POST FALLS, Idaho — Five minutes of no light, no conversations, and a focus solely on eating lunch. It’s a unique policy at a Post Falls elementary school that’s being examined by at least one local parent.
The parent contacted KREM after recently learning of the policy that has been in place for a couple of years at Mullan Trail Elementary. The parent, however, said she had only recently learned of the policy.
The parent, who has a 5th grade student at the school, asked to not be named out of fear that her child may be harassed by fellow students at school regarding an interview.
Dubbed “nutritional minutes” by Mullan Trail, the first five minutes of lunch consist of the cafeteria’s lights being turned off. Students are expected to remain quiet and staff members, according to the parent, walk by the lunch tables to ensure that children are eating their meals.
After five minutes have passed, the lights turn back on and lunch continues as normal.
"Before the kids went through the hot lunch line, the lights went out. And so it was dark,” the parent said. "I've never been to prison. But it was something what I'd call out of a prison movie."
The parent said she discussed the policy with Mullan Trail staff and was told that the policy had been in place for a couple of years. She expressed concern that the policy was abnormal and may make some students feel uncomfortable.
"I believe they should be able to talk and they should be able to eat with the lights on and have a normal lunch period,” the parent said.
To that, the Post Falls school district responded by saying that one of its responsibilities was to ensure that nutrition was a priority for all students.
"We'll certainly err on the side of making sure kids eat. No matter what it takes, within reason," said superintendent Jerry Keane.
Keane added that trying to get elementary school-aged children to focus on eating lunch can be a challenge at times. Often, some excited students will prioritize chatting with friends over eating. That can often result in thrown away lunches and students prematurely heading out to recess.
"I've been in that cafeteria when the lights are out. It's 11am, and even in the winter there's lots of exterior light. There's no hazard to anybody,” Keane said.
When asked if any other Post Falls schools have a similar “lights out” lunch policy, Keane said that each school had a different set of lunch protocols. No schools in the Coeur d’Alene School District have a “lights out” policy, according to a district spokesman there.
Keane said that after the parent in question contacted the district, staff added some additional lights to part of the cafeteria room during the “lights out” portion of lunch. He also said that the policy had prior approval from Mullan Trail’s parent-teacher organization.
"I think that if kids are hungry, they're going to eat,” said the parent. “I don't think turning down the lights and walking around like prison guards and making it silent is helping that."