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Alexandria City High School students organize walk out protesting cancelation of lunchtime activities

ACHS students in a walk out protesting the cancelation of Lunch and Learn (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

(Updated 3:55 p.m.) At 10 a.m. today, Alexandria City High School students filed out of their classrooms and took to the field behind the school in protest against the elimination of a popular lunchtime program at the school.

For a time, students could use their lunch block to meet with clubs or teachers in a program called Lunch and Learn. This was later given a more formal structure in a program called Titan Lunch, a re-do with more security, but that program was never instated.

Earlier this week, ACHS Principal Peter Balas told that — after meeting with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) senior leadership team — Titan Lunch would not be implemented for the current school year.

In an email to the community, Balas said logistics and safety concerns were at the core of why the program was canceled for the duration of the current school year.

“You may recall that, last fall, I promised to share an update after Winter Break and provide the next steps in the process,” Balas wrote. “In my previous message, I emphasized the need to address all of the safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges, in our final plan, while also providing an opportunity for student choice during the lunch period. This is a significant challenge to overcome, given our large student population.”

Balas said the program “as we have known it” will not be reinstated for the 2022-2023 school year.

“Despite our best efforts, we are still working through the numerous factors and considerations to successfully reinstate the Titan Lunch period for this school year,” Balas wrote. “At this time,we will not be able to reinstate Titan Lunch for the 2022-23 school year as we have known it. Over the next semester, we will find ways to provide support to students focused on academics, well-being and student life.”

Students at ACHS told ALXnow that Lunch and Learn allowed students to participate in clubs and receive support from teachers, as well as allowing them time to visit counselors. The program allowed students to use the lunch break for these activities when things like sports or jobs might have left them unable to use those resources after school hours.

According to James Libresco, the 2025 class president at ACHS:

Lunch and Learn was such an important issue for students because it allowed students to participate in clubs, receive academic support from teachers, utilize the College & Career center, receive emotional support from counselors, and so much more. And the best part was that it allowed equal and equitable access for all students to participate in these school activities and enrichments, even those who had responsibilities after school like going to sports practice, working a job, or taking care of family members. This was something that had never been possible previously.

Titan Lunch took those aspects and added more safety-focused oversight, restricting some of the openness from Lunch and Learn like access to Chinquapin Field. Titan Lunch also required students to report directly to their location and check in via an internal system to let administrators keep track of students.

Libresco said strategic security plans for Titan Lunch included placing security officers and administrators in key locations to prevent students from roaming the halls or entering “no-go” areas.

Student newspaper Theogony has been covering the topic and reported that the Titan Lunch plans hit a wall when they were not approved by Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt.

A committee of 25 students, called the Student Lunch Committee, had been working on the Titan Lunch program as a compromise. The Student Lunch Committee issued a statement expressing frustration at being seemingly stonewalled by the central office. Libresco said Balas was supportive of the students and engaged in conversations, but that the school had difficulty discussing the plan with the central office and Kay-Wyatt in particular, who has not met with the committee.

A Change.org petition calling specifically on Kay-Wyatt to reinstate Lunch and Learn has gotten 1,346 signatures at time of writing.

“This is no longer just about Titan Lunch,” the committee said in a statement posted on social media. “this is about students, teachers, staff and administration being flagrantly ignored by Central Office with the vague reasoning of ‘safety.’ This is about Central Office leaving nothing up to the principals and administrators who know our school so well.”

In the email to the community, Balas said the discussion around lunchtime activities is likely to continue:

In our continued conversations with students and staff about the reinstatement of this period, we have heard many perspectives and advocacy to accommodate this period in the schedule for the remainder of this year. I want you to know that your voice has not gone unheard. In our role as leaders, it is always challenging to balance safety for all within the building with student and staff choice. This is one of those times when a tough call must be made to ensure that we can be fully prepared to provide the safest environment for our school community while also keeping student life top of mind.

I understand that you may still have questions about this decision and may be disappointed with this outcome at this time. Please be assured that we will continue to identify ways to incorporate student and staff voice in our next steps as we continue our planning, if all measures are in place.

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