Aspen parents turn up the noise on elementary cafeteria decorum
A group of Aspen Elementary School parents have broken their silence about the administration’s so-called 1-inch voice rule in the cafeteria.
This fall, both the school principal and vice principal have assumed cafeteria duty to give teachers extra time to get their work done. It’s resulted in a shift in the cafeteria in which the principals blow whistles when kids get too loud and promote a quiet cafeteria by using signs that say “Stop” and “Shhh.”
Some parents said their children have become uncomfortable and even frightened by the rules.
Whitney Foley, the mother of a kindergartner and second-grader, said her children came home last week saying they weren’t allowed to speak at lunch, “not even whisper, because the whistle had been blown too many times so they went to a silent lunch.”
Foley said she also has experienced the rigidness herself.
“I was there, about a month ago having lunch with my second-grader when I first noticed the whistle policy,” she said. “They are constantly hushing children.”
Parents have even said that children have been told to whisper by using the “1-inch voice” rule, meaning they can only open their mouth 1 inch and use a very clear voice.
But Principal Doreen Goldyn said parents’ claims that their children are being forced to be silent during lunch hours are misguided. She and the assistant principal are simply trying to foster an environment that promotes proper behavior.
“We want them to have good manners and to talk quietly,” Goldyn said, adding that the cafeteria can get very loud when “you have 105 bodies in that room.”
She said there have been whistle reprimands, but “the only time that happens is when the children are really too loud and we give them four warnings just to calm them down a little bit.”
She added, “We want them to use inside voices and speak to each other softly and don’t scream.”
One parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she occasionally eats lunch at the cafeteria. She said it’s much different this school year than last, and expressed concern that children can’t speak openly after being in class all morning.
“Lunch is one of their only downtimes in the day,” she said. “You have to sit still in class and be good in class, and lunch is a social time. It’s a whisper-only policy, and they’re very clear about that.”
On Friday, the school sent its weekly newsletter to parents, which included a Web link to its cafeteria-behavior expectations. Noise is addressed with the following lines:
• “Talk quietly and only when your mouth is empty.”
• “Talk in a low and calm voice to your neighbors. Noise making, shouting and popping bags are unacceptable.”
Goldyn said those expectations are fairly clear and there should be no confusion.
But Alyssa Genshaft, president of the Parent Teacher Organization, said she’s heard from both teachers and parents who are troubled by the purported beefed-up noise enforcement in the cafeteria.
“I understand that (the principals) don’t want kids running around and throwing food,” she said. “But the kids have only 20 minutes (for their lunch period), and because of that, they’re sort of being punished. All they have is recess and lunchtime, which is a time to let loose so they don’t come back to the classroom wound up.”
Genshaft, a parent with two children in the elementary school, said she hasn’t sat in a lunch this fall, but she’s heard from other parents who have.
“I’m not sure what the message is they’re trying to send,” she said. “I think there are better tactics.”
Teachers contacted for this story either declined comment or could not be reached.
“It’s been re-assuring to hear that there are teachers who are upset about this too. These kids need to be able to talk and socialize,” Foley said.
Genshaft has planned a meeting with the principals on Tuesday. Goldyn said she hadn’t heard that parents or teachers were upset until she talked to Genshaft briefly on Thursday.
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