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Lunchtime not meeting some Iowa City parents' standards

BY LAUREN COFFEY | OCTOBER 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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Twenty minutes.

That’s the time the Iowa City School District gives students for lunch each day.

Beginning last year, elementary schools allowed 20 minutes for students to eat their lunch. After going through the lunch line and sitting down, students have an average of 15 minutes to eat. When the 20 minutes are up, students can choose to go to recess or take additional time to eat.

“We have observed that not all students take the full period to eat, and it varies from day to day, often related to the menu,” Assistant Superintendent Becky Furlong said. “Quite simply, some menu items take longer to eat. If a student needs additional time to eat, they are always encouraged to stay in the lunchroom and finish. They are allowed as much time as needed to finish and after lunch some go to recess, and some go back to class, depending on the schedule.”

Many parents are saying the students will choose to play instead of finishing their meal, leaving their children hungry by the end of the school day.

“We complain of childhood obesity, but we’re not helping our children learn healthy eating habits when we’re forcing them to gulp down their food every day,” an Iowa City school parent said Sept. 12 on the School District forum website.

Parents and community members can express their concerns on that website. One parent proposed “Implement Recess Before Lunch, a.k.a. Play Before Eat” and it received 17 “seconds” — other community members agreeing with the statement.

Of the 21 proposed ideas dealing with school lunch, nine of them concerned giving their children more time to eat.

No discussions have yet occurred at School Board meetings to add any time to lunch, but officials said they continually work to improve the system.

“I have heard parents complain about the lack of time to finish lunch or open their milk container before having to go back to recess or class,” board member Sarah Swisher said. “I think it’s a matter of utilities. There isn’t enough room for kids to eat, so they have smaller shifts; there aren’t enough tables to accommodate the students, so they have less time to eat.”

Swisher said the focus of the School Board is to look at unmet needs with facilities in the district.

“With the plan, we’re looking to refurbish and renew older schools and reduce crowding,” she said.

District officials are also trying to improve the lunch schedule by having recess before lunch, so students will not feel pressured to hurry through their lunch in order to go play.

“Right now, about half of the elementary schools have recess before lunch,” said Susie Poulton, the district’s director of health and student services. “We are working toward that happening at all the schools. We’re trying to utilize the staff. Having enough to supervise lunch and recess can be tricky thing to schedule.”

The Mid-Prairie School District and Clear Creek/Amana School District also give students roughly the same amount of time to eat as the Iowa City district, with both districts giving their students 25 minutes to eat for lunch.

In a Synesi Audit conducted in October 2011, there were a multitude of issues listed with the food services.

Parents have suggested adding more time to the overall school day in order to have more time for lunch. Or, some said, cut down on a few minutes of classroom time and allot the additional time for lunch, the site stated.

“There is no reason to add time to the school day,” a district parent said on the site. “The existing time in the school day is sufficient to enable to the district to add 12 or more minutes to the lunch period. Yes, it could mean cutting back on time devoted to instruction, but it is very simplistic to think that more instruction time necessarily means more and better learning, especially if it comes at the cost of lunch or physical activity.”


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