What will school lunch look like during COVID-19?

Scottsdale school officials break down changes

Posted 7/31/20

As logistics are addressed for Scottsdale classrooms to reopen in September, more details emerge as district officials navigate an unprecedented year unlike any other.

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What will school lunch look like during COVID-19?

Scottsdale school officials break down changes


As logistics are addressed for Scottsdale classrooms to reopen in September, more details emerge as district officials navigate an unprecedented year unlike any other.

From classrooms to cafeterias, with lots of unknowns looming for the 2020-21 school year --- one thing is for sure --- everything will be different.

The public school environment will have different classroom layouts resembling old times when all desks faced the front of the room; different class options of learning strictly online if opting out of in-person academics; different cafeteria food preparation/distribution including curbside service; and a different view of being considered “anti-social” as everyone must maintain at least six feet of social distance.

“There is so much that is unknown, and the COVID crisis brings with it so many challenges, but our department continues to hold to the expectation to do what is right and make sure our students get the nutritious meals they need and deserve. 

'Team Awesome’ is committed to meeting that expectation daily and takes that mission very seriously,” said Scottsdale Unified School District Nutrition Services Director Patti Bilbrey, detailing adjustments to the cafeteria setting.

Beyond lunch time, SUSD Building Services Director Dennis Roehler and his team have been busy preparing district schools for children to return to class in the wake of a global pandemic by adding floor decals, signage as well as hand-washing and sanitizing stations and staff personal protective equipment to the educational environmental. 

“Our staff has been refocused, away from some of their normal tasks, to ensure our best efforts are directed towards cleaning and sanitizing. As classified staff from other departments return to work, they will be temporarily assigned to perform other tasks, such as moving furniture, helping with the application of new signage throughout our campuses and painting arrows that will help direct students as they make their way around their campuses,” Mr. Roehler said.

Although Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey mandated for state schools to reopen on Aug. 17, SUSD board members agreed to begin school online Aug. 10 and extend its opening day to Sept. 8 for in-campus learning if no further public health disruptions dictated the tentative in-class start.

“Our teams are still working through setting up classrooms, and we won’t have a full count until the work is done. I can share with you that absolutely every classroom is just a little bit different,” Mr. Roehler said.

Considering available district resources, SUSD prepares to work within its approved upcoming school year’s budget that includes $174,110,723 for maintenance/operating expenses. If additional expenses are required, Mr. Roehler said the CARES Act funding is an option available to school districts.

“While we may see meal production costs at our end increase 20-25%, student meal prices will stay the same – they will not go up,” said Ms. Bilbrey, who adds that school cafeteria meal choices will be streamlined in order to speed up service.

Plus, additional cafeteria tables will be purchased for $85,000, which she said has not been a large added cost to the department as there’s already some convertible tables that can be split for one-way seating in cafes arranged to serve with proper distancing in mind.

“But, students can still expect the same great menu items they have enjoyed in years past, and some new options. Parents can expect the same great nutritional enhancements, Our commitment to cleaner labels is still very much alive, even with the added costs that COVID-19 brings to our program,” Ms. Bilbrey added.

Eating: Curbside or at school?

When SUSD fully opens its physical classrooms, curbside meals that ran March 16-June 30, will continue at participating sites for students enrolled at brick-and-mortar schools, Ms. Bilbrey said.

This includes servicing those in enhanced distance learning as “all campuses will have breakfast available at both curbside during Enhanced Distance Learning and in the cafeteria prior to school, daily, when our campuses reopen.”

As meals will still be served in cafeterias, she mentioned safety protocols in place including students socially distanced as they dine, wrapped/packaged food and utensils, reduced touch points such as PIN pads and vending machines, cafeteria staff wearing masks, face shields and gloves, along with sanitizing products for all surfaces.

“Many steps have been taken to social distance during student dining, including multiple dining areas with reduced seating in each area,” Ms. Bilbrey said, describing a cafe environment allowing students to still have casual conversation with peers around them while remaining safely, physically distanced.

“It may not be as large a social group at one given time, but there will be time for the light-hearted and fun, social engagement that our students need to help foster relationships with their fellow students, with safety measures in place,” she added.

Sanitizing serving lines, cashier stations and tables will be done before and after each meal service, and between each class, noted Ms. Bilbrey of her Nutrition Services crew, along with additional school staff, working in tandem to ensure sanitizing is maintained between classes.

“We are already equipped with the staff needed to provide the increased cafeteria sanitation that will be required, as this has always been a regular and important function of our team. We have also streamlined some meal options to make up for potential time crunches that are anticipated with social-distancing efforts,” she said.

A new classroom setup

Classrooms are undergoing rearranging --- like the layout of where the “teaching” wall is in relation to the teacher’s desk; how many tables, bookshelves, and storage cabinets are in each classroom; whether there are two doors in the classroom or not as part of a long list.

“The distancing between desks and their alignment is very important, as is the teacher’s ability to teach and circulate around the classroom at a safe distance. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. More than anything else, we must ensure that the students, when in the classroom, can safely exit it in the event of an emergency,” Mr. Roehler said.

“While COVID-19 has rudely taken over our lives, our Building Services Team is working feverishly to wrap up all of our summer projects and make our buildings ready for our teachers to return to teaching on Aug. 10.”

Recently, Mr. Roehler headed the Operations and Logistics subcommittee of SUSD’s Incident Command Team with various stakeholders from the community and the district.

Addressing health and safety concerns for students and teachers to return on campuses, the group initially discussed topics such as temperature checks, personal protective equipment, child nutrition services, and cleaning/sanitizing.

Recommended plans and protocol was drafted in the “Return to Learn” report presented to SUSD leaders at the beginning of July.

District protocols and procedures including personal protection, hygiene, enhanced facility cleaning/sanitation and more was outlined based on local, state and federal regulations on public health guidance, plus state education recommendations to resume in-school operations.

“As our team continued to meet, there was a growing frustration that social distancing stood in the way of a well-rounded, social, emotional, academic day. Recess was deemed a non-negotiable. Students need to run, play, and interact with their friends freely.

Students will need their recess as much as teachers need a chance to eat their lunch and have a restroom break,” Mr. Roehler stated to the Board earlier this summer, noting the “feasibility” and challenges of social distancing, sick student isolation, eating in classrooms, etc.