Sandra Hodgins, food services director for the Brewer School Department, discusses how meals will be handled when schools open in September. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

Students will find meals served in classrooms, sparse cafeterias where they’ll have to stay 6 feet from other students and bagged meals for them to pick up and take home for the days they won’t be in school buildings.

As students prepare to return to school this fall, meals will be one aspect of their day that will look fundamentally different because of the coronavirus. With most schools planning a combination of in-person instruction and at-home learning, they’ll have to simultaneously serve meals to students in school and maintain systems they set up this spring to ensure students have access to meals while learning at home.

With in-school meals, they’ll have to follow rules requiring that students sit at least 6 feet apart while eating, that they wash or sanitize their hands before and after eating, and that no more than 50 students gather in the same room — including school cafeterias — at one time.

“Districts are assessing their facilities to determine the best options to feed students learning in person while adhering to school opening requirements,” said Maine Department of Education spokesperson Kelli Deveaux. “They are also evaluating the best options for offering meals to students learning remotely. How this is done varies based on the districts’ specific plans and resources available.”

In Regional School Unit 22 — which serves students in Hampden, Winterport, Newburgh and Frankfort — schools will use cafeterias for all grade levels. At Hampden Academy, high schoolers will sit at individual desks in the cafeteria spaced 6 feet apart rather than at the traditional, round cafeteria tables.

“We don’t have the full 6 feet within each classroom,” said School Nutrition Director Kathy Kittridge, “so we set up all of our cafeterias with 6 feet for each student, to follow all the requirements from the DOE.”

Bangor students will eat meals in classrooms so they stay in their assigned cohorts throughout the school day, minimizing students’ interactions with other groups of students, according to Food Services Director Noelle Scott.

In Hermon, high school and elementary school students will eat in their classrooms, while middle school students use the school’s cafeteria space, which doubles as the gymnasium, because it has enough space for students to stay 6 feet apart.

Brewer is looking at different options for a place to serve students.

Students at Brewer Community School will eat lunch and breakfast in their classrooms, while at Brewer High School, some students can use the cafeteria while others use chairs set up along a long, wooden counter next to the cafeteria. The school also plans to set up picnic tables outside for some students, said Food Service Director Sandra Hodgins.

The different approaches for in-school meals mirror the different approaches Bangor-area school districts employed to distribute meals when school buildings shut down in March. RSU 22 made weekly meal deliveries to students who needed them, for example, while Brewer and Bangor encouraged parents and students to pick up meals at designated distribution sites.

For the fall, Bangor and Brewer will set up distribution sites again. In Bangor, those sites will be the students’ schools, according to Scott. In Brewer, the pickup site will be Brewer Community School.

“I don’t know what I’m going to need for staffing. That’s one big thing,” Hodgins, the Brewer food service director, said. “At least to start with, I might have to have a couple of subs come in, in addition to my regular staff. But then we’re only going to have half the kids here each day. So those two things might balance out.”

In RSU 22, the district won’t be able to make meal deliveries because it will have to use school buses to transport students. Instead, students who order them will take home bagged meals for the days they learn at home.

Figuring out those logistics will be a challenge, Kittridge said.

The food will be different depending on whether students are being fed in school or taking the meal home. Bangor, for example, will serve sandwiches and other cold lunches at the pickup sites, and hot meals when students are in class.

“That’ll be a little bit of a juggling act, trying to make sure that we have both the cold and hot meals prepared,” Scott said. “It’s going to be an interesting school year.”