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“Instructional Lunch” Should be a Deal-Breaker

August 23, 2020 pm31 6:46 pm

“Instructional Lunch” is a rally bad idea. It is a huge flaw in the NYC Department of Education’s blended learning plans for September. Students in most schools will not go to a cafeteria (where the whole school would mix, theoretically letting a spread event involved the entire student body). Instead, students will eat lunch in their classrooms while a teacher teaches.

The blended learning plans call for masks – except for lunch. A dozen or so children in a room with an adult will remove masks, and eat lunch. The DoE documents don’t mention that they will eat in silence, but I assume that’s because they want to make the principals the bad guys.

Here’s Mulgrew’s description (from an August 8 email to members):

Instructional lunch for students: Using the Breakfast in the Classroom model from elementary schools, many students will have instructional lunches to maximize their class time and minimize their contact with children outside their own class groups. Since not all types of instruction can happen during student lunch, school communities should discuss the types of instruction that can effectively happen during this time. You will still have a duty-free lunch, so in many cases a different teacher will teach your students during the instructional lunch period.

Imagine being the cluster teacher assigned to cover “Instructional Lunch” all day.

Later clarification has the teacher in the back of the room, looking at the students’ backs as they eat.

What is the motivation for “Instructional Lunch”?

The Mayor and Chancellor desperately want to open schools. Hell, most teachers would rather teach in person. Damn straight I would.

So they say, schools will open, but kids have to eat. And they can’t eat in the cafeteria, so they have to eat in the classroom.

Which is where smart people should be saying “slow down there Bill. If kids have to eat in the classroom, then we need to rethink this.” But nope, the smart people weren’t there. If kids have to eat, it has to be in the classroom.

And then they threw us a bone – “But we can make lunch a class, and shorten the school day – teachers can get out half an hour early.” Someone thought teachers would gladly risk our safety, the safety of our students, of our colleagues, if only we were allowed to leave school thirty minutes early. Why would they think that? It’s insulting that anyone thought we were that dumb.

How did the plan for “instructional lunch” develop?

In the DoE’s June 9 PowerpointSCHOOL BUILDING RE-OPENING PRELIMINARY PLANNING OVERVIEW“, they envisioned closing common areas.

In the July 2 “SCHOOL BUILDING RE-OPENING BRIEFING” (which I wrote about here) Carranza first floats “Consider holding lunch in classrooms to minimize interaction between groups of students. We will be soliciting feedback on how to best structure lunch planning..”

On July 31 the DoE published Instructional Principles & Programming Guidance which were really, really bad, and included the “Instructional Lunch” for the first time. The UFT may have been part of the discussion – if so this was a pretty bad mistake – we have to talk about that, but at another time.


How does “Instructional Lunch” compromise safety?

As people eat, mask off, they generate droplets and aerosols. Droplets may spread to neighbors. Aerosols may remain in the air for a prolonged period, and reach people seated further away. Given enough time, and airflow, there’s no reason to believe that aerosols in on corner of a classroom can’t reach any other corner.

And time works against us. After lunch we remain in the room, and continue instruction. Pathogens in the air linger. The longer the exposure, the greater chance of infection. Unlike a restaurant, where patrons are one-hour-and-out, students and teachers stay in the room the entire day. And even if the class’ teacher is not present during lunch – another teacher is, and at immediate risk. And the class’ teacher returns, and gets to share the air for the rest of the day.

I’m assuming, for the moment, that no one except the instructor (who presumably is masked) speaks during lunch. Speaking adds velocity to droplets and aerosols, helping them travel further, faster, and increasing the level of risk. And I do not believe that it is reasonable to assume that the majority of school children will be able to remain silent during lunch – traditionally the most social time of the entire school day.

Is “Instructional Lunch” even practical? 

How would teaching look? What would we teach? What subjects lend themselves to being taught to children who are chewing in silence, looking away from the speaker? I’m not waiting for an answer.

Are there alternatives to “Instructional Lunch”?

Yes. We could stay all-remote. Or, if we are teaching in person, in the school building, we could shorten the day so that grab and go lunches were distributed to students as they leave the school building. And there might be more ideas.

We need to say “no” to “Instructional Lunch”

Just to be clear, the UFT safety demands are perfectly reasonable. Every one of them must be met. Testing and contact tracing and a nurse in every school are vital. But they are not enough.

“No Instructional Lunch, No Classroom Lunch” should be added to Mulgrew’s list. We should not go in while “Instructional Lunch” is still on the table.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 25, 2020 am31 1:10 am 1:10 am

    Agree 100% – Instructional lunch must go. Also. I don’t like the concept of an isolation room. This isolation room concept will be a mess in larger schools – this concept needs to get firmed up, too.

    • August 26, 2020 pm31 5:49 pm 5:49 pm

      The isolation room concept seems designed for one child – but I’m not sure what good it does in an outbreak. And I still do not understand who will be staffing it – beyond that it will not be me or my members.


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