Lunch mess at Whittier

Apparently Whittier Elementary now has a 15-minute lunch and 15-minute recess (it had been a 20-minute lunch and a 20-minute recess last year). Given these narrow windows - and the time it takes kids to work through a line and get served - some of the kids who are eating the hot lunch (and this means the FRL kids) only get about five minutes of seated lunch time before being excused to recess.

If this is true, it is out of compliance with District policy and procedure (H61.01).

Concerns have fallen on deaf ears at the school. Families are meeting on Thursday evening to determine a plan of escalation and action.

Can anyone provide additional detail?


Anonymous said…
This is a huge problem in the more crowded schools.

It's been a problem at Lincoln, which has 700 kids, for a couple years. It's especially bad there this year - One lunch line for 700 kids.

Please, neighborhood schools - you will get as crowded as Lincoln APP too - so if we have problems like crowding, it's the same kind of problem you're going to have. It just hits APP school first b/c it's so big.

We all need to band together to force the district to solve this for EVERY school.

My kid says the cafeteria sign lists capacity at 223, and given 700 kids and only 3 lunches ... he does the math. It doesn't work.

Not to mention the timing doesn't work. B/c the kids going in and the kids going out have to use the same doors.

District needs to devote serious capital solutions - more lunch lines, for starters - to the crowded schools. At Lincoln they need to open up more spaces, and open up more doors in/out.

What we hear is that the "1000 instructional minutes" meant lunch and recess were cut.

I think that's bogus, frankly. If 1000 minutes is so big, add more time to the day - but even kids who aren't FRL can't skip lunch! It ruins learning for all kids!

But all they want are "parent volunteers" to help hurry the kids up.

Signed: hungrynbitter
SPS needs to fix this immediately. These are the kind of things that erode public confidence in the system and make something like a mayoral takeover or privatization more likely. Parents have a right to expect that the schools will be on top of basic issues like this. I know it's not easy and I know there are surely obstacles, but those need to be solved.
Anonymous said…
I love you all for even thinking the District cares. I know a bit about the Whittier thing: when bus routes changed, ten minutes was added to the teachers' day and so the principal - a very good one - added that ten minutes to the lunch schedule and it worked out fine. Teachers weren't paid for the ten minutes - that ten minutes which appeared to be lunch minutes were actually work time. Elementary teachers usually work during lunch anyway so it worked perfectly.

Thirty minutes is the contracted time but I don't know what teachers do at different schools. I only know that when I was there, the school was much smaller and 30 minutes was the time frame until Linda Robinson arrived and until the District changed the bus schedule adding ten minutes to the teacher day. The forty-minute lunch which ensued was fair and legal.

Just don't know much about it now.

A retired teacher
Anonymous said…
Let me fix that last comment: teachers were paid for that ten minutes which is why is was considered work time although without kids. And teachers certainly did work it!

still retired :)
Deb Escher said…
The meeting this Thursday (10/9) is taking place at my home in Ballard at 7PM (casual, bring a beverage or snack to share, or just bring yourself!). We welcome any concerned citizen to help us strategically tackle this widespread issue in Seattle Public Schools. Please call or email me if you'd like to attend, and I'll send you my home address. Contact me: and 206-790-9469

This issue is widespread with at least 8 other SPS schools offering just 15-minute lunches (email me if you want to see the research we've compiled).

This trend is especially concerning for kids on the Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) program, as this may be their only opportunity for a nutritious meal during weekdays.

To our retired teacher--first...thank you for your service! You're correct, we did have 40 minutes of combined lunch and recess until this year. It's is now 15 minutes of lunch and 15 minutes of recess. So we are again in violation of SPS policy with some of our younger kids only having 5 minutes of seated lunch time (after standing in line for hot lunch) for lunch.

This year, Whittier's second-year principal, Melissa Schweitzer, reported that her initial schedule proposal included a 40 minute allotment for lunch and recess, but that schedule was rejected by Jon Halfaker, her boss and the Executive Director of Schools - Northwest Region. It seems SPS's focus is on meeting the 1000 hours of instructional time, rather than children's basic needs and our minimum lunch time policy. The real culprit is that our school day (or year) is simply too short to meet instructional requirements AND kids' basic needs to eat, socialize and move.

The staff and parent volunteers in Whittier's lunch room are heros, trying to make the best of the time the kids have, but it's not enough to meet our kids basic needs.

We've also found that many schools still somehow have adequate lunch and recess time--even with similar schedules to Whittier. So why are some in compliance with the lunch policy and others aren't?

In the short term, parents should try to volunteer during lunch and help it go more smoothly, but we need a longer term solution that doesn't involve kids missing recess to have adequate lunch time--both are important to kids' social, physical and educational development as many studies and the American Academy of Pediatrics state, time and again.

Lastly, news media and social media outreach is already gearing up to be the cornerstone of this campaign, with a focus on health/nutritional, family and food bloggers, advocates, professionals and reporters. If you have contacts that fit the bill, or special expertise in PR/Social media and want to help us, please contact me.

We want to do this in a positive way and will be approaching all administrators, the district, board, legislators with that goal in mind. After all, I think we need to keep the well-being of the children at the heart of education policy. That is our goal, as long as we find other child advocates to help us make these necessary changes.

Please join the grassroots effort, starting this Thursday at 7pm at my home in Ballard.

Thank you for bringing this concern to this great forum!
Deb Escher
Whittier Elementary Parent of 1st and 3rd Graders
Anonymous said…
Yes, it is frustrating when "district" policy doesn't even cover a region.

Whittier =30 minutes lunch & recess

Greenwood, North Beach, W. Woodland = 40 minutes lunch & recess.

Is Mr. Halfaker not the supervisor for all of these NW elementary schools?

N by NW
Anonymous said…
Look, what's the blow back on just ignoring the 1000 minutes policy?

I mean, has anyone ever been disciplined for ignoring the state PE minimum?


So just shrug and say screw it to the 1000 minutes and give the kids lunch. That must be what the others are doing.

Signed: hungrynbitter
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
What I find hysterically funny is that they're supposed to get those hours of precious instruction, except, they're doing it on empty stomachs, so I'm not exactly sure what kind of learning is going to actually be "taking" as they sit like zombies, distracted, and not even knowing why they are distracted.

Jon is transitioning from the great principle he was to a company man.

Eckstein had a huge problem with this last year. 1,300 kids trying to all get their lunch in three periods. Food insecure kids we're not getting enough time to get/eat their meals. Somebody suggested the free and reduced lunch kids go first in the line, obviously, that's a horrible suggestion. As Eckstein has gone down in numbers with the opening of jams, the problem is not as accute.

Anonymous said…
In very large schools, just getting all those classes from all the levels lined up to go in takes some time too. I know lunch is challenging for principals, but I think the kids should be able to eat in peace with the minimum of rules about having the whole table done to get up. It is stressful for students. It would be nice if there were rules the kids could follow then get up and go out. Maybe it is too hard to get dismissed individually rather than as a table. I hope principals think about how they treat the students and think about the effect of their rules/and system for getting kids to quiet down and how that affects kids lunch enjoyment. I think yelling into the microphone is really unpleasant. Having kids yell back their response is also unpleasant. Lunch is important. Recess is important. Good luck, Whittier!
Anonymous said…
One thing I found while doing research on this is that the 1000 hours of instructional time does include recess. So, this doesn't help the lunch situation at all, but it should mean that recess doesn't have to be shortened. Unless the only reason it is shortened is to accommodate shortening the lunch for others. I think we are smart enough to figure this out people! Kids need lunch and recess!

whittier parent
Anonymous said…
My kid reported that at her lunch one day they were told to stop eating and listen up while the adult in charge told them to be quiet. To be told to stop eating when you only have a few minutes!

So if you follow the rules, you're penalized by less lunch and if you don't, then you're breaking the rules.

It's all just so wrong.

In the army, the guy in charge is usually required to go LAST through the chow line. The person in charge is supposed to have the least amount of time and the last food - I know teachers don't have much time either, I'm not blaming them - but the 1000 minutes of instruction people like the ed director need to come and EAT LAST and then follow the rules and see if they can work the rest of the day until 4 without losing it. No cheating with 2 pm coffee and pastry.

Whittier: challenge them to come to your lunch, eat like the last in line kid, follow all the bullhorn rules and leave ASAP and then have a parent spend the day with them and make sure they don't snack. Or give them the dreaded 3 wheat thins snack. See when they collapse at 2 and get all pissy and can't focus.

Signed: hungrynbitter
I've heard from parents of kids at Broadview that the kids are complaining they don't have enough time to eat this year. So this sounds like a much bigger problem that requires immediate attention.
Time2Eat said…
This is an issue all over the district. I would encourage the folks at Whittier to do a quick poll. The School Board and the Exec. Directors should be made aware of just how bad the problem really is.

"Meal periods shall be long enough for students to eat and socialize – a minimum of 10
minutes are provided to eat breakfast and 20 minutes to eat lunch with additional time
as appropriate for standing in line

Line time is NOT supposed to count in your 20 minutes! Please note that socializing is a human aspect of meal times that is also noted in the policy. Expecting 5-10 year olds to not talk so they can shovel food into their mouths is ridiculous.

I think I may just figure out a way to time the last kid in line and see what comes of it...
Charlie Mas said…
So there is a clear policy violation here, right?

Shouldn't the superintendent - who has the responsibility to enforce policy - come down there and make them comply? Isn't that his job? Why doesn't he do his job?
Anonymous said…
Many of the FRL kids from Eckstein were re-assigned to JAMS.

As part of phase I of construction at JAMS, the lunchroom space was expanded (by expanding into spaces that previously housed a black-box theater and a computer lab).

I know there was quite a bit of thought put into how to run lunches at JAMS so that everyone has a place to sit and time to eat.

Does anyone know how it is working out so far?

- North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
TOPs also has only 15 minutes for lunch - they switched to this about 3 years ago. My kids used to complain about not having enough time, but now they don't - it may be that they have just got used to eating really quickly, but also they changed from 2 lunches to 3 lunches last year, so there are less kids to go through the line (the increased number of lunches had nothing to do with the length of the lunch period - there were concerns about adequate supervision during recess, and with three lunches/recesses you have less kids out on the playground at once). The good thing is that since it is a K-8 school the day is 6.5 hrs, so the elementary grades do get a second recess.

Mom of 4
Anonymous said…
I remember having to pack lunches with oranges already peeled and such so there was an increased likelihood of lunches getting eaten in time. Pretty sad. It was more of an issue in elementary than middle school. There was no time to stand in line for milk, let alone for lunch. Telling kids to not talk during lunch is not a solution.

According to the FAQS, ***recess*** actually counts toward instructional hours, as do passing periods.

RCW 28A.150.205 defines instructional hours:

'Instructional hours' means those hours students are provided the opportunity to engage in educational activity planned by and under the direction of school district staff, as directed by the administration and board of directors of the district, inclusive of intermissions for class changes, recess, and teacher/parent-guardian conferences that are planned and scheduled by the district for the purpose of discussing students' educational needs or progress, and exclusive of time actually spent for meals.

Basic Education compliance

How are schools calculating hours? Elementary school start and end times show a 6 hr 10 min day. Doing the math -> 1000 hrs/180 days = 5 hr 35 min of instructional time each day. Is it the half days that are reducing the average number of minutes left for lunch?

TechyMom said…
I keep thinking that if an employer tried to offer this little lunch and break time, they'd get in trouble.
Anonymous said…
So, I just did the math. With what info I have, Whittier has 6 hr and 5 min days (8:45-2:50). If you take out 15 min for lunch, that leaves 5 hr 50 min per day. If you count the total days of school it is 177 (because no school on Thanksgiving week, so 3 days extra left off from middle and high schools). So 5 hr 50 min x 177 days = 1032.5 hrs a year. Take out the 10 hours missed from 5 early release days = 1022.5. So as I see it, we are ahead. By my calculations you could add back at least 5 min to lunch, making it 20. And it would be great if they would add back the 5 min lost at recess, since recess time counts anyway. If you add in the 3 days spent on parent/teacher conferences you could have a longer lunch. Perhaps even 30 min (very reasonable) plus 15 or 20 for recess!

-Whittier parent
Anonymous said…
School lunch should be part of education, not a break from it.

A parent
Anonymous said…
I do know that the stated reason they do not violate the required 20 min is because apparently the children are allowed to stay longer than the 15 min if they want. I don't think any of them do, but apparently it is technically allowed.

Whittier parent
Dave said…
This widespread problem (along with the culture of lawlessness) has been going on for decades.

Education directors work for principals and don't rock the boat. Halfaker is one of the worst but its true leadership thats needed and accountability.

Good luck on that
Lynn said…
Actually, conferences are included in instructional hours. If Whittier has 6 hr and 5 minute days for 180 days, that's 1,095 hours. After subtracting the 10 hours for early release days, they have 85 hours for lunches. Over 180 days that's 47 minutes per day for lunch.

Let's talk about recess too. Why do kindergarteners at some schools only get one recess a day?
Lunch and recess are important parts of a kid's day. It's not just a "break" or nourishment; it allows them to blow off steam and interact socially. It is part of a child's development.

I've lived a couple of places in Europe and many of those countries would be aghast (especially over lunch which is considered very important).

I think this regulating down to the minute is getting a little nuts.
Anonymous said…
If you read the FAQs you will see that conferences *do not* count toward instructional hours if full days are used.

What is the definition of a school day?

A full-day parent-teacher conference is not considered a school day toward the required 180 days because it is implicit in the statute that all pupils must be engaged in academic and career and technical instruction. A late start, early release, or half-day used for parent-teacher conferences is considered a school day toward the required 180 days. Districts planning full-day parent teacher conferences within a 180-day school year must apply for a waiver to be in compliance with the Basic Education Act.

If Whittier wants a longer lunch they may need to eliminate the full day conferences.

Anonymous said…
So having full day conferences at Thanksgiving puts them out of compliance, yes? No matter what they're doing for lunch, they aren't meeting the minimum number of school days, unless they've gotten a waiver.
Anonymous said…
In order to deal with some of the shortcomings and difficulties with the rapid opening of JAMS the school has relaxed the rules on snacking in the classrooms. This is not a long-term solution but at least the school is thinking about what needs to be done on an emergency basis to keep kids fed.

Anonymous said…
Does snacking in the classrooms pose a risk for those with peanut or other food allergies?

Anonymous said…
@ wondering: Hell yes, snacking in the classroom poses a risk to kids with nut allergies. Granola bars are one of the worst snacks as they crumble, leaving nut residue everywhere. That is why schools keep at least one table in cafeterias 'nut free.' Parents thoughtlessly send these as their students' snacks all the time, despite repeated messaging to keep schools nut free.

Students have a basic right to safety in their school environments. If JAMS does not have a strict nut-free snack policy in place, it will be liable should a nut-induced allergy emergency arise.

I am all in favor of allowing kids to snack during the day. Many need the energy. But packages of nuts and granola bars need to be taken out of the equation of acceptable snacks during classroom and passing (locker) time.

Middle Mom
Anonymous said…
The student handbook for JAMS says nothing about a nut-free snack policy, nor have I been informed that snacks are allowed outside of the lunch time. My child is pretty darn hungry by lunch time. They developed a classroom charter that includes the desire to feel "Not Hungry."

Anonymous said…
@ wondering. My kid can't make it through a full day without a snack. Loses focus. IMHO all schools should allow snacks either in passing time or in class. If school doesn't allow it in general, go to a specific teacher and ask on behalf of your kid. That's what I have done, and have always gotten an official OK for a quick protein pickup.

But a school does need that accompanying no nut policy and teacher/parent/kid education. It's a tragedy and accompanying lawsuit waiting to happen. Nut pieces lying around on desks or floors or in bathrooms can send some kids, including mine, to the hospital. Or worse.

Middle Mom
Anonymous said…
@ whittier parent: I did some checking and Whittier's bell is 8:40, not 8:45. The 8:40 to 8:45 time could be considered passing time. So your math would permit Whittier to have even more instructional time by 5min a day! In fact, whittier kids are in school (instructional time) ten minutes longer than other(some?)
schools. 8:40 - 2:50 with a half-hour lunch and 15 min recess.

Given what I've seen from downtown, there's little consistency on just about anything.

Anonymous said…
Also, I agree about snacks and nuts. My experience with early grades is that snacks in the classroom get really, really messy. I suppose you could counter that but it shouldn't be on teachers to feed our kids.

Wondering if kids are coming from daycare programs which feed them adequately considering they are taking the place of breakfast for some kids. Maybe we should put some effort there?

Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dave said…
Remember also, Seattle is the only district in the state that only cleans classrooms "every THIRD day". This developed so that SSD could afford the $1000 PER STUDENT (more than other districts) in administration.

Moldy nuts anyone?
Ed said…
But isn't all that administration "for the kids"?

Anonymous said…
@ anon 4:46

I usually ignore bullies and trolls, and probably should in your case, but until you've had to actually call 911 and/or rush a child to the ER because he/she is covered in hives and can't breathe, you can't possibly understand the potential severity allergens like peanuts pose in a school setting.

Anaphylaxis is no joke.

- North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
Actually, I was mistaken. There is no between lunch snacking allowed at JAMS.
Anonymous said…
Ditto what North-End mom said about the the obnoxious nut comment with no name.

Nuts can kill and do on a scary regular basis, particularly where people simply don't understand how dangerous and serious it is for about 10% of kids these days.

It is attitudes like this that put my kids lives in danger.

Yes, OMG, nuts! As unsafe a loaded gun in the classroom.

Or a drunk driver.

How would you feel about a gun in your kids hand, or forcing your kid be in the car with a drunk driver?

Nuts are DEADLY to kids with nut allergies. It simply isn't funny.

Anonymous said…
This is one place our litigious society works in my family's favor. Dear Anonymous @ 4:46, this is no joke... and SPS - listen up: (Lord knows SPS only listens when legal action is threatened, so here we go.)

If you have personal knowledge that my kid has a nut allergy - or if you have been told via school policy that students in a building/on a field trip have a nut allergy, and you disregard that information - blithely providing nuts as a snack anyhow or encouraging other families to blow off the issue...well if my kid has a medical emergency or god forbid dies because of exposure to those nuts, I will sue your a$$ and that of any other parent who couldn't be bothered to care a little bit about their fellow human.

And if an SPS school shortens a lunch period so much that students are forced to fill their pockets with granola bars or (more likely) Snickers Bars to make it through the day, and my kid gets sick because of nut residue, then the school is part of the problem and I'm going after the school too. Partly because of the nuts and partly because any school who thinks cramming an extra 15 minutes of "academics" a day into a schedule is more important than filling all kids' stomachs with nourishment so they can both *live* and *learn* deserves to be sued for the pure stupidity of its priorities.

Deb Escher said…
If anyone wants to join our group's new Facebook page, we're going to continue the conversation about how we get our schools in TRUE compliance of the school district's lunch policy there--without taking away kids' recess.

Also, check out our interview prior to our first parent meeting on this topic tonight:
Anonymous said…
This is how lunch works at Bagley as well (15 min to eat, 15 min recess).

Mag mom
Anonymous said…
John Rogers has recess before (instead of after) lunch. We started this last year. It seems to help, in that at least my kid seems to be eating more of his lunch...the incentive to "finish" quickly to go to recess is no longer there.

- North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
At Arbor Heights the primary kids get 20 mins for lunch and 20 mins for lunch recess while the intermediate kids get 15 mins for lunch and 15 mins for lunch recess. The only issue we have right now in the Boren lunchroom (where will be be for 2 years while our new school is built) is we only have one keypad which means the line goes much slower. I know the principal is looking into getting a second keypad from the district, like we had in our old building, to speed up the line yet those things always seem to take longer than they should. We also are constrained by how much time we get in the lunchroom since we share the building with K-5 STEM. I've been very impressed with the two principals on how they have been able to make the schedules work throughout the day for close to 800 elementary students.

-Arbor Heights Parent
Jesse Hagopian said…
I am so thrilled to see all this organizing of parents standing up for their children's education. I wonder how we can link up the many schools that face similar issues and build a united front to make sure the district has researched based policies on recess and lunch for our children. If there is anything I can do help, please let me know...Let our kids play! (and eat!).
Anonymous said…
Around 900 in Lincoln building.

One cafeteria keypad.

They don't even run a handwritten number sheet - the clipboard where you write your number and move on, to be typed in later - for those who just want milk.

Cuts down on milk drinking.

Signed: hungrynbitter

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