Classes and extracurriculars won’t be the only things different when school resumes during the coronavirus pandemic.
“During a normal lunch, kids are right beside each other. They’re on top of each other. They’re talking. They’re playing. They’re laughing,” said Craig Hatfield, Senior Director of Business Operations for Lakota Local School District.
But not this year. As school districts plan to safely get kids back in the classroom, one of the more challenging pieces to that puzzle is lunch time.
“We can’t have kids self-serve, which we’re used to doing,” said Lynn Gilkey, Child Nutrition Assistant Director for Lakota Schools. “They can self-serve as long as items are pre-wrapped. So that kind of changes our whole mode of operation.”
“That’s where it becomes a stringent, detailed event working with so many different dynamics,” Hatfield said.
Lakota has 23 buildings adjusting to new lunch policies this year. The district is limiting cafeteria capacity to 50% and using classrooms or gymnasiums for overflow space. It is distancing students and will mark tables to keep seats spaced out.
And children will use hand-sanitizing stations before staff serves them food.
No more self-serve stations.
“Trying to make the best practical sense to make sure our kids are safe and healthy when they do return to school,” Hatfield said.
Lakota worked closely with the Butler County General Health District for all of its back-to-school plans. The district wanted to get input and approval from public health experts before welcoming kids back inside.
“We’ll be working with the custodians on a regular basis and we’ll be sanitizing all cafeteria touch points and tables between each line,” Gilkey said.
Other area districts are following similar policies. Some are assigning seats at lunch. Cincinnati Public Schools plans to serve lunch in classrooms as part of its blended model to avoid large gatherings.
Lakota says it is ready for kids to come back, but it knows the real challenge is putting these plans into action.
“It’s been a win-win,” said Hatfield. “However, we haven’t had our first day of school yet.”
The Lakota board voted Friday night to postpone school for two days until Aug. 17.