“I do not feel any better,” Laura Stubbs said. “It is not in the best interest of the children.”
She was one of about 50 parents who attended the meeting at the northeast Cobb kindergarten through fifth-grade school to find out more about why May implemented a “quiet lunch” and one of about 115 people who have signed the online petition “Rocky Mount Quiet Time Needs to Stop!”
Under the new rules, a TV screen in the cafeteria cycles through pictures telling students to either “whisper talk” or be quiet.
“They have five minutes of quiet and then a little bell rings, the cue, then they have five minutes of whisper talk,” May said.
The students’ lunchtime is 30 minutes long, but those who finish early are taken outside to sit in a play area.
“Once they get out there, they must sit down,” she said. “This is where there has also been a bone of contention, because the students have to sit on their bottoms. The purpose is because if they sit on their knees, knees turn into knee walking, etc.”
May said the practice’s aim is to make noise “tolerable” during lunchtime, which is between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“Loud cafeterias are a perpetual, systemic problem for every school,” May said. “In elementary school, we all struggle with the noise level because children just have a difficult time regulating that.”
May said the cafeteria would otherwise be so loud it disrupts nearby classrooms in the 600-student school.
May said they school has tried different methods to control the noise level in the lunchroom, including putting red cones on tables the first 10 minutes of lunch to indicate quiet time or using red, yellow and green cups to show when a student can talk or whisper.
“The challenge with those things is that it’s pretty labor intensive,” she said.
May said parents have complained to her about the changes.
“We have a small handful of parents who have taken this on and feel very strongly about it,” she said. “I’ve heard some of their descriptions about how the children are feeling … I’m in that cafeteria every day and in this building. I look at the kids and they are happy.”
Rocky Mount parent Tonya Neilson said the administration was not upfront with parents about the new practice.
“If she had just come to the parents and not tried to hide it, they wouldn’t have been so upset,” said Neilson, whose son is a first-grader at Rocky Mount.
Neilson said the rule isn’t always enforced.
She said that when she went to lunch with her son, she saw children talking during “quiet time,” and while children were not punished when she was there, she has heard from other parents that on other days students were threatened with either walking the track or being put at the silent table.
“We want the rule that’s working to be the one that’s being enforced,” she said.
Neilson said she told Area Assistant Superintendent Ed Thayer about her concerns, but he told her that he “respected (May’s) authority and would not make any changes.”
However, Neilson said she left the meeting Thursday feeling she had been heard and appreciates May trying to communicate better with parents.
“I am not out to make Mrs. May’s life miserable,” she said. “I did speak and was heard during the meeting. I don’t know if everyone feels this way, but I did address the issue.”
Another parent who attended the Thursday meeting but asked not to be identified said she was concerned about the new rule because her fourth-grade daughter was coming home saying she didn’t like school anymore.
“We know that they are there for learning, but (my daughter) used to like lunchtime because she could talk to her friends without getting into trouble,” the mother said. “We should be encouraging our students to learn social skills.”
She said the meeting was hostile, with May “mocking parents, as if we don’t have our children’s best interests at heart.”
“(Children) should be allowed adequate social time, just like teachers are allowed to take a break, go to their lunchroom and socialize,” she said. “I am just very disappointed at the way it was rolled out.”
May said she did take suggestions from parents on how to resolve the issue but could not say when or if they would be implemented.