food for thought

Students say 2 p.m. is too late for lunch, but state law is murky

The schedule at Paul Robeson High School.

Students at Paul Robeson High School are served lunch at 2 p.m. or later. As we reported earlier this month, many students at the phasing-out school say the schedule leaves them hungry and unable to focus on classwork by the second half of the school day.

“Later in the day, my stomach [is] talking to me, and the teacher is talking to me at the same time,” senior Akeem Pearce told me. “I don’t know who to listen to.”

Our readers asked whether it is legal for a city school to serve lunch so late in the day. The short answer is yes, according to the letter of the law — but maybe not according to the spirit.

State law governing school lunch schedules does not specify a window of time for serving lunch, but rather requires that schools serve lunch at a “reasonable time,” which could vary from community to community.

Overcrowding and co-locations — which ask multiple schools stationed in the same building to share a single cafeteria, gym and auditorium — have caused some schools to complain that they are unable to schedule lunch at a reasonable time.

In response to complaints about the lunch schedule at Manhattan’s P.S. 116, which is severely overcrowded, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh introduced a bill last March that would require schools to serve lunch within a specific time window.

Under Kavanagh’s bill, schools couldn’t schedule students for lunch until at least two and one-half hours after the start of the school day, and all students would have to have a lunch break by four hours after the first bell. Under that rule, Robeson would be required to begin serving lunch by 12:30 p.m. at the latest.

“The notion is that if you’re going to have a full school day, you need a break to eat,” Kavanagh told me. “For people who feel like 2 o’clock is not a reasonable time, that’s already a violation of state law.”

The bill failed to gain traction during the 2011 legislative session, but Kavanaugh said he hoped his colleagues would discuss it this spring.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott told me after the marathon Panel for Educational Policy meeting Feb. 9 that he could not judge whether 2 p.m. is too late for schools to serve students lunch without knowing a school’s individual situation — and he was not familiar with complaints about Robeson’s lunch hour.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.