Principal responds as petition to extend early lunch period collects hundreds of signatures

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Students who only had 15 minutes to each lunch are being given a little more time to eat.

But parents say it’s still not enough.

Since the beginning of the month, we’ve been following a pilot program at Pahoa High and Intermediate School on Hawaii island.

Lunch time for intermediate students starts just after 10 a.m., and they have 15 minutes to eat.

Parents reached out to us via Report It after they felt their concerns weren’t being addressed by the school.

After multiple requests, we finally spoke with the school’s principal, and got answers as to why she made the changes and if she thinks it’s working.

Darlene Bee acknowledged at least seven parents called her with questions about the new lunch rules.

She says part of the reason for the change is student safety.

Fights among high school and intermediate school students prompted the administration to move intermediate lunch to start at 10:05 a.m.

It’s a situation Bee stands behind.

“We had a situation in the cafeteria as well, so it was all about safety, all about feedback from the students, and all about the students getting their lunches in a timely manner so all of them could eat,” she said.

Bee says after one parent continued to complain, five minutes were added.

But a petition directed to school administrators calls for children in all grades to have 30 minutes to eat lunch.

The petition collected more than 300 signatures in two days.

“That just shows right there that there are other parents, even community members, that are concerned that their children are only having 20 minutes to eat,” said Melissa Estrella, who started the petition. “I know from just reading the comments on the petition, a lot of parents even feel 30 minutes is not enough. But 30 minutes at least at a minimum should be sufficient enough for the kids to eat lunch.”

The school’s principal maintains students have enough time to eat.

We told Bee multiple parents have reached out to us saying their kids come home still hungry with lunch being so early, and so short.

“Have you heard any of the stories from these parents?” KHON2 asked.

“None at all. Like I said, of the seven parents who called us, none had that kind of concern. Only about how the program worked, they wanted more clarity on that. No child has been turned away from lunch. Every child has time to eat their lunch,” she replied.

“Did you consult with any nutritional professionals or any child nutrition experts before changing the lunch?” KHON2 asked.

“I did not, but what I did observe was that students finished their meals in a timely manner. If they needed additional time at the end of that, we provided it to them, but no one needed it or asked for it,” Bee said.

With hundreds of signatures on the petition, Estrella is hoping the school will listen.

Her message to fellow parents: “If you were a parent and you have a valid concern about the lunch program that is currently going on, call the principal and let her know, because as of right now, it doesn’t seem like it’s getting to her that there is a valid concern that out there and she needs to know.”

We asked when teachers eat and how long they have. We were told they eat at the same time as the high school students, from 12:30 to 1 p.m., and it’s in their contract to get 30 minutes.

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