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Parents Lose Lunch Visits at Newton-Lee

Change in policy marks change in tradition due to lack of space, resources.

Parents of children who attend are used to showing up during the day and being welcomed for all sorts of school-related activities – parent-teacher conferences, school concerts, fundraisers and other PTO events, as well as volunteering.

But starting this school year, one event to which the school has swiftly disinvited parents is sharing a quick lunch meal with kids in the school cafeteria, a tradition of sorts in Ashburn.

As of the 2011-2012 school year, officials at Newton-Lee have initiated a new policy that bans parents from being able to visit their children during lunchtime.

Citing overcrowding and space issues, school leaders told parents in August that they would be allowed one single visit during the school year to see their child during a hot dog and fruit snack – the child’s birthday.

The new policy has saddened and deeply disappointed many of the student’s parents, and has created – according to several sources – an undercurrent of resentment between parents and school officials.

Jill Hobart, one of the concerned parents, said she misses the lunch visits.

"It was a great way to check in with my son and see how his day was going,” Hobart said.

Another parent with several children at the school agreed.

“For the past two years, I probably had lunch with one of my children every month,” said Christina Williamson. “They loved it when I came in and it made them feel special. I enjoyed watching them interact with their friends and I also liked going through the lunch line with them and helping them make a healthier lunch choice. It is kind of sad to go from that freedom to now only having lunch with them once a year.”

Some parents were unhappy about how the decision was made, and claim that another approach should have been taken to establish a “middle ground” position where alternative accommodations could be made to balance space issues with what has become a tradition for parents.

Carol Winters, Newton-Lee’s Principal, outlined the reasons for the change in policy.

“It was a very hard decision. We tried a multitude of other ways,” she said. “When you look at the tables we can only fit so many in the cafeteria, as many as 28 and as few as 24. We had to put additional chairs to accommodate students.”

In previous years, parents at Newton-Lee ate lunch with their children just outside the cafeteria in the hallway at special tables that were set up for that purpose.

“The eating area in the hallway worked, until we had issues with space and constraints with furniture,” Winters said, adding that some of the parents were unhappy with that space. “A few complained during the winter it was cold and draughty in the hallway and they didn’t like kids walking by them while they were eating”.

Ultimately, the decision came down to resources, Winters explained.

“Teachers and staff needed the tables and furniture for their work,” she said. “We are supposed to be managing academics and parents are welcome to come anytime and volunteer. We had parents coming in every Friday, and two or three times a week. We had as many as 90 parents a day coming for lunch, it was very difficult to manage the numbers. With over 900 students we found we had to plan it out so everyone has a place to sit. A lot of our parents work from home or they have just one parent working. We have an amazing community that wants to be part of their school, but there are limitations on this facility and we just couldn’t do it.”

Newton-Lee appears to be the only elementary school in Ashburn with this policy, despite the fact that several other elementary schools face similar overcrowding and space constraint issues.

Paul Vickers, principal at Mill Run Elementary, which has more than 1,000 students, said, “We encourage lunchtime visits openly. It is the one time parents can sit and talk with their children. Sometimes it is for a special day, but it is a great way to spend time together.”

Vickers said accommodations were made for the parental visits.

“We have added four seat extensions to the bench tables so there are now 28 students per table, giving the students more elbow room,” he said. “Space can be a challenge, but we make it work. It’s just a chance to talk for a few minutes and spend time together.”

At Sanders Corner Elementary, parents are allowed to come anytime, according to school officials, who stated they do not have overcrowding issues with an enrollment of about 629 students this year.

At Belmont Station, with about 850 students, Principal Patricia McGinly said parents are always welcome.

“We welcome parents to visit anytime,” she said. “We will make an accommodation for anyone. They are more than welcome to come.”

Such decisions are made by the principals at the schools and do not involve the central LCPS office, according to LCPS spokesman Wayde Byard.

Bob Ohneiser, school board member for the current Broad Run District, which includes Newton-Lee, said, “I am not aware of any policy that would not allow a parent to see their child at school.”

Cara November 01, 2011 at 05:06 PM
OH MY GOD----REALLY? All of this heated conversation about having lunch with your child? I am a parent of children that attend NLE, and I really think this issue has gone WAAAAY beyond the issue of having lunch with your child. The facts are that the school is overcrowded, and people just don't like to be told that they can't do what they want to do. Get over it people, if having lunch with your child is THAT important--call, make the appointment and have your lunch or take them out of the school for a quick bite. But don't use this situation as a way to just vent your disapproval with the PTO or Mrs. Winters. If you want to change something, offer solutions and get involved.
Carol Grom November 01, 2011 at 05:42 PM
After following the comments regarding this article, I must say this show cases "helicopter parents" at their finest. Your child is special to you their parent and you alone. Does that make the students of parents who cannot attend lunch any less "special"? The administrators and teachers make decisions every day that affect the safety and educational well being of students. If a decision is made that you do not agree with does not mean that there is a conspirency. Cut the apron strings and let your child interact with adults other than you and use lunch time as a useful tool to interact and socialize with their peers. School is for education and if you have done your job well as a parent the child will already know you think they are special.
Gayle November 01, 2011 at 06:04 PM
Sheri, you are completely correct! School is a place for kids to socialize with their peers and become independent. I mean seriously "agree with upset dad" is this actually how you want to spend your time, going to the school board about this issue? Why don't you let your kids just be kids and hang out with their friends at lunch instead of having mom come up there everyday to watch over them? If you like Newton-Lee so much, then let the staff to their jobs and provide a learning environment for your children that is not only academic but also social with their peers.
Gayle November 01, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Well said Carol Grom!!!!
Loving Mom November 01, 2011 at 06:50 PM
Cara, Carol, Gayle: wow, you all really missed the point! Let me boil it down for you -- I want to do everything I can to make my kids experience at school - which ANY educator will tell you is a 360 dgree, integrated experience that involves academics and social interactions - a happy and joyous one. I am sorry you don't think that surprising your kids at lunch and making their day by spending 20-25 mins with them is nice and helpful to setting the rest of their day on a good note. I do - and so do many others. The bottom line is, the School and PTO really goofed here, and they've changed the policy. It was terribly mismanaged and miscommunicated. The fact that it changed shows it was wrong and parents were right to stand up for our kids. I dont need to try and make YOU happy - I know now that my kids will be happier I get to see them. That is all that matters. By the way - so much for all the safety and space excuses - there are none. The current solution seems like an easy one that could have been made long ago. Thanks to some constructive pressure, we got it changed and we won one for the kids. Your parenting - which comes across as cold and aloof - is different from mine. What we did is all about openness and transparency and good ol' fashioned community activism. Dont like it? Don't have lunch with your kids at school. I plan to - and often :)
Gayle November 01, 2011 at 07:09 PM
@loving mom, please don't talk down to me and tell me I missed your point. I totally got it loud a clear. You want to smoother your kids and let them grow up completely attached and dependent on you. That is fine for you but some of us what our kids to live in the real world and have a life of their own. I personally don't want to be wipping my child's nose until he is 30. Second of all, policies change. Roll with the the punches and get over it. You can say all you want to about me being cold and aloof in my parenting style but at least my child will be able to adapt to changes in his life instead of running to mommy to fight all the battles. This really is a non-issue, and just proves that some people have nothing better to do. Spend your quality time with your kids after school or in the morning or on weekends. What are you going to do when they get to middle school or high school or college even. How will you ever be able to let go? I am not sure that this is really a win for the kids so much as a winning for you and since you pointed out that you've won, it seems that it may really have been about the victory and not the actual policy. So congrats, I guess.
Loving Mom November 01, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Thank you Gayle! I appreciate it! It was something we went to bat for for our kids. I'll let most of your post speak for itself, which is all really sour grapes and bitter. I told my kids abut the change and they couldn't be happier - and I'll match my parenting style against yours everyday. But, I digress - like I said, your post's immersion down into spitefulness and personal attacks says it all. As far as "roll with the punches" is concerned, that sounds a lot more to me like "roll over and play dead" for the schools whenever they change something for the worse. They say "jump!", you say "how high"? They depend on folks just like you, Gayle, to just shrug your shoulders and walk away. Well done, girl. You can be a door mat if you want - not me. Here's a quarter - go call "Rent-A-Spine". I could not be more thrilled about how today turned out and that we did some good...lots of kids and parents will be happier for it for the rest of the school year! Hear, hear!
Gayle November 01, 2011 at 07:34 PM
Oh honey, I feel sorry for you because you can't even tell when your sour grapes and bitterness comes out. I will say it again, did you really go to bat for your kids or was it for you? I am pretty sure that your children would be able to survive the day if you didn't come up to eat dinner with them everyday. I, in turn, will let most of your post speak for itself too. Just for the record, I am not the one that started judging over peoples parenting styles. I never once commented on your parenting style until you decided to attack mine. I simply was commenting on letting go and picking and choosing your battles. This one in particular doesn't seem like it is a deal breaker for me or my kids at Newton-Lee. I can choose what battles are worth my time and everyone elses, but clearly that is not the case for you. So go ahead, spend all your time bickering about every little change at the school and being a "helicoptor" mom, but remember one day your kids will be going to a different school and you will have to start all over again. It must be exhausting taking on the weight of the world. Me and my rent-a-spine will be happy to wait for the most important issue to come along as we have other things we need to get done.
Loving Mom November 01, 2011 at 07:50 PM
Again...not worth any kind of thoughtful, intellectual response...you just keep waiting, dear, for that battle to fight :)
Gayle November 01, 2011 at 08:00 PM
And you just keep waiting to not have to battle and control everything in life. I really hope that works out for you.
Loving Mom November 01, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Spoken like a some one who knows how to surrender, cut and run at the drop of a hat...thank God our nation wasn't founded by the likes of "Gayle"! We'd all still be pledging allegiance to the Queen and sipping tea - watered down for "Gayle"'s stomach, of course...
Gayle November 01, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Who is the bitter, spiteful one now? Wow, for someone who called me "cold" you know what they say, those who live in glass igloo's. If this is really the best you have to offer when it comes to the battle department, then I see why you spend your time on "winning" policy changes for school lunches. You really know how your time might be better spent, since you love a good battle, maybe you should consider arguing with school administrations of schools were the children's parents can't afford to take time off of work to visit their children at lunch time. Or schools that can't offer any kind of volunteer program at the school because the parents have to work 3 or 4 jobs to put food on the table for their kids. Before you judge me and what I am willing to battle for or not, take a look in the mirror and realize what a ridiculous thing to battle over. It's not like you never get to see your kids, but some parents don't. I don't surrender, I just use my head and fight for things that are worth fighting over. Again, I do believe it is you that constantly is trying to do personal attacks on me and my stomach and spine. And as you can plainly see, I am not afraid of a battle, I am enjoying this one a lot!
Loving Mom November 01, 2011 at 08:33 PM
Bye-bye, "Gayle"...
Gayle November 01, 2011 at 08:38 PM
Bye-bye, "loving mom". By-the-way, Gayle is my real name. What is yours?
just my thought November 01, 2011 at 10:30 PM
Sorry Mr. UD. I have to call BS to that comment. Don't know what day or what time you were there. But the only time the cafeteria is open is when the 5th grade comes in the morning and the 1st grade at last lunch. BTW... NO parent has come into the cafeteria for lunch without reservations! Let alone twice in one month! Are you sure you were visitng your child at NLE? The look you were getting was, PLEASE don't take me away from my friends and Free Time to sit and talk to you! Can't we do this at DINNER!!!
Christie November 04, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Gayle, I agree with you 100%. Helicopter parents are ruining our kids. Your child misbehaves in class? It's obviously the fault of someone else, not your little darling! You child doesn't get an A in a class? The teacher must have miscalculated! Trust me, I know whereof I speak. My kids are grown, probably the ages of many parents of elementary school students. About 15 years ago,when my son was a student at Radford, I had a telling conversation with one of the school's administrators. He told me that he regularly got phone calls from parents who wanted their COLLEGE AGE kid's schedule changed because he couldn't get up in time for an 8 a.m. class or who wanted their child's dorm because it was too far from some of her classes. And did you know that some parents are accompanying their grown children on job interviews -- and butting in with questions for the interviewer. The parents have to make sure that their little dear is treated well in the workplace! As I said, my kids are grown. Both own their own homes and hold well-paying responsible jobs. They manage their own money -- very successfully, I might add. I hope those helicopter parents still enjoy their children when those same kids live at home long after they should be on their own. I bet they'll be wishing they had let the kids fly on their own. There's a great deal of satisfaction to watching your offspring fly free and soar.
Not Mommie Dearest November 04, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Christie, you and Gayle are surely a few french fried short of a Happy Meal - youve blown this whole thing out of proportion...its stupid and silly to say that parents who want to spend 20 mins once or twice a month with their kid at school as overly doting and "helicopter". Sorry we dont agree with your aloof version of parenting...what works for us may not work for you...so what? Its inane and puerile to extrapolate that we want to have lunch with a 6 year old and therefore we'll be sitting in their lap during art class in college. Get over yourself and bottle up your bitterness somewhere else. The fact that the school and PTO were compelled to change this shows they were wrong from the outset - and, remember ladies, OTHER schools HAVE SCHOOL LUNCH VISITS AND ENCOURAGE THEM!! That is coming from principals and teachers, who value them and know they are a neat and fun tradition that the kids - KIDS - love. So the only people here that don't seem to get it are - well, you two little turtle-doves!
Gayle November 04, 2011 at 08:34 PM
First of all, thank you Christie! Second, "Not Mommie Dearest" I truly don't think we are the ones that have blown anything out of proportion. I am pretty sure it was not us that "browbeat" the administration into getting unlimited parent/child lunches back. I also don't appreciate the the office staff of the school now has to add "restaurant hostess" to their job description now that they will be taking reservations for lunches everyday. I asssure you, I do NOT have an aloof parenting style, I just think their might be bigger fish to fry then to worry about whether or not some parents get to have lunch with their children several times a week. I just choose to be involved when it suits me. Like I believe lunch time for children should maybe be a time to interact with their peers and learn that socialization, not having to sit in the hallway away from their friends. But none of this was the basis for my arguement. I was mostly concerned with how upset everyone got with a policy change. I guess when you work in the real world, you realize change, especially policy changes, are a fact of life and for something so silly (because you will see your kids in the morning and at night), that it just didn't need to be such a big deal. Of course parents should be able to have lunch with their children on special occasions, and I don't have a problem with once or even twice a month. I was mostly talking about the everyday or even several times a week. Continue....
Gayle November 04, 2011 at 08:42 PM
That just seems like a lot to me. I am mostly upset by everyone's reaction to the policy change. What kills me is everyone is all up in arms over the administration making a decision without them. And continuing with the policy changes, when did schools lose the right to make decisions for their own property? And I would love to see parents try to explain why this is a big deal to other schools across the country when there are schools that have much bigger problems. I don't believe that this was all about the kids, I think it some of it was a way for parents to show that if they complain enough, they will win. Well, congrats, you won. I don't appreciate your sarcastic tone and name calling but I guess that is what I can expect at this stage of this debate. And I agree, what works for some doesn't work for others, has anyone asked the administration or the office staff if this actually works for them? I would guess probably not, but I guess as long as it works for all the parents, that is what counts.
Not Mommie Dearest November 04, 2011 at 10:26 PM
Gayle, first of all you should take a stab at understanding the new policy, which you continue to cite in an errant and misinformed way. Let me help you: first, vists are not "unlimited"- they are asking for something like oncea month and thats FINE w/me. I think as many others did that once a year was unnecessarily extreme; second, the idea of 'making reservations' came from the school - also fine with me and apparently with them (have you spoken with them at all?); third, you don't need to 'lord' your choices and parenting over the rest of us - don't like visiting your kids? Don't go!; fourth, kids don't eat just with their parents, they bring 1 or 2 friends with them for lunch, so your point is irrelevant; fifth, I am aware of no parent who does this "every day". Lastly, school property is school property - oh, bought and paid for with my/our tax dollars, by the way. And as long as my kids are on it, I have a right to be involved in decisions, thank you very much...
Gayle November 04, 2011 at 11:19 PM
Ok "not mommy dearest", you win. I am done with the issue. Congrats! Bye-bye.
Not Mommie Dearest November 05, 2011 at 12:49 AM
Best news of the week! Thanks Gayle and thanks Christie...(tho I do prefer to go by "Helicopter Parent" from now on...has a nice ring to it!)
Roger November 05, 2011 at 02:31 AM
Waaaaaa, I can't go to lunch with little Johnny. I have to take more tennis and golf lessons or go to the gym an extra hour. Then I can start drinking wine at 1:30 vs. 3:30. Give me a break. This is school! Your parents didn't come in for lunch and look at you...OOPS that is a bad example. Look at the rest of us. Let it go! Volunteer at the fire department or the food pantry. Make you life have purpose!
Not Mommie Dearest November 05, 2011 at 04:30 AM
Roger, funny - being with my kids does give me purpose and I go visit them at school for a nice lunch once or twice a month. By the way, I've been on more boards and volunteered with more local orgs than you can count on your hands...but judging from your almost indecipherable syntax and logic, sounds like you've been tipping at the boxed wine a bit more than the rest of us. You all will never get one simple point - there's nothing wrong with being allowed access to surprise your kid and make them happy for a quick lunch visit at school once or twice a month. That's all this is about, and the look on their face when they see you makes taking all your silly barbs, criticisms and insults worth it. Roger...over...and out! :)
Roger, Roger November 05, 2011 at 02:07 PM
Suprise Johnny, mommy is comming to lunch for the second time this month, wow that is a suprise. There will be a bigger suprise when I meet you at the bus stop this afternoon, because I do that daily. Then, for the grand suprise, I will wake you up tomorrow and have breakfast with you. Syntax error! Mommy dearest, NO MORE WIRE HANGERS! You made my day with your worthless justification, the look on their face, HA! More boards and volunteer time, I sincerely doubt it. I probably have you by 20 years, so I am way ahead. Finally, not boxed wine but a nice single malt at the club after golf yesterday! Unfortunately, I live among you people... I hope you get your wish. We need more socially inept children in the world that can't adjust to life because they couldn't have lunch with mommy twice a month. 10-4!
NOVA-mom November 05, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Don't worry. Not all of us parents are the way you describe.I don't even drink wine... I have been following this thread and have been quite amused. This whole thing seems really petty and silly. But whatever floats your boat I guess. Count me in the group that has bigger fish to fry than this lunch issue. This taking it so personally, name calling and sarcastic jabs are amusing, but really unnecessary.
NOVA-mom November 05, 2011 at 04:41 PM
...And I menat that directed at everyone, not just Roger. We are all neighbors here.
Not Mommie Dearest November 05, 2011 at 05:24 PM
NOVA Mom, I think what started all this off were parents who came on the board and started ridiculing other parents for wanting to have access to their kids for a fun, simple, innocent lunch once or twice a month. We asked for a change and got it. The school completely mishandled the policy change and went to an extreme by not allowing us a visit but once a year. All we want to do is make our kids happy and see them once in a while. Then, we got called "helicopter parents" and were even called bullies and "riotous mobs" by the head of the PTO. So the nastiness didnt start with us. This has been a long-held tradition at Newton-Lee and when something like that gets taken away, we're within our right to say "Hold on a second" and lobby for a change. Its called democracy and community activism. Others may think it isnt a big deal, and thats fine for them. But for other parents, we see it differently. Is that so wrong. Different strokes for different folks. Just deal with it and let us be. I haven't heard of ONE kid or parent who thinks the changed policy is wrong or not worth it. Its been blown out of proportion by parents (and nonparents) who just don't care or have the time to see their kids for lunch at school. It happens at every other elementary school in Ashburn - and it should continue to happen at Newton-Lee.
Not Mommie Dearest November 05, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Oh that's right Christie, "helicopter parents are ruining our kids"! I am embarassed for you and the comment. You're so right - the world has been RUINED by parents who love their kids TOO much. How many times have we heard from psychologists and experts who say kids are too loved, and its a danger to spend TOO much time with them. I am so ashamed that I read to my kids at night and - gasp! - even fall asleep with them sometimes. Or - praise be! - I want to know where they are outside and who they are with. Or, shame!, I let them crawl into bed with me if there's a storm. Even worse, I check up on them if they have a sleepover to make sure they're OK. (These kids of which I speak are not even ten years old). Oh man, here's a zinger, I go to all their games and practices!! Als, hold onto your bonnet, I do their homework with them at night. Yep, that's just too much. If doing all this means I am a "helicopter parent", suit me up, put me in the cockpit, and off I go in the chopper.Maybe all this has to do with YOU feeling insecure about how much (or not enough) you've done for your kids. Get over the hangup. To each his/her own when it comes to parenting...
Weller Dad November 14, 2011 at 01:24 PM
This comment thread may have begun in response to Newton-Lee's school lunch policy, but is reflective of the hostile environment many parents perceive to exist within LCPS schools and the adversarial relationship between the parental community and school administrators. To foster effective learning, children need an emotionally safe and nurturing environment -- even more than they need interactive white boards and tablet computers, but I won't go into that right now. Other policies I would question: * Why do the elementary kids have just one 15-minute recess per day? * Why can't middle schoolers sit with their friends at lunch? * Why does elementary start so darn early in the morning, risking their safety as they walk across busy roads in the dark during rush-hour traffic? I don't want to turn this into another rant that most readers will ignore, but I believe most parents would welcome more two-way communication with school administrators that allows parents some voice in the decision-making process.

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