Open lunch reformed, “Pay and Go” to be implemented Monday


Photo courtesy of WJNN Live Stream

Montgomery County Police Department 2nd District Commander Amy Daum, Principal Jennifer Baker and Community Engagement Officer Shate Jackson address the school during the morning announcements informing them of the changes to the open lunch policy. The new policy will require students to return to campus after purchasing food and drink.

Following a surge of fights and incidents at local businesses in recent months, school administration in cooperation with local businesses and county police have changed the open lunch policy. The new policy is what Principal Jennifer Baker calls “Pay and Go.” The policy entails allowing students to purchase food and drinks from Georgetown Square and Wildwood businesses, but not being allowed to sit and eat in Georgetown Square or Wildwood.

The announcement came to students during the morning announcements on Wednesday, April 26. The policy will be implemented on Monday, May 1.

Baker said that the revised policy allows businesses to benefit from paying students while avoiding an “invasion” from students eating. Instead, students will return to the school campus to eat in order to avoid having large amounts of students congregating. Baker added that the school would be looking into purchasing tables outside for students to eat as an alternative to Georgetown Square and consider reopening the stadium during lunch, which was done as a Covid measure.

A spike in fights at local businesses in and around Georgetown Square have caused increased levels of security and police presence. On Friday, April 14, one fight at the Chipotle in Georgetown Square caused what Baker described as “havoc” with people climbing on tables and many students running around in the square.

The complaints were echoed by Montgomery County Police Department 2nd District Commander Amy Daum.

“When we have events like we’ve seen recently at Georgetown Square, that means we have to pull those police resources away from other areas in the community to respond in and restore order to the shopping center,” Daum said.

In addition to general rowdiness — Baker described incidents of people shoving members of the community and other rude actions — theft has also been a problem for Georgetown Square businesses.

With complaints piling up from the community and businesses, a variety of policies were considered including setting up food trucks outside of Giant Food to dissuade students from entering the business. However, Baker views the Pay and Go policy as a compromise.

“I have to call the businesses that call me, they want to know what we’re gonna do about it … people are reaching out to county councilmen, things like that, people are really after our open lunch, so this is a compromise.

— Principal Jennifer Baker

In addition, the open lunch policy will be subject to review and possibly further change this summer. Baker acknowledged some of the changes this summer could include limiting open lunch for freshmen or underclassmen.

“I think what we would discuss [this summer] is perhaps the incoming new students, the ninth grade students, perhaps they stay on campus. They’re used to it already, they’re just coming out of middle school … that’s one thing we would discuss,” Baker said.

WJ is the largest school in the state by population that has an open lunch policy Montgomery Blair HS, the only larger school, has a closed campus lunch policy. However, some sort of open lunch at WJ seems safe for most.

“I don’t see [open lunch] ending for everybody. We’ve used this policy for over 30 years, it’s part of the school’s culture … I don’t think we could keep 3000 students in the building and have lunch,” Baker said.

If the pay and go policy rolls out successfully, the intention is that the policy will continue into the future, with the current full open lunch policy indefinitely suspended.

Earlier in the semester, Baker also announced that Giant would also be changing its own policies in reaction to the lunchtime chaos, banning backpacks and limiting entry to 10 students at a time.

However, these changes are yet to be implemented, and it is unknown whether they will be implemented at all. Baker stated that she has reached out to Giant to inform them of the new Pay and Go policy and find out where they stand on their initial policy changes.