Audit: Students need more time for lunch

‘The Edmonds School District is committed to looking at how we can continue to improve our school experience’
By Brian Soergel | Sep 12, 2019

The State Auditor’s Office (SAO) recently performed an audit on lunchtime scheduling and practices in Washington’s elementary schools.

The news is not encouraging.

The SAO visited 31 elementary schools across the state – including Beverly Elementary in Lynnwood and Mukilteo Elementary in Mukilteo – and found that most of them did not give their students the recommended amount of time to eat.

Research shows when students have more time to eat and go to recess before lunch, they are more likely to make healthier choices in the lunch line, the audit reported.

Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of public instruction, said there are several logistical reasons for this – inadequate facilities, overcrowding, scheduling, and more. “But sometimes difficult tasks are what produce the best outcomes,” he said in a news release.

The SAO sent a separate survey electronically to schools with students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Of the 1,043 surveys distributed, only 126 principals responded, for a 12% response rate.

The SAO matched the survey results with school demographic and enrollment information from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and used auditor judgment to select schools for site visits.

The SAO did not include the Edmonds School District during its visits. But the district released the following statement from Megan de Vries, director of Food & Nutrition Services:

"The Edmonds School District has made efforts to provide adequate time for lunch and shift recess before lunch at our elementary schools. The research is clear that both of these measures have a positive impact on student academics, social well-being, and overall health.

“We do have limited space in some of our elementary schools where the cafeteria is also the gymnasium used for PE classes. As Chris Reykdal (has referenced), standards for seated lunchtime is a positive improvement to the school environment that is going to take a few years to implement fully for every grade in every elementary school.

“The Edmonds School District is committed to looking at how we can continue to improve our school experience based on the best practices that will be published around seated lunch time."

The report noted that while 17 schools scheduled at least some students 20 minutes of seat time, only one of these schools ensured all students received the recommended 20 minutes. In 14 schools, all students observed had less than 20 minutes of seat time.

In addition, most of the schools reviewed do not schedule recess before lunch.

Of the schools that do schedule recess before lunch, some have mixed lunch schedules that also include recess after lunch. Principals said they did so to maximize schedule efficiency.

A look at Westgate Elementary School in Edmonds shows that grades four through six have lunch at 12:20 p.m., with recess at 12:40 p.m. All three grades also have recess in the morning.

Kindergarten through third grade students also have recess in the morning before lunch, which is 25 minutes.

All grades have afternoon recess, as well.

At Edmonds Elementary, Principal Brett Hagen said that all students have a morning recess for 20 minutes, lunch for 20 minutes, and lunch recess for 20 minutes.

Why do the lunch surveys?

The electronic surveys and school visits were conducted due, in part, to the fact that obesity in school-age children is a growing concern locally and nationwide.

“Over the past two years, the state and federal governments have spent nearly $240 million on programs designed to provide students with healthier options at meal times and promote lifelong healthy living in order to combat rising obesity rates,” Reykdal said in a statement.

Reykdal said his office will create a rulemaking process to require schools to provide at least 20 minutes of seated lunch time for all K-12 students, as well as recess before lunch for students in elementary school.

“We are not aiming to make sweeping changes overnight,” he said. “We expect it will take several years to implement these changes in some schools. Throughout the rulemaking process, we will be engaging with all of our education partners. The purpose of this public process is to listen, and we will do so authentically.”

For more information on school lunches in the Edmonds School District, contact Megan de Vries at devriesm691@edmonds.wednet.edu or 425-431-7073.

 

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