Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Parents protest Seattle schools continued denial of adequate lunch and recess time

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.”

“Students and parents return to school each year to find that lunch and recess times have been further reduced,” said Jana Robbins, a parent at Leschi Elementary School. “Research has shown that adequate lunch and recess time actually improves student behavior and academic goals. Children who have recess are better able to manage their behavior and focus on learning in the classroom. It’s time for the school district to give our children more recess and more lunch.”

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.

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends children have 20 minutes of seated lunchtime to eat their food. Seattle Public Schools’ lunch policy also requires children be given 20 minutes of seated lunchtime, but the reduced amount of time for recess and lunch means that in practice, this policy is not being followed.

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/groups/LunchMatters/ 

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

24 comments:

n said...

I applaud parents finally doing something action-oriented about this. Teacher, teachers, teachers is all I've been reading on this blog. But it is more than teachers. Even teachers are rushed through the day trying to include 300% more than any teacher did in the fifties. Okay, there's more to know. We expect more of kids. Then add an hour to the day, give teachers some time to plan, prepare and think, and give children time to play. BTW, I don't care how long you give kids to eat. If they're hankering to go to recess, they will talk and play rather than eat then scurry on out to recess. Recess should come first. In some states they've recognize the research - see Montana.

The empire at Stanford and the ignorance in Olympia is willfully reckless when it comes to our kids and education.

Anonymous said...

Yes, hats off to these parents for trying to take back lunch and recess at SPS. It is CRAZY what is being denied these kids at school. Kids are people first, students second - that is just a basic animal fact. We all need time to eat, sleep, and play. The stuffing of standardized testing and the starving of nutrition and adequate down time at SPS (and everywhere) will come back to haunt us all.

Really, who makes these decisions? Do they think that students are robots, not living, breathing beings that they are being deprived of time to eat and play (and increasingly) sleep?

The rise of standardized testing and the decline of lunch and recess seem linked to me, and in a sinister way. It does not seem accidental that the these things are occurring simultaneously in our schools. Schools are a reflection of our culture, and what we think we believe.

Also, very arguably, high school students ALSO need time to eat, sleep, and "hang out." It will make them better people and better students in the end. I think we ALL know that.

-lilliput

Anonymous said...

The reason there's no recess, no lunch, and no time for anything is that ALL the time is spent going to and fro for 3 Amplify tests per year, 3 Amplify-prep's/midpoints, SBAC prep, and the big kahuna, the SBAC. All in all - the testing takes about 3 or 4 months of instructional time out of the year. That's a lot of recess!

Reader

Anonymous said...

Reader, My understanding is that lunch and recess (and why schools don't meet state requirements for time dedicated to P.E) are so short due to budget cuts many years ago. I hope that someone who has lived here longer can tell that story with more detail.

Now that we've left SPS, I realize that lack of time for lunch and recess is one of the things that we just came to accept about Seattle schools that are simply unacceptable. I wish I had rabble roused on this subject now that I see how clearly wrong it is.
Thank you to these parents who are putting basic needs of children first.

Former SPSParent

Anonymous said...

What is a viable solution for this problem? Where does the time come out of? I think there is also an issue with teachers who keep kids in from recess for behavior issues. Seems like a backward move.

-bh

n said...

Well, I guess kids who give back time at recess for playing during study time would still have more play time but less than the others. Time out - whether at home or school - means no playing. It's a consequence.

Children don't count minutes. They feel the effect of the notion of losing recess. And it helps.

Anonymous said...

Adding time to the day sounds great, but bus times and the SEA contract dictate the length of the school day, right? The transportation service standards for next year have already been approved. It doesn't seem likely that they can add more time to the day.

Teachers make kids miss recess for any number of "offenses," for instance, forgetting to have a parent sign their reading or homework logs. Withholding recess as punishment really needs to stop.

- reality check

Charlie Mas said...

This issue is a perfect example of nearly every problem with the District.

1. Policy is violated. In fact, many of the people responsible for implementing this policy were not even aware of it. Did principals even know the rule for seated lunch time?

2. Policy violation is known by supervisors. The Education Directors know the school schedules. The school schedules are often published online. The short lunchtimes were known.

3. Policy is not enforced. Even when the violation is known, the policy was not enforced. Even when families complained and made reference to the policy, the policy was not enforced. District officials - even those who freely acknowledge the violation - adamantly refuse to enforce the policy. There is no effort to correct the situation and implement compliance.

4. There are no consequences for violating the policy.

5. Requests from the community are ignored.

6. The Board ignores the community's call and refuses to enforce the policy.

7. The District outright lies to the community. They claimed that they couldn't extend lunchtimes for elementary students due to rules for high school students.

8. Best practices are ignored. Best practice is to have recess BEFORE lunch, but that's not how many schools do it. Best practice is to allow students time to eat, but that's not how any school does it. It's not as if the policy is bad and the District is following best practice instead of the policy. The Distrit isn't following best practice or the policy.

9. Despite everyone agreeing that the situation and bad and should be fixed, no one in the District takes a single step to fix it.

In this case it's lunchtime. The pattern is repeated in a long list of other cases.

And what is Dr. Nyland doing about it? NOTHING. What is the Board doing about it? NOTHING. What is the senior staff doing about it? NOTHING.

Charlie Mas said...

This issue is a perfect example of nearly every problem with the District.

1. Policy is violated. In fact, many of the people responsible for implementing this policy were not even aware of it. Did principals even know the rule for seated lunch time?

2. Policy violation is known by supervisors. The Education Directors know the school schedules. The school schedules are often published online. The short lunchtimes were known.

3. Policy is not enforced. Even when the violation is known, the policy was not enforced. Even when families complained and made reference to the policy, the policy was not enforced. District officials - even those who freely acknowledge the violation - adamantly refuse to enforce the policy. There is no effort to correct the situation and implement compliance.

4. There are no consequences for violating the policy.

5. Requests from the community are ignored.

6. The Board ignores the community's call and refuses to enforce the policy.

7. The District outright lies to the community. They claimed that they couldn't extend lunchtimes for elementary students due to rules for high school students.

8. Best practices are ignored. Best practice is to have recess BEFORE lunch, but that's not how many schools do it. Best practice is to allow students time to eat, but that's not how any school does it. It's not as if the policy is bad and the District is following best practice instead of the policy. The Distrit isn't following best practice or the policy.

9. Despite everyone agreeing that the situation and bad and should be fixed, no one in the District takes a single step to fix it.

In this case it's lunchtime. The pattern is repeated in a long list of other cases.

And what is Dr. Nyland doing about it? NOTHING. What is the Board doing about it? NOTHING. What is the senior staff doing about it? NOTHING.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's my advice to the Lunch and Recess Matter group. Invite the media to come and report as you write permission slips for a large number of the children in a class or a school to get out of class in the middle of the day and feed them lunch.

The District will respond to bad press, so you need to get the media on your side. To do that, you have to educate them and give them a story worthy of reporting. Setting up tables and feeding children next to the school makes for good images. They will interview the school principal about lunch time and, if you have educated the media about the policy, the press will have a good question to ask.

Create a media circus. The District will respond to that. You have tried talking to principals. You have tried reminding them of the policy. You have tried telling them about best practices. You have tried going to Board meetings. You may have tried the Ombudsman. You have seen how effective those methods are. Time for Plan B: media pressure.

Anonymous said...

@n

My kids had elementary teachers who repeatedly kept the whole class in from recess because of the actions of a few students. Why should they have suffered a consequence for other students' behavior?

-lcp

Melissa Westbrook said...

This topic came up at the Board meeting and I was astonished at how Superintendent Nyland and some on the Board just kind of shook their heads as if, "How could this be happening?"

What!? It's happening because principals are making their own decisions on lunch and recess in violation of district policy.

It's happening because Michael Tolley is more interested in T&L than recess/lunch.

I'm sorry - how did my kids get a lunchtime and two recesses and somehow get the learning that was required?

Nyland has it within his power to change this and won't. That's the bottom line - his bottom line doesn't think it important to do so.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is time to name names?

If we parents have a list of schools, principals, and district supervisors who are in violation of the standing policy for lunch times and recess, then we can begin to email and write letters to express our dissatisfaction. That might begin to make a difference. And we can cc the press.

Any one care to start a list?

Concerned Parent

Ed said...

Education Directors don't need rules and ignore the ones that exist. Another symptom of the cheating Culture of lawlessness the board has been pursuaded to accept.

n said...

To me this is less about rules and policy than a blatant disrespect for the needs of children. In addition, has anyone eaten any of the lunches provided these days? They have something called a bean burrito that was tougher than shoe leather and dryer than sawdust. I know because I tried to eat it.

Also, to Reality Check, no child should be kept in for recess for failure to get a parent's signature and I doubt that really happened. However children are very affected by taking away even a minute of recess and that is our leverage. They lose a minute, maybe two minutes. That is hardly punishment. I'm wondering what some of you would do instead? When I was a kid, teachers actually kept kids after school. Can't do that today. In those days we had neighborhood schools and kids primarily walked. Less danger it seemed.

Teachers have always needed some leverage with kids. Just as parents do when children misbehave. For heaven's sake, let's keep it real.

Also, yes SEA does have to agree to longer schools days but I know teachers who are ready to do it. Some of us - how many I can't say- think it would actually ease the pressure of having to rush through the day which is stressful for us as well as for the students. But I may be in the minority.

Lynn said...

n,

You might consider having someone from Sound Discipline provide training at your school.

Yes - let's keep it real. Taking away recess time is punishment. And no - you can't assume all parents punish and would find it acceptable for teachers to do it. Yuck.

Anonymous said...

@n

You wrote: "Also, to Reality Check, no child should be kept in for recess for failure to get a parent's signature and I doubt that really happened."

This has happened to my child and his classmates. Hope that clears up any doubts.

- reality check

n said...

Well, I think that is unacceptable. I'm surprised that anyone would do such a thing.

As for parents finding a couple minutes recess "punishment," all I can say is let that parent try to manage twenty-to-twenty-six children. Calling it punishment is quite a leap to me. So tell me, what would you do?

I wonder how many parents realize many kids love and ask to stay in at recess time? The reactionary answer is that's not okay - they need to play. Children are more nuanced than that. As a kid, I loved to play. Others hovered on stairs and stood around. They would much rather have stayed in the classroom to read or color. Not me. Everyone needs a break but outside recess isn't necessarily the answer for all kids.

Anonymous said...

@n

At my son's school, I believe the library is available for kids who would rather stay in and read at recess...at least on the days it is open (we don't have a full-time librarian).

- reality check

Lynn said...

n,

Taking recess time away from a child who wants to go outside isn't acceptable because another child likes to stay in. (That just makes no sense.) A teacher who is punitive ruins their relationship with their students.

I don't know what I'd do. What kind of behavior are you reacting to? And why do you think the child is behaving this way?

(I spent lots of recess time in the library voluntarily.)

Anonymous said...

They main problem with keeping kids in from recess for disciplinary reasons is that the time is often actually coming out of their eating time, not their play time. One of my kids had a teacher that used to make them line up & then wouldn't start the walk to lunch until everyone was quiet, or they'd be held back due to behavior issues in the morning, and they'd end up having 5-10 minutes to eat (especially bad for the kids that were buying lunch). They couldn't just stay in the cafeteria & eat during recess (even if they wanted to) because the next group of kids is coming in for lunch.

The other way I've seen this done at our school is for individual kids that are old enough to come back to the classroom by themselves after eating, rather than going out to the playground. Several of the older elementary teachers will do this for kids that habitually don't do their homework - after a certain amount of missed assignments you get to do them during recess. This seems ok to me since it is on an individual basis, and it's for the older kids (4th-5th grade), who can deal a bit better with not getting outside. It seems to work pretty well for making sure the homework gets done, for my kids at least.

Mom of 4

Lynn said...

The problem with that practice is that recess (exercise and free play) are important for a child's physical and mental health and improve their ability to learn. Homework for 4th and 5th graders hasn't been shown to be helpful for any of those things.

Every person should have a right to a break in their work day. A right - not the hope that if they're well-behaved they'll be given a break as a treat.

If we're going to look at the affect of school policies on children's health (mental and physical), we need to include homework in that discussion.

n said...

taking recess time away from a child who wants to go outside isn't acceptable because another child likes to stay in. (That just makes no sense.)

You're right. That doesn't make any sense which is why I didn't say it.

What kind of behavior? All kinds of behavior. Twenty-to-twenty-six-or-even-eight kids run the gamut. Do your children ever misbehave? Well, that would be one of the behaviors.

And it is probably obvious that I do use recess as leverage and no, to my knowledge, none of my kids has a negative relationship with me. Quite the contrary in fact.

"Punishment" "Punitive" Interesting choice of words. So, again, what do you all do when your kids misbehave? Or do they never misbehave?

Mom of four - I wouldn't agree with taking eating time away from kids either. The only difference between home and school is how to handle negative behaviors. A few kids at home may lose computer privilege, time out in their room, family talks which may or may not help. School isn't home and teachers are not parents. Discipline strategies are different because teachers have a classroom of students who are entitled to be taught in an environment in which they can learn. Leverage is needed. Beyond that, I'm sure almost all teachers handle it differently but I don't know of one that hasn't at some point used recess as one of the strategies. Most of the teachers I know who use it really dislike having to do so because it is our break and we have work to do. Spending the time with students isn't our favorite choice. But sometimes it has to happen.

Lynn, this conversation feels sort of black and white but you still haven't mentioned what you do with your kids when or if they misbehave.

Lynn said...

I'm sorry. I've been less than pleasant and you've been patient.

I talk to them. I ask why they are doing whatever it is that I don't like. I explain why it's a problem for me. We talk about how we can solve the problem together.

I don't like the way punishments make me feel or the way they make my kids feel. I don't use them. I've done it in the past (nobody's perfect) but they're not for me and they're not for my kids.