DALLAS -- Martin Rodriguez went to his son's elementary school for lunch yesterday, and learned the kids in the lunchroom were banned from talking for the entire week.
His son Sarid, a fourth grader at Leila P. Cowart Elementary in Oak Cliff, had been upset about it at home.
"My 10-year-old son started talking about them not being able to talk during their lunch period," Rodriguez said. "At first, I thought, ‘Oh, okay, he's exaggerating.’"
On Thursday, he decided to see for himself and went to the school to have lunch with his son. He walked in the lunchroom to find it eerily quiet.
"It literally looked like a prison scene," said Rodriguez. "You had three ladies, and they were just like, 'Hey! Be quiet!'"
Rodriguez took his cell phone out and shot a few seconds of video, which he shared with News 8. He understands that silent lunch is a tool some schools use a form of punishment for students' behavior, he said, but he was upset to learn that at his son's school, the silent lunch policy was in place for extended periods of time and over multiple days.
He said his son and other kids didn't even know the reason why they were on a silent lunch.
"My son explained to me that when they showed up on Monday for their lunch period, they were told that they were on silent lunch for the entire week," he said. "How can you take an entire group of kids in a lunchroom and tell them, ‘You cannot speak to your neighbor?’"
Angry, he approached the school's interim principal, who told him she was unaware that this was going on at the school. Rodriguez said Friday she called him to follow up, saying silent lunch should not have been used in this way.
A Dallas ISD representative said that the silent lunch policy at Cowart Elementary was put in place under a former principal. A new principal started officially at the school this week, and as soon as she found out about the extended silent lunch, she stopped it immediately and spoke to her staff.
While silent lunch may still be used at the school, it will not extend through lunches across multiple days.
"They need the time to talk, to laugh, to talk to their buddies, to their friends, that's how they build their relationships," Rodriguez said. "Take the time to go out there and visit your son's school and find out how they are being treated, and if they are being treated how you would want to be treated as a kid."