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Some Bend-La Pine parents consider pulling kids out of schools over outdoor lunch plans

(Update: adding video, comments from parents and school district official)

'I think it's just ridiculous'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend-La Pine classrooms will soon be full, as students return to school next week. Many students will be eating lunch outside, as a way to keep them safe due to the pandemic.

The school board discussed meal service at its August 24 meeting and what the best course of action should be for students eating lunch, backing the staff's plans for most meals to be eaten outdoors -- and that's not sitting well with some parents.

The board approved a plan to have students eat lunch outside on school grounds, as weather permits. When eating outside isn't possible, students will eat in designated areas inside. That call will be made by each school's principal.

Although the board approved the plan, some were apprehensive about moving forward, due to a lack of clarity.

The plan states that students will eat inside according to certain parameters, but those parameters are not clearly stated. You can find a link to the plan here It says, "Students will eat meals outdoors, as weather permits."

Leanna Olson has a daughter who will be a first-grader at Ponderosa Elementary. She's against the plan.

"I think it's just ridiculous." Olson told NewsChannel 21 on Friday.

Her biggest concern is the weather.

"We live in Central Oregon. We know the weather, so when it's 20 degrees outside -- that is way too cold to have children outside." She said.

Casey Watson's son will be in second grade at Ponderosa Elementary. She doesn't agree with the plan, either.

"They got to eat inside last year. I don't understand what is so different from last year to this year." Watson said.

The reason: record Covid numbers and the delta variant, leading to new state guidelines.

Skip Offenhauser, Bend-La Pine's executive director of elementary programs, says they would rather be safe than sorry, when it comes to Covid.

"We are just trying to be as cautious as possible and as safe as possible," he said Friday. "And we know that getting kids outside, spreading them out, getting them fresh air is one of those measures that we can take to be extra, extra cautious." He said.

Both Olson and Watson say they're willing to pull their children out of school, if the plan stays -- even if that means driving to Redmond every day.

"If the Redmond School District is going to do something that supports my child better, then by all means I'll take him to Redmond everyday if I have to," Watson said.

As of now, there is not a specific temperature cutoff for outdoor eating.

Offenhauser says the school district plans on monitoring the weather and air quality every day.

Requiring students to eat lunch outside, except during inclement weather, is only mandatory for elementary schools. Middle and high school students are encouraged to do the same, but it's not required.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus
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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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