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A menu of COVID-19 changes in cafeterias when schools reopen

School Updates

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Students who depend on their school for meals will be learning an entirely new set of rules that are expected to impact what and where they eat, and how their district can balance their food service budget.

Cafeteria trays will be replaced by so-called grab and go, pre-packaged breakfast and lunch, with meals often served in the classroom.

Districts that are allowing students to eat in their cafeterias are working on how to keep everyone six feet apart.

Newport has a variety of food service changes for students, with some eating in their classrooms and some in the cafeteria, depending on their grade.

Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain said what kids are eating is only part of the challenge.

“Just the travel to and from the cafeteria will be very different,” Burns Jermain said. “One-way hallways. Certain doors we enter, certain doors we exit.”

Sanitation will be an important element for obvious reasons, with some districts asking students to bring disinfectant wipes to school to clean their desks after they eat.

There’s also a financial factor, according to a number of superintendents.

With pre-packaged meals, there will be fewer, and in some cases no opportunity for students to buy ala cart items.

Coventry Superintendent Craig Levis emphasizes keeping teachers and students safe is the main goal, but he said those snacks and side dishes add up in a food service budget.

“I think your expenses will be down to some degree, but I think your revenues will be down,” Levis said.

Food service is a financial wildcard, similar to bussing and janitorial services, according to Levis.

“We could always find a way to make it work in the past,” Levis said. “Now, there are a number of items that could be game changers.”

Burns Jermain believes it will take time for students and staff to adjust to the new food service protocols, or any of the other changes that will be in place when school resumes.

“As a former teacher, it’s usually 30 days,” Burns Jermain said. “It takes consistency and continuous practice.”

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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