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Some High School Students Skip Lunch for More Class Time

Some high schools allow students to opt out of lunch period to take an additional class. 


Students are allowed to eat lunch during class at some schools. 

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Forget Taco Tuesday and Fish Stick Friday. Some high school students are skipping lunch period to pack in something else – another academic class.

"Most often these students want to take an additional honors or AP course, or an elective like a foreign language, band or choir," Jim Szczepaniak, a community relations director at Niles Township High Schools District 219 in Skokie, Ill., said in an email.

District 219 allows high school students, with parental consent, to forgo lunch to take another class. The school day includes nine 42-minute periods, one of which is usually used for lunch.

At least a handful of school districts around the country allow students to skip lunch to take a class for credit. Relatively few students in District 219 take advantage of the option.

Only about 300 of 4,800 high school students in District 219 don’t take a lunch, Szczepaniak says.

[Read about how students are frustrated over school lunch portion sizes.]

Advocates of school lunch say that students who choose to not eat lunch in the cafeteria increase the stigma for low-income students who rely on the free and reduced meal program.

"A concern that our members have when you look at declining participation in the school meal program is the possibility​ that there are going to be kids who feel like they don’t want to go to the cafeteria because only the poor kids go to get their lunches there," says Diane Pratt-Heavner, ​a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association.

Participation in the national school lunch program declined by 3.7 percent from​ the 2010-2011 school year through the 2012-2013 year, after having increased steadily for many years, according to a January 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

Students who don’t sit down to eat a healthy midday meal will not have the attention span and level of detail they need to succeed in school, Pratt-Heavner says.

"Wolfing​ down a meal between classes is not promoting a healthy lifestyle," she says.

District 219 encourages all students to take a full lunch period each day, Szczepaniak says, but school officials ​find​ ways for students who don’t take a lunch to eat during the day.

"We let fully booked students go to the cafeteria to pick up lunch during their homeroom periods," he said.

[Find out how teens' eating habits are formed by parents' behavior.]

Students who don’t take a lunch period say that the extra time allows them to pursue a subject they are passionate about, such as art or music, which they may not otherwise be able to fit in their schedule, according to several news reports.

Nerys Muller, a student at Vineland High School in Vineland, N.J., told district officials during a hearing on the school's lunch policy that choir and theater classes helped the shy student break out of her shell, according to a South Jersey Times report.

Similar to students in District 219, Vineland High School students who have parental permission are allowed to opt out of a lunch period and take an additional class. The South Jersey Times reported that many of those students enroll in fine and performing arts classes. ​ ​ ​ 

The school board considered making lunch mandatory for all students, but strong opposition from parents and students convinced the board to allow the practice to continue.

Another student at the school, Thomas Burgess, told the Asbury Park Press​ that he does not take a lunch break, but instead eats a packed lunch while walking in between classes. ​ Burgess thinks that the decision of taking a lunch should be left to students. "I’m a growing boy and I’m doing just fine without my lunch," he said.

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