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Parent lunch dates at school: Helicoptering or helping?

A Connecticut school district had so many parents showing up in the elementary school lunchroom that it took the controversial step of banning them.

According to the Hartford Courant:

After struggling with the growing numbers of parents in school cafeterias, the Darien school system said parents and guardians would no longer be welcome to visit with their children during lunch at the town's elementary schools.

The decision has stirred strong emotions in Darien, a wealthy shoreline community that prides itself on its high-performing public schools. While some parents said it was time to stop a disruptive practice, others have protested at town meetings and in online forums that the change has deprived them of cherished time to check in on their children and model good social behavior.

"It feels like a punch in the gut," parent Jessica Xu, whose oldest child is in first grade, said in an interview. "I chose the town for the schools. I'm so frustrated the schools don't want me there."

I can understand the impetus for the ban. I have a friend who began to show up at lunch because her fourth-grader was unhappy at a new school, and the mom wanted to check on her.

But her presence made the little girl even more distressed; bouts of the blues turned into bouts of crying when mom left after lunch. The mother ceased coming, and her daughter eventually stopped complaining about school, in part because she made a close pal and ate lunch with her.

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A school counselor told me the presence of parents at the lunch table alters the experience for the kids who are supposed to use the time to socialize with each other. A parent sitting amidst the students gets in the way of them talking to one another and developing social skills, she told me.

The Darian school board chair said in a statement: 

We believe that schools exist for children, and we work to develop the skills necessary for students to grow into engaged members of society, We work every day on this mission so that our students embrace their next steps confidently and respectfully.

Your thoughts? 

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.

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