Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lunch/Recess and Snack Policies: Response to Concerns

I recently proposed a couple of board policies that pertain to lunch, recess and snacks (see previous blog posts here and here and newspaper article). At the most recent board meeting in November, both of these policies passed in a 6-0 vote. In order to become effective, though, these policies need to be voted on and passed two more times at the December and January board meetings. Since the November meeting and in spite of passing by a 6-0 vote, I have heard of a few concerns by board members, administrators and teachers regarding these policies.

I have previously discussed my belief that these policies are sorely needed and can only help our students. I believe the research that I provided along with these proposed policies bears this out. So let’s now examine some of the concerns that I have heard regarding these policies.

The first proposed policy deals with adding 10 more minutes to the current 35-minute lunch and recess period for the children in 1st through 4th grades, as well as providing them with a second 15-minute recess during the school day. The most prevalent concern regarding this policy seems to be that the district could not reallocate 25 minutes from the academic schedule to accommodate the additional lunch/recess time. First and foremost, we should note that taking 25 minutes out of the instructional day will not impede on any current educational mandates regarding required instructional time. Our students will continue to receive all of their required curriculum and instructional time. Second, and equally as important, the research suggests that reallocating these 25 minutes from the classroom to lunch/recess will pay numerous dividends for the students. Not only will students benefit from better eating habits, better exercise habits, increased peer socialization, increased leadership and conflict resolution skills, but students will also likely become more productive academically and will be less likely to exhibit disruptive behavior during the school day.

I believe that our focus on taking away recess time in order to cram more academic time into the schedule has actually led to a point of diminishing (if not negative) returns--more time spent on academics does not equal more learning. American schools are under intense pressure to make sure that children perform well on standardized tests, but short-changing lunch and recess time is not the answer. In fact, the research suggests that this strategy is actually counter-productive. Not only are we not educating more well-rounded individuals, but the additional time spent on academic subjects is not leading to increased test scores (this, of course, assumes that scores on standardized test are a good indicator of educational results--itself a questionable proposition).

Another concern regarding the proposed lunch/recess policy is that a change to the current schedule would be disruptive. Would our teachers have to initially be flexible in carving out time to fit in a slightly longer lunch period and a second recess? Yes, but administrators at each building and teachers at each class grade level could and should work together to determine the best way to do this. The benefits to our students would far outweigh any initial disruption. I believe it is currently more disruptive to have students who cannot focus on their schoolwork because they are hungry and students who cannot focus on their studies because they have been cooped up for so long that they cannot sit still. Students need an extra recess to play so they can come back to class and be ready to focus on schoolwork. The entire educational process for both students and teachers will likely be improved if we give students this extra time. So let’s not wait another school year to implement this policy. Within just a few days, any initial disruption will have been long forgotten and our students will be much happier and much more productive.

The second proposed policy deals with allowing healthy snacks for all District 201 students. So let’s look at some concerns that I have heard regarding allowing snacks in the classroom.

The main concern seems to be that allowing snacks could endanger those students who are allergic to certain types of food. There are, however, numerous protocols and procedures in place in order to avoid this danger. First, the snack policy prohibits snacks that have peanuts in them.  Second, before teachers or the PTO can provide snacks to students or use snacks as educational or motivational tools in the classroom, parents are required to be notified of the type of snack that will be offered and have to give written permission that their child can be given that snack. In the event that the parent does not give permission for that particular snack, a different snack can be given or the parent can even provide treats that their child can consume. These policies have worked in the past and there is no reason why these procedures couldn’t work just as effectively in the future.

Another concern is that children who are on reduced and free lunch may not be able to bring snacks in because they don’t have a lot of food at home and so these children would still be hungry during the day. In these situations, I believe that the school and the teacher can and should provide these students with a snack.  Teachers could ask for parents to donate snacks for this purpose.  I know that my wife and I have sent extra supplies to our children's classrooms such as kleenex, cleaning wipes and pencils. We would certainly donate boxes of goldfish crackers or other types of snacks if a teacher asked. I truly believe that our District 201 community would be more than generous in helping to provide snacks to hungry children in our schools.

A final concern that I have heard from some teachers is that they could be held personally liable if a student should suffer an allergic reaction in the classroom. This is not accurate. The Illinois School Code and Illinois Supreme Court cases provide classroom teachers with a significant level of immunity from such liability.  A classroom teacher can only be held personally liable in these situations for willful or wanton misconduct.  So, a teacher who is using reasonable care cannot be held liable in the unlikely event (given the protections of the existing allergy protocols) that a student suffers an allergic reaction in the classroom.  In addition, it should be noted that this snack policy would merely expand on existing policies which already allow snacks into District 201 schools.  District 201 teachers and administrators have demonstrated their ability to allow snacks in the schools without any dire consequences or lawsuits to this point.  There is no reason to believe that they would not be able to do so in the future with an expanded snack policy.

1 comment:

  1. What about the Jr high and MIS they need it too . Brain breaks and some fresh air is good for their spirit and regroup and to help focus. Too much structure only adds to the stress and lack of atttention.