Opinion | Open campus lunch for all grades improved social safety

Throughout the transition back to in-person school, one thing that has been a constant challenge for students is feeling safe and comfortable during lunch, when you physically cannot wear a mask at all times. The cafeterias have been overcrowded since day one due to there being one less lunch period than previous years, causing students to feel claustrophobic and anxious. 

As the year progressed and temperatures dropped, the school offered more options for lunch, such as Beardsley Gym and the Hub, but all of these are still inside.  

Lunch is the highlight of most students’ day, getting a break from learning and being able to socialize with friends. It is hard to enjoy this part of the school day when you are constantly worried about getting COVID-19 or being squished between two people. Coming out of winter break, the school knew they had to make a change. 

So finally, listening to the concerns of the students, the school has opened the campus for lunch for all grades. 

Whether it’s just walking down to the Starbucks or driving to Portillos, opening the campus has given students way more freedom and increased feelings of safety and security while eating. 

“We wanted to create more opportunities for physical distancing, especially during lunchtime, because that’s the one time that people can have their masks down. We recognized that this is something we could do,” Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon explains. 

One difficulty it has caused, though, is the clogging of the hallways during lunch periods. Every exit of the school becomes flooded with students as soon as the bells ring. Not only leaving, but coming back into the school can take minutes students don’t have, causing many to be late for their post-lunch classes. 

When putting the recent COVID-19 spike into the equation, this decision is smart. The move makes it so more people are spread out and limits numbers in the cafeterias, making everyone feel more safe. 

“Ever since it started to get cold, my friends and I have left school and ate in one of our cars, because we recognized how unsafe it would be to eat in a cafeteria. I felt bad for the underclassmen who couldn’t leave. If I was forced to stay inside during lunch, I think I would feel really unsafe at school each day,” senior Ella Greenberg-Winnick shares.

As the year goes on, and we learn more about the statistics of the COVID-19 cases at ETHS, we will see if this decision actually was effective. 

Another major part of this decision is how the upperclassmen now have to share their once special ability to leave with the rest of the school. Now that everyone is able to experience open campus for lunch, it may cause a bit of annoyance for juniors and seniors with the now crowded exits, entrances and places to eat. 

“I think that the context is so different than it was when we were freshmen and sophomores. I don’t believe that this is because the administrators really want younger students leaving. I think it’s because we’re going to school in a pandemic and students shouldn’t have to eat inside,” Greenberg-Winnick says. 

On the other hand, there is relief coming from underclassmen because of this liberating decision. 

Freshman Alba Vickers-Machado elaborates how open campus for underclassmen helped the risk of spreading COVID-19. “I think that maybe it does [help to prevent the spread of COVID-19] because people have now been given the opportunity to go home for a little bit and eat lunch there,” Vickers-Machado says. “So, I would say sure, people can go home or do whatever, and then you have less people eating without their masks on.” 

Many freshmen enjoy this new opportunity because they have a sense of freedom. Vickers-Machado feels this way as well but also sees the perspective of the upperclassmen. 

“I mean, as a freshman, I think it’s totally cool, but I understand why juniors and seniors would find it unfair because, you know, they waited,” Vickers-Machado says. “So it’s like, ‘Oh, you guys get to do this now. We didn’t get to do that.’ So I feel like it is fair, but it’s also unfair to the kids who had to wait for these last few years.”

As the winter months begin to pass through, there will be reconsideration of this decision. 

“We’ll revisit [the open campus] decision. We look ahead to next year, but clearly, right now, we’re committed to this for the semester. And for the people taking advantage of it, it gives them another option,” Witherspoon states. 

Overall, the switch to open campus for all grades has its downsides but it is overall the right decision to make for the safety of the students.