After school year begins with an overcrowded cafeteria, new policy goes into effect for lunchtime seating

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Following days of overcrowding in the cafeteria, where students sat in clusters facing one another with less than three feet between them, the school implemented a new policy on seating today. 

This morning, Assistant Principal of Guidance Veronica York announced that students must now eat lunch facing in one direction. Additionally, students can now choose to eat in the lobby, courtyard, or the outside entrance area.

This new policy comes two days after students received an email announcing the first confirmed positive COVID-19 case of the school year, which came eight days after the school’s reopening. 

The cafeteria earlier today.

Many students took advantage of the offer to eat outdoors right away.

“I felt comfortable…outside. It is better to eat out especially since we were inside all day,” said sophomore Bella Kiliski.  

“It’s nice that we have more space to eat,” said junior Jamie Alfaro.

“[Outdoor eating]’s better for our mental health,” said freshman Mohammad Mushfiquzzaman. 

On the updated cafeteria spacing, students shared mixed opinions. 

“It’s strange, but I feel like it’s necessary because of COVID,” said junior Shihan Ma.

“Instead of talking in front of each other we still talk next to each other, so it still isn’t as socially distanced,” said junior Raine Wu.

“It doesn’t make sense. They can just turn and talk. They are still so close to each other,” said junior Zev Mahrer.

Students report that though those in the cafeteria are facing the same direction, many remain seated less than three feet apart from one another, depending upon the band. 

“We’re dealing with a difficult situation, trying to manage the safety of staff, students, and employees. It is a learning experience. The biggest fear is each school closing and that would be more detrimental,” said school aide Paul Sforza, adding that this year’s student population is the largest he’s had in fifteen years of working at the school. Mr. Sforza said that lunch bands five, six, and seven are the most crowded.

September 13 — sixth band lunch was overcrowded with students

According to reporting from Chalkbeat, despite the recommendation to “maximize physical distancing as possible,” schools are not required to practice it during lunch service. The NYC Department of Education’s “Homecoming” guide states, “During lunchtime, masks may be removed so students can eat comfortably at a safe distance from one another.”

Photos by Haley O’Toole, Elliot Heath, Erica Lee

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