By David Brand
The mayor and the schools chancellor pledged on March 11 to address extremely early lunch times at New York City public schools, saying they would take action to ensure students are eating lunch “at an appropriate time.”
Roughly 55 percent of New York City schools begin serving lunch before 11 a.m., the Daily News reported on March 10. A month earlier, City Limits found that lunch times began as early as 8:58 a.m at some schools and reported on the prevalence of early lunch times in low-income communities.
“That has to change; it’s unacceptable,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio during a press conference about a new “Meatless Monday” school food initiative. “I am a parent, and I can say parents don’t want to see that for their kids.”
The extremely early school lunchtimes result from the city’s policy of co-locating schools in the same building, City Limits and the Daily News reported. The arrangement forces multiple schools to share the same lunchroom while navigating the challenge of feeding thousands of children.
“Lunch should be lunch. It should not be somewhere between breakfast and lunch,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. “Our goal is to make sure that students are eating lunch at an appropriate time. That being said, there are a lot of moving parts, especially in schools where you have a lot of co-located schools.”
Schools across the city contend with early lunchtimes, but the problem is more common in lower-income communities, which feature more co-located schools than wealthier neighborhoods, City Limits reported.
Carranza described his own experience as a principal at a 4,000-student school with a cafeteria that only fit 420 students.
“So lunch has started — I kid you not — started at 9:30 in the morning, and it was seven lunch periods to feed all 4,000 students,” he said. “Obviously we had to do something different.”
Carranza said principal advisory teams and Department of Education officials are discussing possible remedies to ensure students eat later in the day.
The issue of early lunchtimes has persisted for years in New York City. In 2014, the Daily News and WNYC analyzed school lunchtime data and found that 56 percent of schools began lunch before 11 a.m. City Limits reviewed the current lunchtimes at the 75 schools that began serving before 10 a.m. in 2014 and found that 41 percent of those schools still do so.
At least 25 Queens schools that began serving lunch before 10 a.m. in 2014 still do so, including six that serve at 9:30 a.m.or earlier, City Limits found.
In Brooklyn, there are still 13 schools serving lunch before 10 a.m., including four that serve at 9:30 or even earlier.
De Blasio said the issue reminded him of the push for air conditioning and universal physical education classes at schools — two issues the city successfully addressed. He said building new schools or renovating existing ones would enable more students to eat lunch closer to midday.
“We have to find a different way of addressing when kids eat lunch,” de Blasio said. “It may take some time and some real resources but we have to find a way.”
Brooklyn Councilmember Mark Treyger, chairperson of the Council’s Education Committee and a former public school teacher, said the Department of Education needs to compile more data on school lunchtimes.
“First, we need a lot more data than we have right now,” Treyger told City Limits last month. “And second, how do we challenge the system to build programming around the needs of kids?”
With additional reporting by Paul Stremple.
Editor’s note: The City Limits story referenced above was also written by David Brand.