Parents worry of COVID-19 risks during indoor school lunches, when masks come off

Welcoming in-person public comments for the first time in 18 months, the Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday night heard from parents and unvaccinated elementary school students concerned about the COVID-19 risk of indoor lunches.

“I think that we should eat outside instead of eating inside because there’s better air outside, and it’s safer for everyone with their masks off, breathing in germs that people are breathing out when they are sick,” said Emily Lust, a student at Bells Mill Elementary School in Potomac, Maryland.

The school board released a “Fall Return to School” plan, which specifies that each elementary school is asked to develop lunch plans that use both indoor and outdoor spaces.

When eating indoors, school officials said that the maximum amount of indoor space, including hallways and libraries, will be used to give children room to spread out. There will be assigned seating by class to help with contact tracing in the event that a student tests positive for COVID-19.

Some parents told the board they want more robust plans for outdoor lunches, including the use of tents or canopies.

“What remains a concern is that plans for lunch do not include a universal option at all schools to eat outdoors, weather permitting,” parent Tara Floyd said.

School officials countered that outdoor lunches may not be practical at all elementary schools.

“Depending on their architecture or their landscape, or even how close they are to a highway or a road, outdoor may not be the answer,” said Jeanie Dawson, an official with Montgomery County Public Schools.

School starts on Monday, Aug. 30, with the school system set to welcome back 160,000 students for five days a week of in-person instruction at the county’s 209 schools.

Montgomery County Public Schools is also offering a blended virtual learning program for an estimated 2,300 students.

The school system has put in place cleaning protocols and guidance for quarantines when students and teachers are exposed to COVID-19.

Fully vaccinated staff and students won’t need to quarantine following an exposure unless they develop symptoms or test positive.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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