Duty-Free Lunch

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All classroom teachers and full-time librarians in Texas have a right to a 30-minute, duty-free lunch period.

The Basics of Your Duty-Free Lunch

Each classroom teacher or full-time librarian is entitled to (at least) a 30-minute lunch period free from all duties and responsibilities connected with student instruction or supervision.

That said, there are emergency circumstances in which a district can override this right. If the district deems it necessary — because of a personnel shortage, extreme economic conditions, or unavoidable or unforeseen circumstances — and in accordance with commissioner rules, it can require a classroom teacher or librarian to supervise students during lunch. Even in those circumstances, however, the district cannot require a teacher or librarian to do so for more than one day in any school week.

Exceptions to the Duty-Free Lunch Requirement

“Exceptional circumstances” cited by the district, must fall within one of these categories:

  • Personnel shortage: Despite reasonable efforts to use non-teaching personnel or the assistance of community volunteers to supervise students during lunch, no other personnel are available.
  • Extreme economic conditions: The district can override your right if the percentage of a local tax increase — including the cost of implementing duty-free lunch requirements — would risk a potential tax rollback election.
  • Unavoidable or unforeseen circumstances: Because of illness, epidemic, or natural or man-made disaster, the district is unable to find individuals to supervise students during lunch. 

Note: Staffing shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic may be used by your district as “exceptional circumstances.” For more information on your rights in this pandemic, check out our COVID-19 Resources.  

One-Time vs. Repeat Violations

We all want to be team players, but unwarranted and repeated violations of your right to a duty-free lunch aren’t acceptable.

Given the exceptions to the law outlined above, you may need to be flexible when deciding to raise a red flag about your duty-free lunch. A one-time violation, while problematic, may not be worth fighting. In the past, the commissioner of education has denied appeals for one-time violations of duty-free lunch reported to the Texas Education Agency.

Repeat offenses are what to watch for. Accordingly, here are some things to remember about your rights:

  • Walking students to the cafeteria or collecting them after lunch does not count as part of your duty-free period. By law, you are entitled to a full 30 minutes without any instructional or supervisory duties.
  • Likewise, nothing in the law allows districts to use your duty-free lunch to supervise students if other staff are needed to administer testing (e.g., STAAR). Districts are aware of testing schedules and should staff them appropriately without trampling on your right to a break — barring “unavoidable or unforeseen circumstances.”
  • According to a decades-old opinion from the Texas attorney general’s office, districts cannot force you to stay on campus during your lunch, even if your school has “closed-campus” lunch periods.

Legal Information

Questions?

If you have questions or concerns, please contact your local union. If you’re a member of the Associate Membership Program, please contact the AMP service department.   

Have a question about your rights? Contact a union expert about policies by downloading the Ask Texas AFT app for free.