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The three-part radio series No Time For Play examines how schools in the Seattle area are increasingly limiting kids' physical activity and play times. It was reported by Ann Dornfeld and edited by Carol Smith.

Lunches Too Short At Seattle Schools, Say Students And Parents

USDA/Lance Cheung
Students try the new school lunch menu at the Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, Sept. 7, 2012.

Whittier Elementary School third-grader Kai Holec said ever since his lunch period got shortened to 15 minutes this year, he hasn't been able to finish his meal before it's time to go to recess.

And that's not enough to keep him going.
"When I get all the energy out I usually get super hungry. It's so hard to concentrate when you don't have food that has given you energy for a while," Holec said.

If he stays late at lunch, Holec misses out on his recess time.

And, he said, it's even worse for kids who have to stand in line for hot lunches. Once they've made it through the lunch line, they often have only a few minutes to eat before recess begins.

That conflicts with the Seattle school district policy, which requires at least 20 minutes of eating time at lunch.

Now a group of Whittier parents has started a popular Facebook groupon the subject, and surveyed parents and staff at elementary schools across the city.

Mom and organizer Deb Escher said they've found that 50 elementary schools appear to be violating the district's lunch time policy.

Escher said parent observations of Whittier lunches showed that students who stand in line for hot lunches often have only four to seven minutes to eat by the time they sit down.

She said those lines are longest at the schools where most students rely on free and reduced-price lunches.

"The kids who may not have another opportunity for a healthy meal during the day, they're the ones who suffer most. That's a real disadvantage to the kids who are on the free and reduced meal program. And the district needs to address this not next year, but now," Escher said.

A spokeswoman for Seattle Public Schools declined an interview request, but said in a written statement that the district takes the issue of lunch and recess times seriously and has formed a task force to address it.

The spokeswoman wrote that school leaders report giving students 20-minute lunches, but that the district is reviewing how much of that 20 minutes is spent getting kids to and from the cafeteria.

The district task force is scheduled to make recommendations to the superintendent in 18 months.

Year started with KUOW: 2008