COLUMBIA — On any given weekday between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., the McDonald's on Business Loop 70 is swarming with teenagers gossiping, joking and eating.
Many of them are on lunch break from Hickman High School.
Last week, however, the doors to McDonald's were closed to students from Hickman. The students were told they could not enter the restaurant — only use the drive-through — because of recent student misbehavior.
On Oct. 8, morning announcements at Hickman told students they were no longer welcomeinside during lunch.
The announcement was a result of a series of incidents including a broken window, aggressive and dangerous driving and a fight in the parking lot, according to Lili Vianello, owner of Visionworks, McDonald's communication firm.
Vianello denied that McDonald's had declared an official policy to prohibit students from eating inside the restaurant.
McDonald's management discussed the student behavior with Hickman administrators before the announcement was made, said Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent of the Columbia Public Schools.
A few hours later, McDonald's retracted the statement and agreed to allow students back inside the restaurant for lunch, starting the next day.
Since then, Hickman students have heard daily announcements reminding them to be "respectful of McDonald's property and employees."
Like Hickman, Rock Bridge and Douglass High Schools have historically allowed students to eat off-campus during lunch.
Administrators at Rock Bridge and Douglass said they have received no reports about student misbehavior during lunch. Although off-campus lunch is an option, it is discouraged in morning announcements and student handbooks.
The school district has discussed changing the high school lunch policy, although not recently, Barnett said. In the past, any decision to close campus during lunch hours has been made by individual schools. Students like to eat off campus, she said, and parents usually support that decision.
Barnett said Hickman students were not involved in the recent incident at McDonald's, although the window was broken during the lunch hour.
Hickman student Brittany Avery said most of the problems occur during the "A" lunch period between 11:30 a.m. and noon every weekday except Tuesday, when it occurs from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
She said a police officer occasionally patrols the restaurant during lunch. Vianello, McDonald's spokeswoman, said the past week has been uneventful.
McDonald's is not the only restaurant near Hickman that has reported incidents during lunch. In September, a male student was arrested at 11:40 a.m. at Dairy Queen for possession of an unloaded handgun in his backpack.