School district disallows kids to finish foods because of 'behavior issues'

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Submitted by: Kelly Clendenin

As a parent of a 7th grade student at Southwick Regional School in Southwick, MA I was concerned when I learned that my daughter only had 15 minutes of lunch time. I decided it was time to do some research.

For the past few years, since the students returned to school from Covid, they have kept the 7th & 8th grade students having separate lunches.

Pre-covid grades 7th & 8th had a 30-minute lunch together and if they finished eating their lunches and chose to they could go outside to the small patch of grass for the rest of the lunch period. Obviously, due to covid and CDC recommendations, they were trying to limit the amount of contact or exposure to other students and that is why they separated the grades.

Since we have been back in school, with mask mandates lifted and no more three-or six-foot rules, Southwick has decided to keep these grades separated and has had to cut down their lunch time.

What that means is that grade 8 will have their 15 minutes in the lunchroom while grade 7 is outside, and then they switch. This gives the students 15 minutes in total to get to the lunchroom, purchase lunch and eat before they are ushered out. 

Grades 9-12 have two, 30-minute lunch periods with grades mixed together. It is only the 7 & 8 grade students that are cut back to 15 minutes. Principal Serena Shorter verified that this was indeed what was going on.

She said it is due to the behavior of some students who cannot handle having any “unstructured” time. Basically all of the students in grades 7 & 8 are given 15 minutes or less if they want to purchase lunch, to eat due to the behavior of some students, the entire grades are being punished.

They are forced to eat their food quickly and then rushed out to stand on a patch of grass for the remaining time.

I dug deeper. I began with the CDC and DESE guidelines for lunch times. Both state that students should have a minimum of 20 seated minutes for lunch. That does not include walking to the lunch room and purchasing lunch.

Our students in Southwick are getting less than 15.

The reason why they recommend 20 minutes minimum is to prevent choking, to instill good eating habits by not eating to quickly which can lead to indigestion and even eating disorders and, maybe most importantly, to give the kids a much needed break.

They need to be able to socialize and have that “unstructured” time. This is the only time they get to decompress and have a break during the school day. Not satisfied, I started looking into towns and cities around us. Westfield, MA has 25-minute lunch periods, Springfield 30 minutes, Gateway 25 minutes, West Springfield 30.

Some how all of these districts are able to give their students the recommended time for lunch. Southwick can do the same for grades 9 -12, but because of behavior issues they are keeping our middle school students separated and down to 15 minutes for lunch.

Now I started to look at this from a different perspective. Not as a parent, but as a taxpayer.

Massachusetts has been allowed to continue the free lunch program for students. This is such a huge help for many families who are unable to afford school lunch. Our 7th & 8th graders who do not finish their lunches in15 minutes or less are told to throw them away.

How much money are we throwing away? How many of those kids need that food because it may be the only food they get that day?

Finally, I decided I needed to take action.

In less than a week, I obtained the signatures of 73 parents in the Southwick Tolland Granville Regional School District that want their children to have their 30 minutes of lunch back. Included in those signatures were two teachers, two employees of the district that also have children in the district, one being the health teacher at Powder Mill School. She stated to me that it is just not healthy to force children to eat that fast.

I took my concerns, my research and the 73 signatures to the School Committee Meeting. I had spoken to the Chair Rob Stevenson, and he told me to please come and share all of this and if I could have students come or write a letter to share that as well.

I had three students write letters. Three students asking to please give us more lunch time we are hungry, we need the break, we are throwing away all this food!

I was cut off after three minutes of speaking. I was unable to finish sharing my research, or the students’ letters. The school committee, along with the superintendent, had no intention of me being able to share any of that information.

They did not care about the 73 parents who want their children to have 30 minutes of lunch. Rob Stevenson stated that the parents would individually have to contact the principal to see if any accommodations could be made for their child. He said he was up at the regional school and timed the lunch, and it took approximately four minutes for students to purchase lunch.

That leaves them with less that 15 to eat, which he said seemed adequate because some children were not behaving. So, its not a schedule problem, it’s a behavior problem. It’s a behavior problem that our district cannot control or properly handle students in grades 7 & 8. That is making our children have to suffer for the administration not being competent at their jobs.

Wait... here’s the icing on the cake! The same week I had spoken to the principal the lunch dept had begun using the long-awaited salad bar. This allowed students to make their own salads! The students were so excited for this opportunity. It was healthy and appealing food.

And then it was taken away from only the 7th & 8th graders. The reasoning that the school gave was because they were "cross contaminating."

Hmm….  9-12 still have the salad bar. What exactly are they cross contaminating that the high school students are not? The truth of it is that it was taking the students longer to make their salads and when you only have 15 minutes to eat it becomes a problem. So they took the salad bar away from them. 

Those 73 parents in the district are asking to please give our children a full 30 minutes of lunch, which all the other grades in the regional school have, and which they previously had before Covid.

We are asking our administration to do the jobs they are paid to do and not make all our students suffer because of the behavior of a few. Southwick has taken these middle school students, put them in a high school which took away all of their recess equipment, playground etc, and taken their lunch time away.

They even took away the healthy option of salads. All because of the incompetence of staff and administration.

We were so quick to follow CDC and DESE guidelines for Covid but we just ignore the ones for healthy student lunch times. Not to mention all the money we are throwing away with the free lunch for all.

Stop taking from our future. Let the kids be kids and let them have the same 30 minute lunch the teachers and administrators receive.
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Incompetence of the staff and administrators sums up the problem. It would be interesting to see how many teachers and/or staff are in the student lunchroom during the 7 and 8 grade lunch time, as opposed to sitting in the teachers lounge. Or is that too stressful for our poor new generation of so called educators. Once upon a time, our teachers ate their lunched with the students. Not very much bad behavior going on, then.


Child of the 80’s here. We had an hour lunch. Fifteen minutes standing in line and we also had a salad bar. Some teachers ate with us, some had ‘duty’ which was patrolling the court yard, restrooms and parking lot. After eating, we had plenty of time for sunshine and socializing . These adults in charge are the ones in need of an education…


You and the other parents and children need to sue for discrimination and child endangerment. After ALL of them call that jerk to see if he can make accommodations for ALL of them, without knocking out their free time on the grass or making them late for the next class…


When I started with LAPD in 7/71, we had a 23 minute Code 7. That was 23 minutes from the time we requested 7, not from the time we sat down to eat. If we requested 7 and it was denied, off we went. Prior to that month, Code 7 was 45 minutes, city paid. In July, the contract was 23 minutes city paid. So I appreciate having to eat in a hurry. This was also decades before officers carried hand held radios. This condition lasted for 4 years, when we reverted to 45 minutes, policeman paid!


You need to move out of there at all costs and get to the South asap


I have one question, who are the disruptive behavioral problem children? And why can't they be disciplined thereby restoring order? I already know the answer before I ask it. So do you.

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