Every teacher is entitled to a duty-free lunch. Except for a few minor changes made in 1995, the statutes have essentially remained the same since enactment. Note: A District of Innovation may opt out of this law.
Texas Education Code, Sec. 21.405
By law, each classroom teacher and full-time librarian gets at least a 30-minute lunch period “free from all duties and responsibilities connected with the instruction and supervision of students.”
According to a 1986 Texas attorney general opinion, the term “duty” would include a directive that teachers remain on campus during lunch, because it would relate to student instruction or supervision. Districts cannot require teachers to stay on campus during their 30-minute lunch even if the campus is “closed” for students. This restriction applies in a COVID-19 world as well.
The law provides exceptions (personnel shortages, extreme economic conditions or unavoidable/unforeseen circumstances) that give districts the right to require teachers to supervise lunches, but not more than one time per week.
The rules adopted by the commissioner of education set the bar very high before these exceptions apply. Scheduling problems, and state mandated testing, do not create unforeseen circumstances. They exist when an epidemic, illness or natural or man-made disaster leaves no one available to do the duty.
An extreme economic condition exists when hiring a person to supervise lunch would cause the district to raise taxes to the extent that the district might face a tax roll-back election. A personnel shortage exists only after all available nonteaching personnel have been assigned to the duty and the district has diligently recruited community volunteers to help.
Even with all of these circumstances, a district would still have to attempt to utilize administrator and community volunteers prior to asking teachers to supervise students one day a week.
There is no exception in the law that allows a district to require a teacher to eat lunch with students on standardized testing days.