WARWICK, R.I. — The chapel isn't the only place where silence is expected at one Rhode Island Catholic school.
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The St. Rose of Lima School instituted new lunch rules this week that require students to remain silent during lunch. The move comes after three recent choking incidents in the school cafeteria.
All three students are fine, but school Principal Jeannine Fuller said in a letter to parents: "If the lunch room is loud we cannot hear if a child is choking."
The letter laid out a laundry list of new lunchtime rules, including "All students must remain silent," "No child out of their seat," and "One trip to the trash can." Any child who breaks the rules will be put in lunch detention the following day, Fuller's letter said.
Christine Lamoureux, whose 12-year-old is a sixth-grader at the school, said she respects the safety issue, but thinks it's a bad idea.
"I don't think that they should have silent lunch. They are silent all day," she said. "They have to get some type of release."
She said students should be allowed to have quiet conversation while eating.
But mother Thina Paone doesn't mind the silent lunches.
"It can be very crazy (in the cafeteria)," said Paone, 33, who picked up her son Joey, 6, at the suburban school south of Providence on Thursday afternoon.
She said her son understands the policy and hasn't had trouble obeying the new rules.
"Whenever the teacher explains something to him he takes it seriously," she said.
Lori Healey, a fourth-grade teacher whose son is a third-grader at the school, said "silent lunch" means students can whisper. It's a safety measure, she said, and it means they're not choking on their food.
"They know it's not for punishment," she said, "It's for safety, and they'll be the first ones to tell you."
Stacey Wildenhain, 40, a teacher's assistant at the school, said her 7-year-old second-grade son thinks the policy is no big deal. She said he told her that: "The sooner we eat, the sooner we can get out to play."
Wildenhain said she wishes more attention were paid to the two teachers who performed the Heimlich maneuver on choking students.
Fuller did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but Michael Guilfoyle, spokesman for the Diocese of Providence, described the silence rule as a temporary safety measure at the school, which has more than 200 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
He said the school doesn't expect complete silence but enough quiet to keep students safe.
Still, first-grader Joey said the school expected him to be quiet during his 20-minute lunch. And while he said he's OK with the changes, some of his classmates were having trouble obeying the rules.
Amanda Karhuse, of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, a group for middle-level and high school principals, said students shouldn't be running wild during lunch, but they also shouldn't have to be silent.
"It seems kind of ridiculous in our opinion," she said. "Kids need that social time, and they just need time to be kids at that age."
Kara Casali, who has a 6-year-old son at the school, said she got the letter this week, and understands the school's motive. But she thinks it will be tough to enforce.
"I can't imagine having a silent lunch," she said.
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