School lunch served with side order of chaos

It’s not the kind of picnic scene most parents imagine.

Picture it: A 6-year-old’s jacket spread on the floor of the boys’ bathroom in a school basement. Lunch containers, abandoned crusts and blobs of ketchup are scattered around. Rambunctious classmates spray water at each other, while a handful of others race around the hallway. No adult is in sight.

“It was scary to see,” says John Ledbrook, who dropped by Regal Road Public School in Toronto recently and discovered his son Sebastien lunching in the unappetizing — not to mention unhygienic — surroundings.

But at least it was quieter than the crammed lunchroom of about 100 kids and one supervisor, which his dad describes as “a total zoo.”

A few days later, Ledbrook and his wife got an email from the Grade 1 teacher reporting that their son and a buddy hadn’t shown up for class after lunch. They arrived almost half an hour late, whereabouts unknown.

Lunch hour these days features more than ham sandwiches and cheese strings at many Toronto schools. It often comes with high decibel counts, kids too hyped up to eat, and lunch supervisors stretched to the max both in the lunchroom and outside on the playground.

“It’s a Lord of the Flies kind of situation,” says Susan Bendror, whose son Henry was the classmate who went AWOL with Sebastien earlier this month.

The province provides funds to hire lunch supervisors, but doesn’t set rules or required ratios for supervision. Those guidelines are left to cash-strapped local boards, who rely on principals to determine their specific needs based on school populations and facilities.