Manhasset elementary schools review parents’ lunch duty

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Shelter Rock Elementary School.(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Manhasset’s elementary school principals are re-evaluating a favorite opportunity for many parents and students: lunch duty.

Parents who attended a summertime Board of Education meeting expressed how much they cherish volunteering in the cafeteria to principals who are set to make a decision about lunch duty changes by the beginning of the school year.

The main change the schools have been considering is limiting the volunteer opportunity to kindergarten through second grade, said Munsey Park Elementary School Principal Chad Altman.

As the schools re-evaluate their safety policies, they are leaning toward fewer visitors to the campus, he said. Lunch duty can also become a hassle when parents stray from their outlined responsibilities, perhaps touching a child or wandering the halls, he said. Those incidents lead to awkward conversations and sometimes years of lost trust between the parent and the school, Altman said.

“The idea of parents being in the lunch room is not in itself bad,” he said. “It’s some of the externalities that come about.”

Roder said he is now requiring each teacher to host two school day events for parents to attend this year. They will provide parents with the chance to see their child in the school setting, an aspect many enjoy about lunch duty.

About 10 parents in attendance urged Altman and Shelter Rock Principal Richard Roder to make as few changes to lunch duty as possible, saying it gives them a window into their children’s lives during the school day and the opportunity to bond with their child.

“It’s such a special part of Manhasset,” said parent Christine Schwartz.

Distinctions between students who are struggling more to socialize and their peers become clear by age 8, Altman said, which would make second grade a natural end point for the lunch duty program.

The number of parent volunteers starts to taper off after second grade, although some volunteer all the way through sixth grade, parents said.

Effie Batis Stepanian, who has a rising fourth grader, said that her daughter still looks forward to seeing her on lunch duty, however. Perhaps the schools could limit the number of parent appearances for lunch duty beyond second grade rather than eliminating them entirely, she suggested.

“There are dynamics that vary year to year based on classroom, teacher, classmates that are important,” Batis Stepanion said. “I think that parents have the opportunity to see their children in an unstructured environment and lunch duty is that snapshot for us parents.”

Board of Education Vice President Christine Monterosso offered another perspective, saying that though she loved performing lunch duty as a parent, many parents don’t have the luxury to pop into their child’s school in the middle of the day. For their children, lunch duty can be a sign of inequality and make them sad that one of their parents can’t be there.

“Not that everything everybody does has to be equal because that’s not life either, but that’s something we can control,” Monterosso said.

The Board of Education recently made another effort to reduce the number of visitors to campus: revising its visitor policy. The policy, approved July 15, limits item drop-offs to specific windows in the morning and afternoon, among other changes.

Previously, more than 100 parents would come in to bring items to their children during lunch, including sports equipment and packed meals, said Superintendent Vincent Butera.

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