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Parent-student lunches: Disruptive or positive involvement with the school experience?

Whether or not parents should spend time with their children in school during lunch has sparked controversy. Source: Shutterstock

Are parent-student lunches in schools a sign of helicopter parenting or a demonstration of parents playing active roles in their child’s education?

Both parents and educators are divided on the issue.

The Associated Press reported that the Darien school system in Connecticut, US, was so overwhelmed with parents and guardians in school cafeterias that it imposed a ban on parent-student lunches across the town’s elementary schools.

This proved controversial in the district, with some parents agreeing that it was time to stop this disruptive practice while others said it “has deprived them of cherished time to check in on their children and model good social behaviour.”

“It feels like a punch in the gut,” said parent Jessica Xu to The Associated Press. “I chose the town for the schools. I’m so frustrated the schools don’t want me there.”

Should parents let their children be more independent at school? Source: Shutterstock

This is a divisive issue, and the Darien Board of Education chairman Tara Ochman lamented that parents lunching with their children has affected the day-to-day running of elementary schools.

“We believe that schools exist for children, and we work to develop the skills necessary for students to grow into engaged members of society,” said Ochman in a written statement. “We work every day on this mission so that our students embrace their next steps confidently and respectfully.”

Meanwhile, a public school teacher told the New York Post that parent-student lunches are unproductive as “Once you show up to observe, your kid acts differently than he or she does when you are not there.”

Speaking to The Atlantic, an anonymous middle-school teacher in Connecticut opined that parent-student lunches are not a bad thing, but it has become disruptive in the past when parents would share food with some students and not others.

“I think she was using lunch to try to buy her daughter friends,” she said.

It’s not just the elementary schools in Darien that have banned parents from the cafeteria at lunch. Reports show that several other schools in the US also have this ruling, including the Beaverton School District.

Last year, the Principal of Jacob Wismer Elementary sent letters to parents asking them to “drop off lunches for their kids at the office instead of bringing it straight to the cafeteria and eating lunch with their kids” for security measures, reported KGW8.

The letter references the shooting in San Bernardino where a man walked into a school, shot his estranged wife in a classroom, and then himself. Three casualties were reported, including a student.

According to The New York Times, policies vary across the US.

In the US, schools determine whether parents are allowed in at lunch. Source: Shutterstock

“In Texas, most schools allow parents to eat in the cafeteria; the Texas Association of School Boards’s website calls lunchroom visits a “great way to be involved with your child’s daily school experience,” said the report.

“The New York City Department of Education said it does not have a blanket policy, but allows individual schools to determine whether parents are allowed at lunch.”

However, parents lunching with children is not a new phenomenon, said Columbia University’s Teachers College Associate Professor Brian Perkins to The New York Times, adding that parents often have a sense of entitlement when it comes to their children.

A report from Child Trends notes that in the US, parental involvement in schools – measured by attendance at a general meeting, a parent-teacher conference, or a school or class event; or by volunteering or serving on a committee at the school – has been rising.

No reasons were mentioned for their increased involvement, but this may be attributed to parents wanting to be more involved with their child’s education.

Whether the benefits of parents lunching with their children outweigh the negatives remain to be seen, but for now, the debate rages on.

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