Open lunch is a beloved staple of the RM student lifestyle

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Graphic courtesy of Christiana Vucea

There are alternatives to school lunches available to RM students in the Rockville area that are healthier and more accessible.

Max Belyantsev, Opinions Writer

Richard Montgomery’s open lunch policy is a celebrated freedom that few students at other high schools in Montgomery County get to experience for themselves. At RM, students can leave campus to grab lunch at Rockville Town Center, goodies from a local cafe or a quick drink from tea shops in the school’s vicinity. More importantly, lasting memories are made with friends while experiencing that sweet, sweet independence. 

The policy can sometimes lead to students being late to 5th period, and going out for lunch unsupervised carries some risks, however, concerns such as these can be addressed at the individual level. Considering the rare nature of open lunch policies within MCPS, RM’s open lunch is sacred and should unequivocally be preserved.

There are several other clear benefits to the policy outside of student enjoyment and leisure. According to Flow Psychology, open lunch helps the economy by attracting a greater number of visitors to local bakeries, shops and restaurants. Some Rockville stores, bakeries, restaurants and other businesses rely on the daily RM lunch rush to sustain themselves, so abolishing the policy could result in the closure of some of Rockville’s beloved spots. 

The Rockville area also provides RM students with a large number of healthy and varied alternatives to the pizza, mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets and other fast-food-style lunches that MCPS is currently offering at high schools across the county. “You can get whatever food you want, [and] you don’t have to get the same food every day,” freshman Sujit Hegde said.

This is not the case for all schools as many are not located in downtown centers with easy access to grab and go places. However, some schools may see this as an upside; the US Department of Agriculture has reported that students participating in the National School Lunch program are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and milk versus those that eat at nearby fast-food restaurants. It is important to note that, while this may hold for other schools in Montgomery County, the Rockville area showcases an ample number of off-campus options for RM students looking to eat healthier and higher-quality foods.

On top of the numerous benefits of an outside lunch, letting teenagers venture into the areas around RM fosters a new feeling of autonomy. Students of all grades get to make their own decisions, from picking their group’s go-to spot to mapping out how to get back to class on time. This freedom is especially important and special for freshmen and sophomores who can equally benefit from the policy and learn how to manage their independence early on. “I think that just being able to experience a little bit of freedom and a little bit of the great restaurants in Rockville— it’s something special about Richard Montgomery,” Magnet Coordinator and Administrator Mr. Joseph Jelen said.

Though teenagers greatly appreciate open lunches, many adults and administrators fear the dangers of widespread implementation of the policy around the county. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, open campus lunch periods contribute to not only higher accident rates but also situations with multiple occupants per vehicle, a known risk factor for teenage motor vehicle crashes. Essentially, allowing students to wander or carpool in a busy area such as Rockville during the early-lunch hour can put students at risk of traffic-related injuries.

Even the generous fifty minutes that RM allots for lunchtime can often lead to a time crunch considering rush-hour crowds in the Rockville area. “It can […] be kind of a long walk depending on where you’re going,” sophomore Grace Young said. “Sometimes you have to rush to get things and that’s kind of annoying.” Even so, it is up to the students who leave campus to make their own decisions. Providing them with the opportunity of choice is important; sometimes, students must learn the limits of their freedoms the hard way.

There are students who take advantage of the open lunch policy and could potentially ruin it for everyone. “The drawback with an open lunch though is I think when students are trying to, say, access something further down Rockville Pike than the laws of physics would allow them to access and be back on time,” said Mr. Jelen. 

Abolishing the open lunch policy for all students would be an undoubtedly unpopular and unnecessary solution. These cases should be considered person-to-person as there are ways for administration to curtail the number of late students returning from open lunch without punishing everyone. 5th-period teachers already mark students late, but repeat offenders’ participation in sports and extracurriculars can be restricted and their parents can be contacted if necessary. This way, students are encouraged to plan their time effectively and miss less or none of their 5th period.

Few MCPS high schools allow students to leave campus during lunch. RM is blessed with students who are usually safe and responsible; however, this does not mean that Montgomery County should implement a blanket policy concerning open lunch. There are too many variables that must be taken into account depending on the school. For some schools, healthy lunch options may not be available nearby, diminishing one of the main benefits to open lunch.

In some areas, students may start skipping their 5th period en masse, which is a roadblock to learning. In the end, a county-wide open lunch policy would have to be rather conservative and ineffective to be universally applicable. It should be up to each high school’s leadership to implement the policy at their discretion.

All in all, RM should keep the policy currently in effect that allows students of all grades to experience open lunch for themselves. There are a lot of benefits to the practice as well as some inherent downsides. Other high schools in our county should be able to decide whether an open lunch policy would work in their unique environments. As for late-from-lunch students, recurring issues can be resolved separately. RM students have shown time and again that they are accountable and should continue to be rewarded for their efforts with open lunch privileges.