Parents upset over shorter, earlier lunch period for intermediate students


Is 15 minutes enough for a child to eat school lunch?

Changes to the lunch program at a Hawaii island school prompted parents to reach out to us, saying their kids are being rushed to eat.

Their kids go to Pahoa High and Intermediate School, which recently started a pilot lunch program.

High school students eat during the normal 30-minute lunch break, but intermediate school students eat during recess, which is just 15 minutes long.

A number of parents reached out to us saying that’s not enough time to eat or even go to the bathroom.

Students used to have the option to eat lunch at the normal time of 12:30 to 1 p.m., giving them a full 30 minutes to get their food and get back to class.

But the school is trying out a new approach, which the principal says is aimed to improve meal service for students and their safety.

Parent Melissa Estrella says she was never told about the change.

“The majority of the parents found out because their seventh- or eighth-grader came home and said, ‘I can only lunch during Wiki now,'” Estrella said. “The school wants parents to be involved in their children’s education, but how can we be involved if the school is picking and choosing what they’re involving the parents in?”

The new lunch schedule, which began three weeks ago, has all intermediate school students eating lunch during Wiki, the 15-minute recess period from 10:05 to 10:20 a.m.

This isn’t sitting well with parents like Tiffany Dela Cruz: “My daughter came home and said, ‘Mom, we only have 15 minutes to eat lunch. We have no time to go to the bathroom after lunch. We’re going to get sent to detention if we’re late for our next class. We have to eat at 10 o’clock in the morning and don’t get to eat in the afternoon when were actually hungry.'”

Parents say there was no discussion about the new lunch time, and they only heard about it from their children.

Now with their students’ lunch cut in half and over two hours earlier in the day, Estrella says something needs to change.

“If they are going to mandate this program, they should increase the morning recess lunch to 30 minutes at least so that each student has enough time to be able to get their lunch and not feel rushed,” she said.

KHON2 reached out to the school’s principal, Darlene Bee, for an interview. Instead, we were given the following statement:

Since Sept. 18, we’ve been piloting a new approach to improve meal service for our students and their safety. We are monitoring the situation on a daily basis and have seen positive changes since the transformation, including a new sense of calmness in the cafeteria and being able to service all students during WIKI time. We would like to thank parents and students for their feedback as we continue to make adjustments to this pilot program.

Alan Tichenal, an associate professor with University of Hawaii’s Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, said, “It encourages people to eat fast, which we’ve always said is not necessarily a good habit to get into. Either we should enjoy the food and take our time, and it’s much more satisfying that way.”

Tichenal says eating lunch so early in the morning could present issues for kids.

“It seems a rather early to be eating lunch at 10:05 in the morning, and in the short time period of 15 minutes, seems like it takes away a lot of the potential for the normal social interaction with the students, which should go along with an eating experience, socializing, and so forth,” he said.

The state Department of Education says it’s up to individual schools as to when and how long kids have to eat lunch.

In this case, officials say, the decision was made by the children at the school themselves.

“The middle school kids said what they wanted, and then you had the high school, and it basically came down to no one wanted to intermingle, and it’s for good reason, because the age difference is pretty big. You have small kids and high schoolers,” said DOE spokesman Donalyn Dela Cruz.

Parents we spoke with say their children plan to write letters to the school asking for a change in the lunch schedule.

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