Lunch — it’s what’s for breakfast!
Thousands of city students are forced to eat lunch at ridiculous hours — some as early as 8:50 a.m. — because of a shortage of cafeteria space and questionable decision-making by principals, the Daily News has learned.
A stunning 908 city schools start serving lunch before 11 a.m. according to an analysis of Education Department records obtained by The News.
That’s according to data reported by roughly 55% of 1,638 public schools.
Teachers and researchers say it’s hard to learn on an empty stomach — and students in the situation agree.
At Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, students eat lunch in five 46-minute shifts that start as early at 8:50 a.m. and go as late at 1:56 p.m.
Clara Barton students said they’d laugh about the wacky lunchtimes at the school if they could — but their stomachs are too empty to find much of anything funny.
“It's not lunch. It's like breakfast,” said freshman Jervana Gordon, 15, who has one of the early lunch periods.
“They still serve lunch food, but it's like breakfast time," she explained.
Sophomore Chelsea Fevriere, 15, said she had one of the early lunchtimes in her freshman year, and she survived by bringing snacks to class.
The experience sometimes made Fevriere miserable, but she learned to deal with it.
“I bring my own food so I will have it later on," she said.
Students who don’t bring their own nosh are out of luck, said freshman Kamyrah Crosby, 15, who also has one of the early lunch periods.
"Unless you bring your own food, you just have to wait until after school," Crosby lamented.
Education Department officials said the 1,221 kids enrolled at Clara Barton are eating lunch at odd times because the school employs a multi-session scheduling program, meaning a portion of their students start class as early as 7:15 a.m.
The arrangement is fairly common in the public school system and is meant to give schools more flexibility in programming lessons and can also help administrators deal with shortages of classroom space.
Educators said another cause of the odd lunchtime problem is the city’s practice of having several schools within a single school building.
Those arrangements impact hundreds of schools and force the sharing of common spaces including cafeterias, resulting in staggered lunchtimes.
Co-locations can cause extreme scheduling snafus — and the city’s data shows 84 public schools with particularly rough schedules make some or all of their students eat lunch by 10 a.m. — often with no break for food again until instruction ends at around 2 or 3 p.m.
City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger — a former city teacher — said the arrangement can wreak havoc on kids’ ability to learn.
“This has a major impact on students,” Treyger said. “It raises the question: Is the system built around children — or is it built around bureaucratic technicalities?”
Treyger said school administrators offer a variety of excuses for holding lunch early in the morning but the result is always the same: Kids suffer.
“Lunch ensures that students are healthy but it’s also a very important time for socialization,” he added. “When you’re rushing it in the morning, it takes the whole experience away from them.”
The situation has persisted in the city schools for years, and the new lunchtime data for the current school year obtained by The News is nearly identical to information released by the city five years ago.
In 2014, then-Chancellor Carmen Fariña promised to look into the matter and take action, but little has changed.
Now Education Department officials are promising to take action this time, citing changes in the the city’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services, where new leadership is reporting directly to the schools’ Chief Operating Officer, Ursulina Ramirez.
Education Department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said the city is working to formalize an informal rule where schools are loosely instructed to begin lunch after 11 a.m.
“Students shouldn’t eat lunch before 11 a.m., and we’ll work with each school serving lunch before 11 a.m. to make adjustments if possible for the 2019-20 school year,” Barbot said.