When school starts tomorrow in Evanston/Skokie District 65, lunch will become an outdoor activity in an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Devon Horton said that for the first several weeks, “it will be required” for all elementary school children (K-5) to eat lunch outside, weather permitting.

Once the district begins optional COVID-19 testing for students in mid-September, Horton stated, schools “can have some flexibility” in mixing indoor and outdoor lunches, or dividing up children inside a building.

For example, he said, “you may have a class where half of the class is eating in the classroom and the other half is in the cafeteria, with proper [three-foot] spacing.”

The superintendent said District 65 has hired additional custodians as well as buying 260 folding tables for outdoor meals, which, he said, is “pretty awesome.”

Outdoor lunch will apparently not be mandatory for middle schoolers. An FAQ guide on the district’s website says middle school students (grades 6-8) “may eat outside as well,” but does not state that it is required.

Board Vice-president Biz Lindsay Ryan noted that each of the district’s 18 buildings is different, so there may be different configurations of indoor and outdoor eating spaces, or cafeteria and classroom capacity.

The FAQ guide adds “in communal eating spaces, plexiglass may be used as necessary.”

And as for outdoor eating, well, that can only last so long once the cold Illinois winter is upon us.

But even talking about school lunch seemed like a good sign, after so many months of remote learning. Looking forward to the first day back, Board President Anya Tanyavutti said with a laugh that what her daughter missed the most about school was “the smell of the cafeteria.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.