After studying lunch period lengths at both Deerfield schools, administrators say they think students have ample time to eat.
The Deerfield School Board’s Committee of the Whole analyzed the lunch period at its Oct. 7 meeting, responding to concerns about lunch length posted recently on social media.
“It’s been brought to our attention to look a little bit more closely at our lunch times,” Deerfield Elementary School Principal Melinda Kamrath said. “Are students getting enough time to eat, not enough time to eat?”
Kamrath said lunch at Deerfield Elementary School is served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with about 400 students being fed. Younger students eat first, then go to recess. Older grades have recess first.
“They probably have a good 25 minutes plus to finish eating,” Kamrath said.
At the middle-high school, lunch is 30 minutes long on regular school days and 27 minutes long on early release days, Superintendent Michelle Jensen said in an email.
Both Kamrath and middle-high school principal Brad Johnsrud said they felt students had adequate time.
“Overall I feel really good about the time the kids have,” Johnsrud said.
“The students have plenty of time to eat. There’s no one coming into the cafeteria that asks them to leave. They can stay there and finish eating,” Kamrath said.
Jensen said in an email that lunch lengths in Deerfield are on par with other districts in the area. The district added ten minutes to its school day in the 2019-20 school year, but those minutes didn’t go to the lunch period. Lunch periods don’t count toward state-regulated instructional minutes, Jensen added.
Both principals noted that how long it takes students to get through the hot lunch line may vary. In the first month of school, students are adjusting to new routines and may be distracted during lunch, and kindergarteners are learning to eat hot lunch for the first time, Kamrath said.
Some foods may also require a bit more time, Kamrath said. She said often it takes students longer to eat nachos — individual chips eaten one at a time — than something like corn dogs or sausages wrapped in pancakes.
“Some kids eat in ten minutes, some kids eat in 25 minutes,“ Kamrath said.
Johnsrud added that the middle-high school had some new recipes last month that students were trying for the first time. Build-your-own meals, like walking tacos or ramen, slow down the line.
“The other thing that I have to stress to you are how well behaved the kids are,” Johnsrud said. “They’re so patient.”
All in all, Jensen added she hasn’t witnessed anyone not having enough time to finish their lunch.
“The bottom line for us at the elementary school is that no student has to move on from eating...because there’s another class coming,” Kamrath said. “The class comes in and eats right with you whether you’re done or not. If you are done you can go outside, or you go back up to your classroom to start class, but truly there isn’t a time limit once you start.”
After the meeting, Kamrath clarified what happens if older students need more time to eat.
“They can stay and continue eating and will just head upstairs to class when they are done. Most of the time it is within a few minutes. We have some built in minutes for transitions, so that allows them to finish up and not miss out on class time,” Kamrath said. “Some of the older grades transition into independent reading after lunch, so they transition into class whenever they are done eating and start reading their book.”
“I didn’t think that you guys would say ‘you guys have to go back to your classroom right now and not finish eating,’” board clerk Shelly Mack said.
“If somebody is running it’s because they’re trying to skip the line, it’s not because they’re not going to get food or have enough time to eat,” curriculum coordinator Jill Fleming added.
Some of the comments circulated on social media said that some students were coming home hungry after not finishing their lunches.
“We will continue to monitor the lunch periods to see if any other adjustments need to be made,” Jensen said. “ We want to be open to parent concerns while balancing the need for instructional minutes.”