MISHAWAKA, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has received photographs from concerned parents of middle school students showing what they say are children forced to stare at block walls and eat lunch in the hallway at Penn Harris Madison’s Schmucker Middle School for COVID-19 mitigation.
In one photograph, you can see tables lined up along the walls in the hallway of the school with children spread away from each other facing a concrete block wall.
“I cannot verify that this picture is in fact Schmucker Middle School and that the students pictured are in fact Schmucker Middle School students. What I can confirm is that due to students needing to eat at the recommended distance of 6 feet apart (because their masks are off while eating).” School Spokesperson, Lucha Ramey, told RNM in a statement.
Ramey sent RNM a long statement explaining students at Schmucker Middle School have been forced to eat in the hallway due to COVID-19 protocols and the layout of the physical building. That statement can be seen below.
“There is not enough space in some of our school cafeteria areas to accommodate all students when trying to space them at least 6 feet apart. As an example, Schmucker’s student population is approximately 1,000 students. Schmucker has three lunches, with approximately 340 students in each 30 min. lunch period. The seating capacity in the cafeteria area is 350. Spacing students out in a room that is near capacity during a normal year means they will not all fit under our current circumstances. Schmucker was built in 1968, obviously before the pandemic. The only other large area in Schmucker for example is the gym, which is on the lower level away from the kitchen prep area, and is in use throughout the day for P.E. classes.
Because of factors like these, eating spaces at some of our schools have had to expand into other areas of the schools trying to keep them somewhat near the kitchen. This includes the use of hallways and common spaces, similar to what you see in the picture that you shared with me. It obviously is not an ideal setup, but our schools have had to do things out of the norm to accommodate and follow COVID-19 health safety protocols to the best of their ability. Expanding the seating space during mealtimes is one of the many mitigation strategies implemented in our schools because of COVID-19 health safety protocols.
The reason why we do what we can to space students as much as possible during meals–all the way up to 6 feet if we can–is because while it’s not optimal, it does mean that if they are identified as a close contact during a meal time when their masks are off, they will not have to quarantine. So ultimately, we are doing what we can to keep kids in school because in-person teaching and learning is the most beneficial for our students and their academic success. In light of the learning loss that students have experienced since March 2020 due to the pandemic, our principals, teachers and all school and district staff are focused on helping our students recover academically. Keeping them in school and learning is our goal.
Last year even when our middle school buildings were not at full capacity due to students being out of the building on hybrid and/or virtual schedules, the practice of expanding the eating spaces was also utilized as a mitigation tactic. Now that 100% of our students are back for in-person learning, we have even less space to work with and spread out.”
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