Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Update on the Fifteen-Minute Lunch: The Bureaucracy Fights Back

Remember that meeting we had with our school superintendent about the fifteen-minute lunch period in our elementary schools? The one he scheduled after parents complained that fifteen minutes was too short, and after they started a petition that garnered dozens of signatures and supportive comments? Remember how the superintendent started the meeting by talking about how the “twenty-minute lunch period” came about -- as if to pretend that lunches weren’t actually fifteen minutes at all? Remember how no one was fooled by his attempt at spin, and everyone at the meeting immediately pointed out that the lunch period was not only a measly fifteen minutes, but that some of that time was spent waiting in line, cleaning up, and getting in and out of the cafeteria, and that some schools were even having the kids eat lunch while bundled up in winter clothes, so they could get to recess more quickly afterward?

Wait till you hear the rest of the story.

At that meeting, the superintendent said that he would discuss the issue with the school principals – adding that he expected them to resist any effort to extend the lunch period at the expense of instructional time.

Last month, the superintendent told parents that he had scheduled a meeting of school administrators to discuss the issue and that he was hopeful they would be able to address parents’ and students’ concerns.

Last week, the superintendent talked to a reporter from a national news organization who is working on a story about school lunch periods. He told the reporter that the district had just enacted a policy to set the minimum school lunch period at twenty minutes after the last child in line had been served. He also said that the district had banned the practice of having the kids eat lunch in their winter clothes. (Meanwhile, the superintendent admitted to one parent that, because the kids could no longer wear their winter coats and snow pants to lunch, their recess time was being shortened to enable them to get bundled up first.)

But when one parent checked with her school’s principal to see if all the kids were really getting a full twenty minutes to eat, the principal replied that the students were now getting twenty minutes “in the lunchroom.” This didn’t sound exactly like what the superintendent had told the reporter, so that parent asked both the principal and the superintendent for clarification.

The parent soon heard back from the superintendent – the same man, keep in mind, who had tried to tell parents about how the “twenty minute lunch period” came about, and who just last week told a reporter about the district’s new twenty-minutes-from-the-last-child-through-the-line policy. He apologized for the confusion, then said he had been mistaken about the policy that had been adopted at his meeting with school administrators. The actual policy they agreed on, he said, is that the kids should get no less than fifteen minutes to eat their lunches.

See? They fixed the problem. Before, the kids had fifteen minute lunches. Now, because parents complained, the kids will have no less than fifteen minutes for lunch. Who says the school system isn’t responsive to parents’ concerns?


StepfordTO said...

"See? They fixed the problem. Before, the kids had fifteen minute lunches. Now, because parents complained, the kids will have no less than fifteen minutes for lunch. Who says the school system isn’t responsive to parents’ concerns?"

Funny! But so frustrating for the parents and sad for the kids. Would it be possible for someone to contact the reporter from the national news organization, to set the record straight? I still don't quite get how the superintendent and the district can get away with this.

J. said...

The only thing this superintendent would really care about is bad publicity. So echoeing northTOmom. Get ahold of that reporter and have her/him challenge the comment.

Chris said...

northTOmom and J -- Rest assured that the reporter is being kept apprised of the latest turns in this story.

I agree that our school officials seem more concerned about bad publicity than about bad policy. When a few parents complained about our school's use of the Social Thinking curriculum, the superintendent shut it right down; it didn't look good to be using an autism curriculum on the entire third and fourth grade. But our complaint about the program -- that it encouraged kids to mindlessly comply with other people's expectations -- applies equally to PBIS, which our district continues to use throughout its schools, but which doesn't generate quite the same scary headlines.

StepfordTO said...


I wonder if it would be possible for you to post a quick, chronological list of links to all your lunch posts. There are people I follow (and who follow me) on Twitter who are very interested in this whole issue of school lunches. I often want to tweet a link to your blog, but I'm sometimes at a loss as to which post would be the best (most explanatory) one to link to (they're all so good!). Or perhaps you might consider adding a labels (topics) gadget somewhere on your blog?

Chris said...

northTOmom -- Great suggestion. I just added a "School lunch" label to the posts about school lunch. I still have to figure out how to put the labels into a sidebar, but in the meantime, clicking on that label at the bottom of a post will lead you to a collection of all the posts on the school lunch issue. Or you can just click here.

The site with the school lunch petition is here.

Also, stay tuned: I'm expecting to do some additional posts on that issue within the next few weeks.

Karen said...

Trading Calories For Test Scores

Chris said...

Alternamama: Thanks for that great link! Here it is in clickable form.