Social distancing in cafeterias could be 'impossible,' District 128 superintendent says

  • Classes at Libertyville High School are scheduled to start Aug. 12, but officials haven't yet decided if they'll be held in person or remotely. The same is true for sister school Vernon Hills High.

    Classes at Libertyville High School are scheduled to start Aug. 12, but officials haven't yet decided if they'll be held in person or remotely. The same is true for sister school Vernon Hills High. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 7/14/2020 5:00 AM

As school officials across the state debate whether to open for the 2020-21 term or stay partially or completely closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators in one Lake County district on Monday said ensuring social distancing at lunchtime will be particularly problematic if in-person education resumes.

"(It's) very, very challenging, if not impossible," Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 Superintendent Prentiss Lea told his school board during a remotely held discussion of opening scenarios.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Illinois State Board of Education has given school districts three options for the upcoming school year: in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of both.

Classes at Libertyville High and Vernon Hills High are scheduled to start Aug. 12. District 128 officials haven't yet decided which model they'll implement.

Lea said any in-person learning will require new procedures such as mandatory face masks, increased sanitizing and social distancing.

Ensuring social distancing will be challenging in classrooms and hallways but especially in cafeterias, Lea said.

State health guidelines forbid people from gathering in groups greater than 50, and hundreds of students typically eat lunch at once.

Having teens eat in classrooms isn't a viable option because so many buy meals on campus, Vernon Hills Principal Jon Guillaume said. Additionally, the schools don't have enough employees to supervise students eating lunch in classrooms all over the buildings, he said.

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Administrators are investigating using field houses, gymnasiums, dance facilities and other large, indoor spaces -- as well as outdoor tents -- for lunch periods.

Finding room for teens to eat more safely would be easier under a hybrid plan in which only some students are on campus on any given day, Guillaume said.

Libertyville High has more students than Vernon Hills and would need eight or nine spaces for students to eat if everyone attends school daily, Principal Tom Koulentes said.

"That's a tremendous challenge," he said.

Only four or five spaces would be needed if students attend in-person classes in daily shifts, Koulentes said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At the start of the meeting, Lea read about a dozen messages from teachers and other people, most of whom opposed reopening the buildings.

Vernon Hills High teacher Eileen Baranyk said she's looking at opening day "with fear and trepidation."

"I do not believe there is any in-person scenario that can keep us safe," Baranyk wrote.

Fellow Vernon Hills High teacher Matt Clifford also asked officials to keep the buildings closed and have students continue learning remotely using computers.

"Although learning will not be as effective, we must put our lives first," he wrote.

District 128 officials haven't announced a deadline for choosing an operating model.

Elsewhere, officials with Barrington Area Unit District 220, Lincolnshire-based Stevenson High School District 125 and Round Lake Area Unit District 116 are among those considering hybrid models.

Mundelein High School officials are expected to discuss their plan Tuesday night.

Some districts are letting parents choose whether their kids should attend in-person or virtual classes.

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