. “There are some times I think of it as a safety problem; there’s not a lot of supervision there. We have our paraprofessionals, but they are usually more focused on the more populated parts of the building.”

Even though students are allowed to sit in the link, 74 percent of students who have eaten in the link have been kicked out, according to an unscientific survey of 282 students conducted by The Oracle. Despite the administration’s stance, junior Lucia Zdenahlik said that she has been repeatedly asked to leave the link during lunch. After deciding to bring up the issue with the deans’ office, one of the deans gave her a pass to stay in the link, in order to clear up the discrepancy between the deans office and the paraprofessionals.

“I asked the deans if I was allowed to sit in the link and they said, ‘Yeah, there should be no problem,’ so I kept doing it, but I kept getting kicked out, so the deans gave me a pass to sit in the link during my lunch block,” Zdenahlik said.

Another student who has had a similar experience, junior Annabelle Northrup, said she sits in the link during lunch because she wants to eat and do her homework, but the library does not allow food, and the volume and crowdedness of the cafeteria gives her anxiety. She explained how the consistency in which she gets kicked out makes her question  if the link is worth it.

“I don’t know why I keep trying to sit there at this point,” Northrup said. “Some part of me thinks that maybe one day they’ll give up chasing me down. I’m afraid of the cafeteria enough that sitting in the link, even if I’m kicked out, seems like a better alternative.”

Northrup said she is frustrated with the lack of clarity of the rules, as she explained how paraprofessionals never give her a clear answer for why she is not allowed to sit in the link.

“They never give me a legitimate reason,” Northrup said. “Usually, they’ll get in my face and say ‘You can’t be here’ and I’ll ask why and they’ll say ‘Because it’s against the rules’ or ‘Because I said so.’ There are times that I’ve mentioned my anxiety issue to them and they’ve said it’s ‘not their problem’ or ‘it’s still against the rules.’”

Fagel acknowledges the discrepancies between the administration and the paraprofessionals around the school. She hoped that pushing for clarifications of the rules will lead to less confusion.

“I think [the policies] need to be clearer because if they were clearer then we probably wouldn’t have as much inconsistency between people who are carrying out the policies,” Fagel said.

Zdenahlik saw a different problem as paraprofessionals would continually demand that she leave the link and instead sit in a supervised area.

“You could say that they’re doing their job, but if someone’s not causing a ruckus [in the link], don’t make them leave,” Zdenahlik.

For the time being, Bean said that students should obey the instructions of paraprofessionals around the school. However, if any questions do arise, the deans’ office would have the final say in matters regarding the link.

“If one of our security guards or paraprofessional asks you to leave the link, comply with that and come down here and ask to speak to one of the deans or someone around here to get more information,” Bean said.