A bill to give teachers a 30 minute, duty-free lunch every day received a favorable hearing in the House K-12 Education Committee on Tuesday.
The bill will now go to the House Rules Committee.
Rep. Craig Horn, (R-Union), one of House Bill 563’s co-sponsors, said teachers could receive a much-needed break during the school day if the bill is approved.
“Just some private time or a break in the middle of the day,” Horn said. “How much more can we ask of our teachers than we already ask?”
Horn, a co-chairman of the Education Committee, introduced the bill for primary sponsor Rep. John A. Torbett, a Gaston County Republican.
Torbett attended Tuesday’s meeting but left for another engagement before HB 563 was discussed.
Horn said HB 563 is needed because teachers get little alone time during the school day.
“We ask so much of them and they get virtually no privacy from the moment they leave their house in the morning, their phone’s ringing, until they get back at night and their phone continues to ring,” Horn said.
Although the bill was broadly supported, committee members had questions about language that appears to make the duty-free lunch optional for districts.
They also noted that the bill had no funding attached, which could cost districts that abide by the law.
“I don’t think any of us could disagree conceptually with the idea this bill represents, but I do have one question related to whether this is in the nature of an unfunded mandate,” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, (R-Burke).
Blackwell said districts would have to hire someone to watch students while teachers eat lunch.
“I’m just wondering if there’s a cost implication for the LEA [Local Education Agency or school district],” Blackwell said. “If we’re mandating they’ve got to do it, who’s going to pay for the additional staff.”
No money has been committed to the bill, but committee staffers pledged to check for available funding.
The state law that covers school improvement plans would be rewritten to include the 30 minute requirement for a duty-free lunch.
The committee approved an amendment brought forth by Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, (D-Guilford), which mirrors language in state law governing teacher’s instructional planning time.
The language states that duty-free instructional planning time “shall be provided to the maximum extent that safety and proper supervision of children may allow during regular student contact hours and insofar as funds are provided for this purpose by the General Assembly.”
“That’s the same language that holds us as school systems accountable for duty-free instructional planning, said Clemmons, adding that duty-free lunch should have the same expectation.
Rep. Marvin W. Lucas, (D-Cumberland), said the language gives school districts wiggle room.
“That could be away for LEAs to say, you know, we can’t afford to allow you to eat with those circumstances, so therefore, you can’t have it,” Lucas said. “That worries me.”
Rep. Larry Potts, (R-Davidson), said HB 563 could place a burden on the state’s large school districts.
“This could run into a lot money if everybody in instruction has to have a duty-free lunch,” Potts said.
He said it will be difficult to support HB 563 without a plan to pay for it.
Under House Bill 563, teachers would get a minimum of 30 minutes each day to eat without having to supervise students, perform other tasks such as lunch duty or attend required meetings.
Ample time for a meal and lesson planning are real issues for teachers who often complain they don’t get enough time to do either during the course of a school day.
Teachers say lunch and instructional planning time is often interrupted by meetings or is lost entirely when teachers must use planning periods to fill in for absent colleagues because substitutes aren’t available.
Teachers responding to a social media query about where they currently receive 30 minutes for lunch shared varied experiences. While some teachers routinely get 30 minutes or more for lunch, others say they barely get a minute or two to “woof” down a meal.
“We get 25 minutes duty free for lunch … but it came at the expense of our planning period being cut shorter,” Sherry Vestal, a Randolph County teacher, wrote on the North Carolina Teachers United Facebook page.
The social media query by N.C. Policy Watch prompted nearly 400 comments, which shows how strongly teachers feel about receiving a lunch break during the school day.
Katherine Victoria, a former Transylvania County Schools teacher now working in Roseburg, Oregon, said teachers in Oregon receive 40 minute, duty-free lunches.
“I left NC for a unionized state and the grass is GREENER! 40 min duty free lunch is part of my contract. It’s never been taken, but if it were, I’d be paid (what is equivalent to) my hourly rate at time and a HALF,” Victoria wrote on the North Carolina Teachers United Facebook page.
When asked who watches students during lunch by a North Carolina educator, Victoria said aids and assistants serve as lunchroom monitors.
She said aids and assistants are pulled from kindergarten, first-grade and interventions to monitor the cafeteria and playground.
“Lunch and recess happen consecutively, 20 min each to allow for our 40 min lunch break,” Victoria wrote.