Forks Township, Pennsylvania mother Joanne Kostas-Papric believes the “militant-style seating arrangement” in the cafeteria at Shawnee Elementary School means students “are being robbed of their opportunity to develop their social skills at a time when it’s most crucial.”
Kostas-Papric told the Easton Area School Board in late November that she was “appalled” to discover earlier this year that principal Josephine Galloway requires all students to face the same direction during lunch, with children on just one side of each table, Lehigh Valley Live reports.
Galloway said the arrangement is reportedly designed to make it easier for lunchroom monitors to observe students and prevent them from choking on their food, though Galloway did not return messages from the news site to explain the rationale.
“It’s a militant-style seating arrangement,” said Kostas-Papric, who presented the board with 700 signatures from area residents in opposition – half collected online and half in person. “It’s unnecessary.”
District officials are backing Galloway.
Superintendent John Reinhart alleged the issue is about safety, and refused calls to step in.
“I have a building principal who tells me she has reasons for wanting to see that followed,” Reinhart said. “I don’t want to overrule her and then find out later that there was some sort of emergency or some tragic set of circumstances.”
Tracy Piazza, the district’s director of elementary teaching and learning, told Lehigh Valley Live Galloway adopted the lunchroom seating arrangement after observing children eating at different schools. Three other district schools used to use a similar system, but have since abandoned the practice, Piazza said.
“Mrs. Galloway is not taking this lightly,” Piazza said. “There have been hours and hours of conversations about this.”
The school board ultimately backed administrators and encouraged parents to work to come to a compromise with Galloway, something Kostas-Papric and other parents believe isn’t possible.
“She is not budging on the issue at all,” parent Julie Cassidy said.
“The administration is not doing what is best and right for our children,” Kostas-Papric said. “It all seemed like they were tip-toeing around the issue and that’s not what I want or expect when I vote to elect these individuals.”
Kostas-Papric, who has three children in elementary school at Shawnee this year, said when she first raised the issue last year that any benefits from the seating arrangement are outweighed by the social isolation, and she’s concerned it’s sending students mixed signals.
“What message are we sending our children when at home many of us gather around the table or in our living rooms facing and conversing with each other face to face while at school they’re being taught to eat differently?” she asked Lehigh Valley Live.