ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Many local schools districts have created their own reopening task forces to begin planning for how they will safely bring students back in the fall. One of the many areas that will need to be addressed is lunch time in cafeterias.
Superintendent of the Albany City School District Kaweeda Adams told NEWS10 ABC that, while it’s still too early to know what their capacity limits will be, they’re still exploring a variety of options on how to organize the cafeterias to allow for social distancing.
“Lunch time is absolutely a challenge. As you know, we usually have 200 kids in the cafeteria at once eating lunch, and so that is something that we have to look at,” said Adams.
In order to reduce the amount of students in the space, she said they may have to consider increasing the amount of lunch periods.
“In essence, you could start lunch as early as 10:30 in morning and then have lunch all the way through 1 or 1:30 in the afternoon. That’s a long period of time to run lunch, but if that’s what we need to do, then we’re going to have to look at those types of schedules,” said Adams.
They may also have to look at keeping kids in the classroom for lunch if their desks are already six feet apart. Dr. Oliver Robinson, Superintendent of Shenendehowa Central School District, said that option would also help avoid foot traffic in the hallways.
“A big part of this is how do we keep kids from transitioning as much as possible? It creates crowds in hallways and things of that nature,” said Dr. Robinson.
Superintendent of Mohonasen Central School District Shannon Shine told NEWS10 lunch in classrooms could create a contractual issue for some districts in terms of supervising students.
“For example at Mohonasen, at the elementary level, it’s very explicit that teachers do not supervise students for lunch. So if I want you to supervise students for lunch I’m going to have to pay you a fair bit. If you multiply that over every student, every day, it would be like hiring ten percent more teachers. There is no way I can afford to have students eat in the classrooms and it would be a miracle if the teachers union said ‘we’ll do that for free, no problem’. So that’s Mohonasen specific, but I’ve been in other districts where they don’t supervise without compensation,” said Shine.
He added that many teachers use that time for planning or to provide extra help for students who need it.
“So I can understand the teachers’ point of view if they choose not to do it. School days are hectic enough and it might disrupt good things they’re doing for kids. It might not be selfish, it might be incompatible,” said Shine.
Dr. Robinson also told NEWS10 that if it comes down to a hybrid scenario of in-person and remote learning, then funding food services would also have to be addressed.
“So that’s where a conversation with the state becomes important. Say we have to do food services differently — well would the federal reimbursement be different for schools? Those are the factors that I trust, and hope, the state considers as they establish guidelines and think about other policy regulations that need to change in order for schools to do this,” said Dr. Robinson.
Shine said it’s still too premature to be making any kind of definite decisions on how to reopen schools if we’re still waiting to see how the state’s reopening phases pan out. He said, so far, we’re not seeing any spikes when experts thought we would. He wants more concrete evidence as to how risky it would actually be to open schools almost normally because it appears that other countries are opening without incidents.
“I guess the fundamental question is, why can’t we open almost normally in the fall? That’s the fundamental question. It’s not a popular question right now, but we’re gathering empirical evidence every week, and eventually, people are going to start asking that question,” said Shine.