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Seven hours, no lunch: Some Pinellas County high schoolers won’t get lunch until school’s over

And what about teachers? When will they eat? The district is short on details.

Pinellas County high schoolers will have to wait until the end of the school day to eat a full lunch at 13 high schools.

The district allowed schools to opt-in to the end of day grab-and-go lunch. As of Wednesday morning, seven out of the district’s 16 high schools had chosen that option. By Thursday morning, six more opted-in, totaling 13 high schools participating in this program.

Pinellas County Schools PIO Isabel Mascareñas said the schools will make available at least one-snack break between classes with mobile carts operated by PCS Food & Nutrition staff set up throughout the school. 

The snack bags, which will sell for $1, will be available throughout the school day.

Students on free or reduced lunch won’t get that benefit with the snack option; they’ll still have to pay the $1 charge.

According to the district’s reopening plan example schedules, high school days start at 7:25 a.m. and end at 1:50 p.m. — meaning kids may not get a full meal for nearly seven hours. Though, the district wasn’t clear on whether end-of-day lunch schools would end 30 minutes earlier than others, which would put students without a meal for about six hours.

Adding concern, the snack items aren’t exactly filling. Bags will include things like a muffin and yogurt, peanut butter and apples, Pop-Tart and yogurt, peanut butter and graham crackers or graham crackers and yogurt. 

Mascareñas said students will purchase the snack bags in between classes, and that the district assumes students can eat between classrooms and/or in class. Mascareñas said that will be a school-based decision, as well as if students can bring their own snacks. Students only have 6 minutes between each class period and must be wearing masks at all times except when eating. 

The information provided leaves numerous unanswered questions. If students don’t have a dedicated time to eat their snack, will they be forced to scarf food down in between classes, time that should be spent retrieving items from lockers and getting, in some cases, from one end of campus to another? It also raises concerns about kids not wearing masks during class changes, evoking images that went viral out of Georgia wear high school students were crammed shoulder to shoulder in a hallway, most not wearing masks.

The district has also not yet answered Florida Politics’ inquiry about how teachers will be able to eat.

Without a dedicated mealtime, teachers would likely have only planning periods to have a meal or snack. Some teachers don’t have a planning period, an option for teachers looking for a little extra in their paychecks. Other teachers have planning periods at the beginning or end of the day, leaving little room to negotiate an entire workday without sustenance.

While kids might have the option to snack during class, teachers might find it difficult to munch on a sandwich while also trying to deliver the day’s lesson.

The plan builds on what is already a controversial issue as school reopening has splintered diverging groups, many along political party lines. Some definitely want brick and mortar schools to operate, and others think in-person learning should be put on hold until the COVID-19 pandemic is again under control.

Families did have the option to keep kids home and get lessons online through either MyPCS or Pinellas Virtual. Currently, 62,372 students are planning to attend traditional, brick-and-mortar schools — that’s 63.15% of the district. About 33.65%, or 33,238 students, will be starting the semester with the more hybrid learning option MyPCS Online. Only 3,151 students, 3.2%, are enrolled in Pinellas Virtual School. 

Information about the end-of-day lunch grab and go was not included in the district’s reopening plan, so parents were almost certainly unaware that in-person learning might not include an opportunity for their child to eat.

For students enrolled in MyPCS Online, the district is offering a weekly supply of breakfast and lunch via the school district meal distribution site, Mascareñas said. Breakfast will continue as a no charge meal for all, but lunch will require payment if the family does not qualify for free lunch. 

The location, day and time for meal pickup is still being determined. 

The school system will have more time to prepare for the start of the school year after the Pinellas County School Board unanimously voted about two weeks ago to delay the start of the school year two weeks, from Aug. 12 to Aug. 24. Teachers will now start Aug. 13. 

For elementary and middle schools, as well as high schools that did not opt-in for the end-of-day lunch schedule, lunch will remain virtually the same, except with the addition of safety guidelines, Mascareñas said. 

Lunch will be served through the existing serving lines and mobile carts will be used when feasible. Lunch breaks will remain at 30 minutes, Mascareñas said. 

New precautions include requiring food and nutrition staff to wear masks, face shields and gloves. Students will also be required to maintain social distancing standards, leaving six feet between them. 

Mascareñas said students who eat in the cafeteria will sit face to face separated by a see-through plastic partition set at each seat located six feet apart. Eating in classrooms is also an option. Students in Pre-K will eat lunch in their classrooms.

For breakfast, besides the cafeteria serving line, there will be mobile carts to help ease crowding and maintain social distancing, she said. 

Universal Free Breakfast will be offered “grab-and-go” style this year, and hot and cold entrée options will remain for breakfast and lunch. Schools will still provide after-school snack programs and after-school dinner programs for students who qualify with a grab-and-go option.

Schools opting for the end of day lunch include: 

— Boca Ciega High School

— Dixie Hollins High School

— Gibbs High School

— Lakewood High School 

— Lealman Innovation Academy

— Disston Academy 

— Pinellas Gulf Coast

New additions:

— Clearwater High School

— Osceola High School

— Pinellas Park High School

— St. Pete High School

— Tarpon High School

— East Lake High School

Written By

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at khayes15966@gmail.com.

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