Press Release from the Lunch and Recess Matter group:
Parents of students in Seattle Public Schools will attend the school board meeting this afternoon to express their frustration that the district has failed to act on their requests that the district provide their children with enough time to eat lunch and play at recess. They are asking the district to quickly ensure that kids get more to eat and play at school. Parents also pointed to a new study from the University of Washington that found students in Seattle Public Schools get only 12 minutes to eat their lunch, resulting in most of the fruits and vegetables going uneaten and putting students’ academic achievement at risk.
“We came to the board in November telling them there is a serious issue affecting most of the kids in Seattle Public Schools, and very little has been done since then to fix it,” said Sascha Demerjian, a parent at Whittier Elementary School. “The district is currently finalizing schedules for the 2015-16 school year, and we have not yet been assured that those schedules will have more time for lunch and recess at every public school in Seattle.”
The school district has claimed that lunch and recess times had to be cut to meet instructional hours requirements, but parents reject that claim.
“Many at the district level are blaming an increase in state mandated instructional hours, but that excuse doesn’t hold water. The increase doesn’t start until 2015-16 and only applies to high schools,” said Sarah Lang, a parent at Whittier Elementary and Hamilton Middle Schools.
A group of concerned parents began organizing upon learning that their children's lunch and recess time was cut yet again for this school year. Parents also reported their own children were coming home hungry, with low blood sugar, and often had full lunchboxes due to a lack of time to finish their meals. After launching a Facebook group, Lunch & Recess Matter, they heard from over 1,600 parents and community members that children at other schools in the district were also being denied enough time to eat and play.
Earlier this month, a group of students at Whittier Elementary School, on their own initiative, began gathering signatures from their classmates on a petition to the school district to restore longer lunch and recess times.
A new study by the Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington School of Public Health has validated these concerns. The study, “Lunch Time at School: How Much Is Enough?” found that the average seated lunchtime at Seattle Public Schools is just 12.69 minutes, and that no schools in their study met the required 20 minutes of seated lunchtime. The study also found that 83% of vegetables and 50% of fruit served at lunch is wasted due to lack of time for students to finish their meals.
“Providing adequate time for lunch leads to increased nutritional status, which is directly tied to academic achievement, conduct, and overall school performance,” concluded the study’s authors.
Seattle Public Schools currently has no minimum recess time policy, unlike other large districts in the state such as Tacoma.
In November, parents asked school district officials this afternoon to take the following four actions to address the problem. None of these steps appear to have been completed:
1) “Immediately conduct an audit of actual lunch & recess times in the next 30 days, and including the parents' group in the design and oversight of the research.” Seattle Public Schools began an audit, but did not complete it. Parents have filed a public disclosure request with the district to obtain the incomplete audit.
2) “Use the audit data to immediately correct problems in any school where kids have less than 20 minutes of actual seated lunchtime, not including time needed for transitions, standing in line, or bussing tables. Parents are willing to partner with the district, unions, and other parents to negotiate solutions if necessary. Parents do not want additional lunchtime to be created by further reducing recess times.” Seattle Public Schools has not taken any district-wide steps to correct these problems. Anecdotal reports suggest that a few principals have worked to provide additional lunchtime, but that most schools still offer too little lunch and recess to students.
3) “Partner with the district on the creation of a true, comprehensive Wellness Policy, including a clear recess policy for better transparency, accountability and protection of children's health and well-being.” A recess subcommittee has been formed in recent weeks, but has not yet made progress. The subcommittee has not been tasked with a specific goal or a commitment to develop a recess policy.
4) “Once a policy is formed, present the public with a plan for implementation in the 2015-16 school year, including a plan for accountability and enforcement of these policies.” No such plan has been presented to the public.
Students in Seattle Public Schools currently get less time to eat and rest than do adults in the workplace. State law requires that workers be given a minimum of 30 minutes for lunch each day, and 10 minutes of break for every 4 hours worked.
More information available:
Lunch and Recess Matter Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/
UW School of Public Health lunch time study:
Executive Summary: http://bit.ly/1x16hz6
Policy Brief: http://bit.ly/1ByybxM
Complete Study: http://bit.ly/1927b2Z
More quotes and personal stories: http://bit.ly/1AkDKFR
Policies and Secondary Research: http://bit.ly/1vKsD0Y