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Sunday, June 16, 2024


Fifth Graders Petition To Eat With Friends, Avoid Lonely Lunch

By Christine Cote

What the five girls – Shannon McDevitt, Meghan Jones, Julia Vandenburg, Kelsey Pane and Meredith Faulkner – want is to be able to eat lunch with their friends.
Current school rules mandate that students eat with those from their homeroom.
Calling the girls up to “fill us in on your concerns,” Board President John Robertson recalled being told by Superintendent George Papp that the school was like a corporation and “we’re the board of directors. We have shareholders here with a petition.
“We’re here to give you the best school we can,” Robertson said and explained that the board would not solve the problem but would direct the superintendent and Principal Joseph LaRosa to try to resolve it.
The petition states: “This petition is to ask for the privilege to sit with other fifth grade homerooms at lunch. Lunch should be a time for kids to eat with their friends. Some kids don’t have friends in their own homeroom, and lunch becomes a lonely experience.”
McDevitt and Jones spearheaded this campaign and McDevitt told the board that they had 75 signatures and could have gotten more.
She said the board invited them to the meeting after receiving the petition.
“You’re invited to attend any meetings,” said board member Larry Lapidus.
Each of the five read from prepared statements, which were pieces of paper with scalloped edges and colored, graphic headlines with a printed explanation underneath. McDevitt’s, entitled “Signing the Petition” in bold red, white and blue print, spoke of people’s reaction to the petition.
“Everyone said, ‘Oh, let me sign!’ Some people said, ‘I’ll sign a million times if I have too,'” McDevitt read to the board.”
Vandenberg’s piece was titled “Last Year,” and her script explained, “Last year we were able to sit where ever we wanted to, and with whoever we wanted to. I just have to ask, what’s the difference between this year and last year?”
Pane also presented background on “Making the petition.” After Megan and Jones wrote it because they were tired of getting into trouble for something they could do last year, McDevitt’s mom checked it and then it was given to the board with a copy to LaRosa, she said.
McDevitt told the Herald the reference to getting into trouble was because none of her friends are in her homeroom, so she would sit with friends, like she could last year and “some of the kids would tell on me.”
“Fire Drills,” printed in inch high rainbow letters with a neat shadow effect were also mentioned. The argument raised was when a fire drill is called one big line is formed, not separated by homeroom, so Jones read, “What’s the difference if we sat with other homerooms?”
Anticipating a defense to the a rule change, Faulkner spoke of “Bad Behavior,” which was printed twice in light and dark green with a kind of echo effect. While acknowledging that “some kids can be real obnoxious at lunch time by talking WAY too much, talking back and just being bad,” the petitioners didn’t see why that should “stop the rest of us from sitting with other homerooms.”
Suggestions were offered to punish the bad without punishing the good by setting up extra tables or chairs for them, making them miss recess the next day or making them write an essay.
“You mentioned bad kids,” said Robertson. “Mr. Papp has told us 100 times we don’t have any bad kids.”
“It’s very good of you to stand up,” Board Member Jay Vega told the girls. “This is one board member that agrees with you.”
LaRosa told them that the policy was not meant to punish but has to do “with a problem of supervision.”
“First thing I want to say,” Lapidus told them, “is what a civic lesson.” He then asked LaRosa about the number of parent volunteers that he had available to help supervise.
“We have a number of volunteers,” LaRosa said, “but interest is falling off. It’s very hard to get parent volunteers. We have four or five in this building (the Primary school on Hagen Road) on a consistent basis.”
He told the board, “We had a very productive meeting,” referring to his attempt to resolve the matter with the five girls earlier in the week.
Papp said he also would like to applaud the efforts of the students, but “would also like to acknowledge those sitting behind them. It takes great teachers, great parents, and great students, we have all three tonight.”
In his letter to McDevitt, notifying her that the board intended to discuss the petition and inviting her and fellow students to come to the meeting, Robertson wrote: “I would like to commend you and your classmates. You certainly must have been paying attention in class when your teacher discussed the Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights. In our country it is our right to petition our elected officials if we feel that there is something that needs to be looked into and our elected officials should take that seriously.”
LaRosa told the Herald last week that there are about 90 fifth graders and four homerooms and they all eat lunch together. Due to budget cuts in past years, there are fewer aides in the school and, since teachers are entitled by contract to a 45-minute duty-free, lunchtime, supervision is an issue.
Even when parent volunteers are there, they are not to discipline students, just help out if necessary.
The five girls are putting into action what they learned last year, he said and he will attempt to work out a solution.
Contact Cote at:

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