Leave eating-time decisions to schools and teachers, says New Westminster union president

A proposed policy aimed at giving New Westminster students more time to eat isn’t getting much support from the local teachers’ union.

“I don’t know if it needs a board motion to be micromanaging the number of minutes that kids eat in the day,” New Westminster Teachers’ Union president Grant Osborne told the Record. “I’m not trying to minimize the issue, but we’ve got a lot of issues that we’re dealing with, and if now a hard-worked staff is going to be commissioned to go study this and then report to the board, that’s time that they’re not addressing other things.”

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The proposed policy, recently redubbed the School Lunch Period Policy, was introduced by trustee MaryAnn Mortensenat the district’s operations policy and planning committee Tuesday.

It would guarantee kids in kindergarten to Grade 8 20 minutes of eating time each lunch period.

“It might seem like such a minor thing to some with all the problems we have in education with inadequate funding, but it’s a piece in education that I know had a significant impact on my children and their enjoyment of school and their ability to focus and learn.”

No district policy currently exists to govern kids’ eating time, and Mortensen said students often don’t get enough, which is unhealthy.

But Osborne said teachers and local school communities are better positioned than the board to make such decisions about the school day.

“A classroom teacher can realize, if he or she’s got a group of Grade 1s and they’re just not getting it done in time, well, then start it a little bit earlier,” he said. “It’s part of the socialization that we’re teaching at the lower grades anyway, so I would hope that that would be left to some professional discretion.”

Mortensen, however, said a policy is needed to address inconsistency in the district so all kids get enough eating time.

“There’s inequity across the district,” she said. “Some kids get time ahead of the bell; others don’t. And, the reality is, if your child is in music or library or gym, a teacher’s not going to haul them out of there 10 minutes early to begin lunch early, and why should they?”

Whether or not the proposed policy is eventually approved, it is unlikely to be implemented by the start of the new school year since the committee decided Tuesday to refer the matter to staff. 

The plan will likely come back to the committee by June 16, board chair Jonina Campbell told the Record, but the board would then get feedback from principals, teachers, support staff and parents as well before voting on a finalized policy­ – probably not before the summer break.

Not implementing the changes by September wouldn’t mean shelving them for a whole school year, though.

Because the policy would create more eating time by simply shifting around the roughly 45 minutes students currently have for lunch, it would not add minutes to the day, affect drop-off or pick-up times or cost more money, according to superintendent John Gaiptman.

That means the changes could be implemented any time during the school, he said.

“I’m not feeling that there’s an immense pressure that it has to be done for September,” he said. “It just shouldn’t be left on a back burner. Like anything else, it needs to be dealt with in a reasonable amount of time.”

Correction:

An earlier version of this story stated the proposed school lunch period policy would go back to the committee on June 2. The correct date is June 16.

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