Under ordinary conditions, a school cafeteria can be an unhygienic place, a petri dish of bacteria just waiting to spread. Lunchroom connoisseurs will trade and bargain for Snack Packs, share chips or fries and split drinks with their friends.
Each day, hundreds of students, who may or may not have washed their hands, touch trays, counters, plates, utensils and sometimes one another before grabbing food, sitting at a communal table and inhaling their lunch amid a cacophony of babble and chatter.
This fall, with COVID-19 in mind, many Lawton students heading back to class can expect the traditional lunchroom culture to change. Most students will be eating in the classroom, but for those able to eat in the lunchroom, things will be cleaner, more orderly and, just like grocery stores and restaurants, socially distant.
Lawton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Hime said the district directed each school site to adopt a policy that governs how their students and staff will return to school for the 2020-2021 year, after administrators realized there is no “one plan fits all.”
Simplified, the LPS nutrition plan boils down to providing “grab and go” meals that students won’t necessarily eat in their school cafeterias. The issue is maintaining social distancing, Hime and his administrators said, explaining cafeterias are of limited size and may not accommodate enough students.
“How do you feed 1,400 students,” he said, of the district’s largest elementary school, adding the issue will be addressed differently at each site, depending on its size and student population.
For example, students at Cleveland Elementary will eat their prepackaged and delivered breakfast and lunch in their classrooms. Eisenhower High’s plan specifies students can eat lunch in the cafeteria or a commons area, with masks required as students stand in line to pick up food and when walking to and from tables. Breakfast will be available to all secondary students on carts — students will pick up their meals and eat them at the beginning of their second hour class.
For Pat Henry Elementary there will be no outside food, such as birthday cupcakes or snacks, brought into the building to share with classmates. The only exception would be for pre-k and kindergarten snacks, which must be pre-packaged and individually wrapped.
The most notable change for secondary students will be limits for diners who are accustomed to having a wider variety of meal choices. The emphasis will be on grab-and-go meals, but there will be some options such as limited salad bars.
Hime said the district’s nutrition officials are finalizing the details of providing meals to students who attend school virtually, saying this week that about half of virtual students want that option. While there will be some differences, the district can rely on the experience it gained over the spring and summer when providing “grab and go” meals to students at school sites and, later in the summer, at drop-off sites where meals were delivered by buses.
For smaller school districts, like Cache Public Schools, elementary students have large enough cafeteria facilities to allow eating in lunchrooms while maintaining social distancing.
“For the lower grades, we’ll stagger lunch times and eat in pods. It all will be grab and go,” Chad Hance, superintendent at Cache Public Schools, said, adding the prepackaged meals will be served in disposable containers that can be thrown away.
The district doesn’t have enough manpower to deliver hot meals to children sitting in their classrooms, he said, of the decision for lower grades.
For secondary grades, the district will provide a wider option for lunch settings, doing things such as setting out picnic tables so lunch can be eaten outside when the weather permits.
For specific nutrition policies, please check with your school.