Madison schools’ lunch period isn’t what it used to be

Andy Hall:

And somehow, in a time window one third the size that many adults take for lunch, 215 young children crowd around picnic-style tables, consume chicken nuggets — or whatever they brought from home — and hustle outside to play.
Squeezed by tight school budgets, the federal No Child Left Behind law and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction rules on instructional time, the school lunch period isn’t what it used to be in many school districts.
ver the years,” said Frank Kelly, food services director of the Madison School District, who estimates that overall, school lunch periods in the district have been trimmed about 10 minutes over the past 10 years.
“I don’t think people are going to accept anything less than this.”
In fact, in response to complaints from parents four years ago, Madison officials eased the lunch crunch a bit for elementary students by using the last five minutes of the class period before lunch to move students to the cafeteria.
There was talk four years ago of expanding the elementary lunch period to 35 minutes. But the idea was dropped after officials estimated it might cost more than $2 million to pay teachers and lunch supervisors.
“We don’t have much flexibility in extending that,” said Sue Abplanalp, an assistant superintendent who oversees Madison’s elementary schools.
While DPI leaves it up to local officials to determine the length of lunch periods, Madison educators say they believe they attain a decent compromise by giving:
•Elementary students 20 minutes.
•Middle school students 30 to 34 minutes.
•High school students about 35 minutes (except at West High School, where most students get 55 minutes under a plan initiated last year).
Those schedules are typical of what’s found around Wisconsin, said Kelly, who has worked in food service for 31 years.
“For most of our people, it works very well,” Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater said.