Required 30-minute lunch break for CT teachers would end under proposal

Photo of Jordan Nathaniel Fenster

A bill has been proposed to eliminate mandated 30-minute lunch periods for teachers, the legislator behind it arguing those mandated lunch periods take away from classroom time for students.

The mandate for 30-minute uninterrupted responsibility-free lunch periods was added as an amendment last year to the bill implementing the state budget. 

Now Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R-Tolland, has introduced a bill to wipe that mandate away, arguing the manner in which the mandate was approved bypassed public scrutiny and normal contract negotiations.

“This language was never proposed in a piece of legislation and it did not get a public hearing, and it was never heard in the Education Committee,” she said. “I have absolutely no problem with teachers getting a 30-minute lunch.”

Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association which represents many Connecticut teachers, said she was “confused” by the proposal. 

“To basically suggest that educators shouldn't be entitled to that is an interesting approach and confusing to me,” she said. 

Dias said the proposal was not some “super-secret thing,” that CEA was vocal about it last year, and should not have come as a surprise.

“We had been lobbying for this. It was not a secret. We published our agenda in January,” she said. “We handed it out to literally everybody under the sun.”

“Certainly our agenda was very transparent and very clear,” she said.

Nuccio said she had heard from school superintendents in districts where teachers were given 24- or 26-minute lunch breaks, and had difficulty altering schedules to accommodate the change.

Nuccio said she was told “how it was resulting in learning loss because that's more time that kids were not in the classroom, and that they couldn't just adjust the schedules because of the union contracts.”

But Dias argued that other workers in Connecticut are guaranteed a 30-minute lunch period, “which I think everybody kind of agrees is a basic kind aspect of being able to work.” A separate proposal has been submitted that would extend the required lunch period for students from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.

“We had teachers getting 17-minute lunches,” she said. Though she acknowledged that some superintendents said there was a loss of instructional time, “My honest response is, if we can't build a system that respects the workers in it, we probably have a bad system.”

Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Public School Superintendents, also said she objected to the way in which the mandate was passed, saying she “never objected to the 30-minute lunch for teachers.” 

“I believe teachers need a 30-minute lunch,” she said. “I objected to the way it was done. In the last legislative session, there wasn't enough time and it was put in an implementer bill. So I was concerned about the process, not the actual content of the 30 minute lunch.”

Though it did cause some scheduling issues, Rabinowitz said “from what I understand now, those have all been resolved.”

“It was a scheduling nightmare to be taken care of within just a couple of months,” she said. “I think there were about 40 districts that were affected, maybe they had 28 minutes or 26 minutes. Those districts seem now to have resolved and no superintendent has come to me and asked that the 30-minute lunch be revoked.”

When asked if her organization was in support of Nuccio’s proposal, Rabinowitz said, “I certainly know that we will not be testifying in favor of that.”

Nuccio acknowledged that the proposal is something a potential political rival might seize upon when she is up for reelection. “I expect this to come back in two years,” she said. “It pains me that we're talking about teachers’ lunch break.”

But, she said, “The point of government is everybody gets to opine, everybody gets to say, ‘I have a problem with this’ or, ‘I support this.’”