Some parents cherish school lunch visits with their children. If work or other obligations allow them, it can be a time to check-in with kids and model good social behavior.
But in a Connecticut town’s elementary schools, district officials have sided with those who find such visits to be disruptive. Parents can no longer visit their kids during lunchtime at the Darien system’s K-5 schools after they struggled with a growing number of cafeteria visitors.
“It feels like a punch in the gut,” said Jessica Xu, whose oldest child is in first grade. “I chose the town for the schools. I’m so frustrated the schools don’t want me there.”
Although some supported the decision in the wealthy shoreline community that prides itself on its high-performing public schools, Xu is not alone. Parents have protested at town meetings and in online forums, saying they can help their children resolve conflicts with others or simply help them open milk cartons.
In Darien, where the median household income exceeds $200,000, principals felt the number of lunch visitors affected the day-to-day operations of the elementary schools, according to Tara Ochman, chairman of the Darien Board of Education.
On a typical day, Xu said, six or seven parents were in the cafeteria of her child’s school.
“We believe that schools exist for children, and we work to develop the skills necessary for students to grow into engaged members of society,” Ochman said in a written statement. “We work every day on this mission so that our students embrace their next steps confidently and respectfully.”
Children get upset when their parents leave, said Kelly Ann Franzese, who worked for as a special education therapist in a nearby town until earlier this year. School staff members may have to deal with that, she said, or feel heavily scrutinized by parents who visited every week.
“From a professional perspective, when we’re the ones left dealing with your child when you leave, it wasn’t good,” Franzese said. “We would call them helicopter moms.”
Terry Steadman, a parent, told the board the announcement drove her to tears. She said effectively banning parents from the lunchroom violates the spirit of a collaborative environment.
Another Darien mother, Beth Lane, said she welcomed the change.
“It was good because kids have to be able to learn how to work with each other and socialize with each other, and putting a parent in changes the dynamic dramatically,” she said at an education board meeting last month.
Other districts have also wrestled with visitation policies including Beaverton, Oregon. It added restrictions last year after many families brought warm lunches for their children every day.
Contributing: Associated Press
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