School meal times will be even more different than normal when Wake County students return next week for in-person classes.
The Wake County school system will use stricter new guidelines on social distancing at all schools during meal times and will require high school students to stay on campus for lunch. The changes come after a COVID-19 outbreak at a school during lunch time and scientific advice on how to try to keep students and staff safe.
“This is guidance that we’ll continue to look at to make sure that we’re keeping up with both what the scientists are recommending and what DHHS and CDC is recommending,” Paul Koh, assistant superintendent for student support services, told the school board last week.
“It’s an ever evolving situation, but we’re going to do our best to make sure we support our schools to make sure that we’re keeping kids safe and minimizing the time when they have masks removed for eating and drinking.”
Wake students will begin returning for in-person instruction the week of Feb. 15. The district suspended in-person learning for all of January and the first half of February when coronavirus cases spiked.
Masks off during school lunches
Breakfast and lunch pose health concerns for spreading COVID-19 because they’re among the few times in the school day when students and school employees are allowed to remove their face masks.
Numerous changes were made this school year, such as some schools having students eat in their classroom instead of the cafeteria. Students were told not to talk while they’re eating and to all sit facing in the same direction with some social distancing.
Even with the steps, the district traced a coronavirus cluster at Lynn Road Elementary School in Raleigh in December to meal service..
Superintendent Cathy Moore told the school board that the case at Lynn Road would lead to a review of safety practices.
But Lisa Luten, a district spokeswoman, said Friday the latest updates weren’t made because of an individual incident. Rather, she said they were made because of information from the ABC Science Collaborative and from the district’s own contact tracing.
The ABC Science Collaborative was formed by Duke University to advise school districts on how to deal with the pandemic. Both Gov. Roy Cooper and state lawmakers have cited the ABC Science Collaborative’s research to urge the state’s school districts to offer in-person instruction this school year.
6 feet of social distancing required
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services only requires 6 feet of social distancing between people in cafeterias in middle schools and high schools, which are operating on what’s called Plan B.
The new Wake guidance extends that requirement of 6 feet of social distancing at meal times to elementary schools. Elementary schools are allowed to operate on Plan A, where only minimal social distancing is required.
Wake’s guidelines include:
▪ Schools must ensure that students have enough space to maintain at least 6 foot social distance while eating, even when operating under Plan A, since face coverings will be removed.
▪ All employees and students must be socially distanced at least 6 feet from others when removing their face covering to eat or drink..
▪ Individuals should not walk or stand within 6 feet of anyone who has their face covering removed.
▪ All individuals should leave their face coverings on until everyone in their area is seated with food packages open and ready to eat. Then everyone should remove their face coverings at the same time. Individuals should replace their face coverings as soon as they are done eating.
▪ Employees should not eat together in the same space, since face coverings will be removed.
“There’s a lot more work that our principals will have to do to meet these guidelines that are more explicit around when kids should take their masks off to begin eating, how kids should be spaced out,” Koh told the board. “It changes a whole lot of things for schools that they’ve been used to. “
Koh said it’s more realistic to implement these new guidelines because most students won’t be attending daily in-person classes. Instead, they’ll operate on rotations that reduce how many people are on campus by having students alternate between one week of in-person classes and two weeks of online classes.
Off-campus lunch out for high schools
This month will mark the first time since mid-March that Wake high school students have had in-person classes. But most upperclassmen won’t get the traditional perk of eating lunch off campus.
“If off-campus lunch was permitted, students would require an additional health screening once they returned,” Luten said in an email. “This additional screening could cause some students to be tardy to their next class.
“In addition, the practice of leaving campus for lunch has the potential for an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
Wake’s updated guidelines allow for exceptions such as if a student has to go off campus to go to another school or if the school determines they can’t accommodate everyone on campus for lunch.
Wake says it will also work with one or two high schools to pilot an off-campus lunch program this quarter.
The guidelines say that Wake will return to its normal policy of allowing students to leave campus for lunch if high schools move to Plan A.
— to www.newsobserver.com