PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Some Pinellas County parents are upset with a decision to push lunch to the end of the school day at 13 high schools.
The district argues it’s the best way to keep students socially distanced and minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Thirteen high schools have opted to move lunch to the end of the school day. Students will still get a mid-day break where they are able to buy $1 snack bags, which can be consumed in class or between periods. Yet, students will have to wait until after all of their class periods are over to get a full meal.
The change means some students will be able to choose to leave campus up to 30 minutes early.
These are the 13 schools taking part:
- Boca Ciega High School
- Clearwater High School
- Dixie Hollins High School
- Disston Academy
- East Lake High School
- Gibbs High School
- Lakewood High School
- Lealman Innovation Academy
- Osceola High School
- Pinellas Gulf Coast
- Pinellas Park High School
- St. Petersburg High School
- Tarpon Springs High School
As a mom of triplet teenagers, Lori Moser does not welcome the change.
“Teenagers are hungry. Even when my kids have their lunch break by the time they got home off the bus they were starving and that was with a full breakfast and lunch,” she explained.
That’s why she can’t imagine her kids waiting hours before they eat a proper meal. Two of her three teens attend the schools that will add an end of the day “grab and go” lunch period.
“It just really doesn’t make sense to me,” she said, with a sigh.
Lynn Geist, the Director of Food Services for Pinellas County Schools, says the change is necessary to avoid big crowds in cafeterias.
“This way we don’t have to deal with where do 1,000 students sit for lunch and stay socially distant?” she said.
Geist says it will be up to schools to decide where the $1 bags of snacks can be eaten such as in class or in the hallways. Students on free or reduced lunch will still have to pay the $1 charge.
The $1 snacks will be sold from mobile carts and will include a blueberry muffin and yogurt cup, peanut butter and sliced apples, a Pop-tart and yogurt cup, peanut butter and graham crackers and graham crackers and a yogurt cup.
Geist admits it isn’t a perfect option, but schools are having to come up with new ways to keep crowd size down.
“We do realize that’s a long time to go without something to eat,” she elaborated.
Geist says students will be encouraged to bring snacks from home.
Moser worries about the impact the change will have on mental focus and energy. Plus, she believes eating between classes will not be a logical alternative.
“They’re asking the kids now to eat in the hallway when they’re supposed to be wearing a mask so now you have hoards of kids with no masks and eating and I just can’t find the logic.”
Jennifer Griffith, another St. Petersburg parent agrees. “I think that that was a lazy solution," she added.
The idea isn’t new. Some Pinellas County high schools used to have an end of day lunch period to combat overcrowding.
St. Petersburg resident Laran Stover says that was the case when she attended St. Pete High School in 2005-2009.
“Overall the whole system worked really well and I never had any trouble. We had snack breaks and after school, they opened the cafeteria. I always had a chance to eat lunch before softball or volleyball practice,” she explained.
District leaders hope bringing back the concept will help slow the spread of COVID-19, but Geist says they will be flexible and may re-examine the idea after the beginning of the school year.
Geist also says the district is looking into options like extending the breakfast period back until after the first period.
Moser is asking the district to reconsider and suggests adding additional lunch periods to stagger students or moving lunch outside.
“People can go to a restaurant and remove their masks to eat. What’s the difference? There’s not a lot of common sense here,” she explained.
Moser also worries about how teachers will be able to fit in a lunch break.
Lunch will look mostly the same for elementary and middle school students, with the addition of more social distancing guidelines such as cafeteria staff wearing masks, face shields and gloves.
Plastic partitions will also be added to cafeterias and Pre-K students will eat lunch in their classrooms.
ABC Action News checked in with our other local districts and didn’t find any others opting for an end of the day lunch. Most tell us they’re planning to stagger lunch periods to keep crowds small or have kids eat in one of their assigned classrooms.