Coronavirus Impact: What will school lunch look like in the fall for Bay Area students?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As summer marches on, school districts across the Bay Area are scrambling to figure out what school will look like for the fall. One big consideration is what one of the messiest and germiest parts of the school day will look like: lunch.

When State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond released California's 62-page guide for the "Safe Reopening of California's Public Schools" earlier this month, little guidance was provided for how school lunch would be provided to students.

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One thing is for sure: whatever lunch time looks like in the fall will be very different from the last meal students had inside a cafeteria.

"Little kids going through a lunch line (touching things)... that's not going to work next year," said Keith Cosbey, co-founder of Danville-based Choicelunch.

Choicelunch is a school lunch program founded in 2003. Last school year the program served more than 300 public, private, and charter schools across the Bay Area and in Southern California.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program would allow students and parents to log onto a website or mobile app to choose from one of 16 entrees ahead of time, then students would select side dishes and beverages from a buffet during lunch time.

To cut down on contact, the business has now reimagined its services.

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"Now, you can think it's gonna be a virtual buffet," Cosbey said. "So the family can choose from the salad, the sushi, the sandwiches, the hot items. Then Choicelunch is going to pre-bag those individual side options and customize that lunch for that child."

The lunch would be labeled by name and individually packaged. Meals would then be delivered to the school and be distributed to students at the lunch time, likely eating at their desks to maintain social distance.

Guidance released by the state mentions schools should have measures in place to limit physical interaction, eliminated self-service buffets or condiment stations, install sneeze guards or other barriers at the point of sale, and plan for cleaning and trash removal if students are eating in classrooms.

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Cosbey said their new approach allows them to be prepared for just about any scenario.

"Even if our clients start as a hybrid model, they might be distance learning by November if there's another outbreak. And then they could very well be five day, full day by March. So we built something to be flexible," he said.

Given the recent spike in coronavirus cases across the state, school systems are reluctant to announce fall plans.

Los Angeles Schools Supt. Austin Beutner said, "State and local health authorities should be responsible for this. This shouldn't be an optional part of the puzzle," the LA Times Reports.

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"Until recently, our state managed to do so well that our experience has been dubbed The California Miracle," said Dr. Bob Wachter. "But let's say it clearly: The Miracle is over."

This means school systems are also reluctant about releasing plans for what lunch time might look like.

Cosbey said he's fielded a number of calls in recent days from prospective schools looking for a safe and sanitary solution for feeding their students.

"I'm expecting to see an increase in the amount of calls from other counties as they announce final guidance for the school year," he said.

OUSD released the following statement: "The details of the plan are still being worked out, as are our plans for reopening school. But it could involve eating in class, possibly eating outdoors, and possibly a modified use of the cafeteria. In all probability, our grab and go service will continue."

SFUSD released the following statement: While SFUSD continues to plan for what fall learning will look like when the school year begins August 17, we know that our grab & go meal sites will continue into the 2020-21 school year.

SJUSD said, "At this time we are still in the working stage of finalizing plans and don't have anything definite to pass on to you at this moment."

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