Campus principals must consider statutory limitations before assigning teachers and librarians to lunch duty.
Lunchtimes on campus can be hectic and short-staffed. Although it may be difficult to ensure adequate supervision of students during lunch periods, administrators need to be mindful of their staff’s entitlement to both a duty-free lunch and planning periods that are free of student supervision requirements.
Texas Education Code (TEC) Section 21.405(a) entitles teachers and librarians to at least a 30-minute lunch period free from all duties and responsibilities connected with the instruction and supervision of students. A school district may require a classroom teacher or librarian to supervise students during lunch due to a personnel shortage, extreme economic conditions, or an unavoidable or unforeseen circumstance. However, this assignment must be limited to one day in any school week. See Title 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §153.1001 for guidelines to determine what constitutes a personnel shortage, extreme economic conditions, or an unavoidable or unforeseen circumstance.
In addition to a duty-free lunch, teachers are also entitled to 450 minutes in each two-week period for planning and preparation in blocks of not less than 45 minutes. See past HRX articles Are Teacher Planning Periods Untouchable? and Assigning Extra Classes during Planning Periods for more guidance on teacher planning periods.
Campus administrators should also be aware of what activities are allowed by staff during the duty-free lunch time. According to an Attorney General opinion, JM-481 (1986), a district may not require a teacher to remain on campus during their duty-free lunch break.
Entitlement to a lunch break only applies to teachers and librarians. However, for nonexempt employees, bona fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) generally need not be compensated as work time. A nonexempt employee must be completely relieved from duty during the 30 minutes for the time to be unpaid. If assigned to supervise students during the lunch period, the employee must be compensated.
A district can prohibit a nonexempt employee from leaving district premises during a break or bona fide meal period. 29 C.F.R. §785.19(b).
HR administrators should communicate the entitlement to a duty-free lunch to all supervisors to ensure compliance.
Zach Hobbs is an assistant director at TASB HR Services. Send Zach an email at email@example.com.
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