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At R.I. school, silence tops the lunch menu

WARWICK, R.I. -- Chapel isn't the only place silence is expected at one Rhode Island Catholic school.

The St. Rose of Lima School instituted new rules this week that require students to remain silent during lunch. The move followed three recent choking incidents in the school cafeteria.

All three students are fine, but the 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 listed 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 the silence rule is 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.

Lori Healey, a fourth grade teacher whose son is a third-grader at the school, said silent lunch means that students can whisper. It's a safety measure, she said, and it means they are 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-grader 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 two teachers who performed the Heimlich maneuver on choking students.

Fuller did not immediately return a call seeking comment. 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.

Kara Casali, who has a 6-year-old son at the school, said she understands motive. But she thinks the rule will be tough to enforce. "I can't imagine having a silent lunch," she said.

The St. Rose School website is saintroseschool.com.

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