Parents banned from eating lunch with children at Darien schools

DARIEN — A rule change will no longer allow parents to eat with kindergartners and first-graders at the town’s elementary schools.

Citing safety concerns and “educational reasons,” Interim Superintendent Elliott Landon sent an email to parents saying they would no longer be permitted to sit by their children in the lunchrooms of elementary schools while they eat.

“For educational reasons, students of this age need to learn how to function independently under the supervision of a trained educational professional without parental distraction,” Landon wrote in an email.

One parent after another voiced their opinion on the change at a recent Board of Education meeting.

Jessica Xu, a Darien resident and parent, said at the board meeting that she was hurt and offended by the decision to end the policy.

“The action taken to cut the program allowing parents to come to some of the elementary schools really felt like a punch in the gut,” Xu said.

She said she understood security is an issue and how it could take more work on the part of the teachers. However, Xu said creating a school culture that recognizes the community learning is beneficial to everyone.

Having parents and loving people sitting in the cafeteria to help children learn how to sit, engage with each other and more was important, Xu said.

Nancy Hidalgo, resident and parent, said she loved the school system and it was one of the reasons she moved to Darien. However, she also was concerned with the decision to end the policy.

“I can appreciate security concerns. I completely get that,” Hidalgo said. “But for me there’s no other interaction we can have with our kids that is somewhat unstructured and yet meaningful in a social engagement kind of way.”

She said sitting down with kids during lunch it gave parents an opportunity to model good behavior. The unscheduled and somewhat unstructured environment of being able to visit during lunchtime was incredibly valuable to parents.

“As a working parent we try to engage with the school as often as we can, but it’s hard because our schedules don’t really allow us to do it,” Hidalgo said.

Elizabeth Lane, a parent and resident, said she thinks not letting parents into lunch was good because kids have to learn how to work with each other and socialize with each other.

“Putting a parent in changes the dynamic dramatically,” Lane said. “They have to learn how to deal on their own.”

She also said it was a little disruptive to have parents in during lunch and she appreciated the end of the program.

Terry Steadman, a parent, said she was shocked and upset when she received the email about the change from Landon. She also said with the policy there needs to be some flexibility and a potential meeting in the middle for both sides.

“To just ban parents from the lunchroom, which is essentially what you’re doing with this email, I don’t think it’s right and I don’t think it’s in the spirit of a collaborative environment,” Steadman said.

She said the email went out abruptly without consideration or discussion with the parents on alternatives for parents to interact with their children during the day.

“There’s many reasons why a parent would want to interact with their children throughout the day,” she said. “Maybe they’re going through family issues, maybe they miss a child, it’s their birthday. Many reasons.”

No further discussion was held on the change at the meeting., 203-842-2568