By Jason Emerson
Many Cazenovia High School students do not have a dedicated period within their school day to sit down, take a break and eat lunch; instead, they are eating in a classroom during educational instruction. While this has been an issue in Cazenovia — and other districts around the state — for years, this time, the school district, supported by the school board, is taking action and trying to solve the problem.
“We believe students should have a fundamental access to lunch; we will not let this go unaddressed,” Superintendent Matt Reilly said in an interview with the Cazenovia Republican.
This issue, which has been raised irregularly for decades, was broached at a board meeting last year by district residents, raising the same concerns, namely, that some students are not getting a dedicated lunch period in their school day because they choose to take elective classes.
This past summer, Reilly tasked high school counselor Susan Tresco with researching the lunch scheduling issue and finding solutions to improve lunch access for all students. Tresco spent the entire summer working on the issue, and gave a presentation on what she found during the school board’s September meeting.
“She did a fantastic job of understanding the issues, and really informed people on the lunch issue specifically and scheduling in general,” Reilly said. “Her presentation was eye-opening and simultaneously just the start of what is certain to be a larger, longer conversation on how best to address something that has plagued the district for decades. I can’t sing her praises enough.”
Some of Tresco’s initial conclusions were that the district could extend the school day to allow students to have lunch and elective classes, or the district could mandate every student get a lunch, which would then likely cause a number of elective classes to be cut out of the schedule. The district can also keep the current system in that allows students and parents the choice of taking electives, which may cause the loss of a dedicated lunch period.
In addition to Tresco’s investigation, last year the district also changed how gym was scheduled for eighth grade students in a way that “dramatically” reduced the number of students who lost lunch periods, Reilly said. The administration also worked with the cafeteria to have food accessible one hour before and one hour after lunch periods, so students can “drop-in” and use it as a café in a way, and bring food to their classes if necessary, he said.
“Every teacher allows for kids to eat in their class; it’s not ideal, but it is available,” Reilly said.
Still, some high school students this year have schedules in which there are days they have no dedicated lunch period, and parents have turned out at the last two school board meetings to voice their concern and displeasure over the situation.
District resident Danielle Moy said her ninth-grade son goes every other day without a dedicated lunch period — and has for the past two years. “For the school to say my son is not allowed to have a lunch is not okay,” she told the board during its Oct. 16 meeting. “He’s being penalized for taking a graded class. It’s not fair. The school board really needs to do something to fix it.”
Resident Piper Stover agreed. “Over 250 students (40 percent of the high school population) do not have a lunch break since classes are scheduled during limited lunch periods, forcing students who are forced to take class over lunch to cram food in during class or in the hall between classes,” she said. “We in the community need to be vigilant in pushing for a solution as soon as possible, or another 10 years will pass. Our kids should not be forced into an adult-pace rat race while they are still growing and maturing.”
At the board’s Oct. 16 meeting, Reilly said the district has created a scheduling committee that will “discuss and evaluate” how best to find a long-term solution to the lunch scheduling issue. The committee is comprised of Board of Education members, district administrators, teachers, parents and students, and is scheduled to meet several times over the next two months to address the problem.
“This is such a basic thing, and it does affect student achievement and success,” said Board member Lisa Lounsbury, who called for the board to issue a statement of support that “Every student have a dedicated lunch period every day.”
The board had a lengthy discussion on the lunch scheduling issue, possible solutions and whether there was a need to issue such a statement of support. The consensus was that every member of the board supports students having the opportunity for a dedicated lunch period, but how that would be achieved is complicated.
Member Dave Mehlbaum said that if a lunch period is mandated for every student, then some classes and electives will have to be cut from the schedule. “It’s going to be an issue,” he said.
BOE President Jan Woodworth agreed. “There’s lots of scenarios, and no matter what we find I guarantee it won’t fix every problem,” she said. “There is no perfect solution.”
But, Woodworth said, the fact that the board was discussing the problem and had created the scheduling committee to address it was an impressive step. “I brought this up years ago and was told this is how it’s always been, deal with it,” she said. “We’ve discussed this for years and it never went anywhere, and now, with this committee, it is going somewhere.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.
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