Public schools are facing many challenges opening back up in a safe manner. An obstacle many people are wondering about is how schools are managing to safely implement school lunch, a period where there is difficulty not only staying distant from others, but more obviously, a period where your mask must be taken off to eat.
Bellwood-Antis has faced many challenges when attempting to have successful lunch periods in three different buildings. The administration, along with the Food Service Group, have implemented several changes in the time, structure, and physical setting for school lunch.
When asked about obstacles the high school faced, high school Principal Richard Schrier stated, “Distancing in a small school with all students present every day is very difficul. We really struggle with time schedules at BA; so that variable was fixed.”
Like other classes, lunch periods have staggered entry and dismissal, allowing students to arrive and exit in smaller groups. Some students who buy school lunch have stated their concerns with not having enough time to eat.
High school senior Joseph Dorminy said that he now packs his lunch due to the lunch line taking much longer to get through compared to past years. This is likely due to the fact that temperature checks are now required at lunch. A plastic wall separating students and cafeteria workers was also added in the serving area, which not only impairs hearing, but also traps heat, making it hot for cafeteria workers.
The high school has decided to hold lunch in the cafeteria, media center, and, if required to meet social distancing guidelines, the hallway, while the middle school is holding lunch in the cafeteria and gym. Middle school principal Dr. Donald Wagner explained that having lunch in the gym has caused issues for physical education.
“The weather has been nice, so we can go outside. When it gets colder, we’ll have to be creative for physical education lessons without the use of the gym,” he said. Each student has a seat assigned to them.
Mr. Schrier said the high school has been juggling CTC hybrid schedules to determine student numbers, making seating charts, and adjusting time to eat with staggered arrival and lunch time. “I know seating arrangements and socialization are important to kids, so I am proud of the reaction students have had to being assigned seats and being in different areas,” he said.
The ease of spread of COVID-19 has made disinfecting crucial. The cafeteria staff explained that before and after each lunch period they use sanitizing tablets to clean the tables and chairs. There are also 6-foot markers placed on the floor to separate students in the lunch line.
Not only have changes been made at Bellwood-Antis Middle and High School, but also Myers Elementary. Myers has decided to make use of the cafeteria, gymnasium, and stage to seat it’s students. There was also a need to eliminate students facing each other.
When asked about the success of current safety measures, Principal Matthew Stinson stated, “We feel that everything is working well. Students have maintained the appropriate distance and have been forward-facing during their lunch period. (Lunch) also serves as a mask break, so it is essential that the students follow the new protocols.”
COVID-19 cases are rising in Blair County, which means it is very necessary to take safety protocols. Lunch safety measures may change in the future. Mr. Stinson explained, “This is not the ideal seating arrangement for any age level. Students need their lunch time to socialize and relax. I look forward to utilizing our normal lunch layout as soon as we can.”