Assigned Lunchroom Seating Causes Parents to Petition
Superintendent said school will become more flexible about where students sit as year goes on.
Lunch was a popular topic at this week's Bloomingdale Board of Education meeting. But it was not what students are eating as much as where students are eating that had many Walter T. Bergen School parents concerned.
Teresa Federici, the parent of a seventh grader at the school, presented a petition with nearly 80 signatures from parents who disagree with the school's new policy for assigned seating in the lunchroom to the board at Tuesday night's meeting.
"We're not going to back down," Federici said. "It's inappropriate."
Interim Superintendent of Schools Frank Buglione said the assigned seating for seventh and eighth grade lunch periods was something new the school decided to try this year. He said he has worked at other school districts where assigned seating at lunch had worked well and that it is not a form of punishment for the students. He also said the policy was a way for the school to establish order at the beginning of the school year.
"It's not a disciplinary action," he said. "We're trying to treat everyone equally. It's not because any particular students are bad or not bad."
Buglione said the policy has been in effect since the first day of school this year. The school has tried to offer a day or two per week where students are able to sit together, he said, and students are also able to mingle outside their designated tables on days when their grade level is permitted to go outside.
But Federici said the parents, and students, do see the policy as punishment and the assigned seating has made some students feel uncomfortable when they are not allowed to sit with their friends.
"They don't have freedom to talk to their friends, get up or sit where they choose. They're assigned to a table," she said.
Federici said she feels that the students need to be able to use the lunch period as social time to bond with their friends. Buglione also feels that the lunch session is an important part of socialization, although he said kids will learn to socialize more by interacting with people they do not already know.
"Today, with this whole concept of bullying and everything, a lot of times bullying happens when people don't know each other, when they don't know their classmates as much as they should," he said. "When we allowed students to sit wherever they wanted to sit, some students were isolated."
Buglione said he thinks the assigned seating could help prepare the students for when they are thrown into other situations where they have to interact with people they do not know, like when they attend Butler High School (which Bloomingdale and Butler students share).
"Part of socialization is meeting new people and making new friends," Buglione said.
Federici said she understands that argument, but feels it may be too late to instill the concept in the seventh and eighth grade students.
"I think seventh grade is a little late. I think if this is something we were going to do, I think we should have done it earlier," she said.
Buglione said the district is planning on switching the tables throughout the year and allowing students more options to choose as the year progresses, although he said the policy will stay in place, despite the petition. He commended the parents for getting involved and voicing their concerns with the policy to the board of education.
But Federici said she will continue to argue against the assigned seating.
"I'm not willing to have my seventh grader feel lke he's punished," she said.
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