Admin needs to be more open-minded about lunch

It’s no secret among Lowell students that one of the best parts of school is leaving it. But this year, it was announced in Principal Joe Dominguez’s back-to-school newsletter that a closed-campus lunch policy would be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year. Citing concerns about COVID-19 exposure, Dominguez hoped to minimize student interactions with people outside the Lowell community. In his video, presented to students during registry on the first day of school, Dominguez acknowledged that the policy wouldn’t be very popular. He was right. Many students took to social media to air their disdain for the decision, with a petition created in protest. Some students emailed Dominguez privately to state their grievances against the no off-campus rule. 

We believe that the closed-campus lunch policy should be rescinded because it is detrimental to the mental wellbeing of students, adds unnecessary abnormality to the school year, and, most importantly, doesn’t fulfill its intended purpose. It is ineffective in limiting exposure to COVID-19.

Lowell’s administration has a commendable reason for the policy — mitigating COVID-19 exposure is essential to public health. With the several variants of the virus surging through the United States and schools reopening in full capacity, curbing the spread of the virus is paramount. Saving lives is indisputably important. But a closed-campus lunch policy just doesn’t effectively accomplish this.

The main hotspot for off campus lunch was Stonestown Galleria, which is also connected to several popular bus stops among Lowell students, including the 28, 29, and the M train. It’s unpreventable that students will go through Stonestown on their way to and from school via the bus. This means they are interacting with the same demographic of people they would be around when grabbing lunch. This does heighten risk; it is additional contact with the outside community and interacting with people beyond the student body makes contact tracing more difficult. But limiting one period of time when that contact will occur will not eliminate the issue. It’s the same level of risk, just experienced at a different time of day.

In fact, if the goal is to minimize COVID-19 exposure, a closed-campus policy has the opposite effect. With approximately 2,700 students, around 900 Lowell students have one of the three lunch blocks. That leaves an abundance of unmasked students eating outside on campus, making social distancing during lunch difficult. The most obvious example of this is the courtyard: students take off their masks to eat their food, packed eight people to a table and clearly not six feet apart. What’s worse, the cafeteria is filled with students eating indoors with no vaccination requirement. By allowing students to leave the confines of campus, people will be more spread out and therefore less likely to infect each other with the virus. 

Then there is the issue of indoor dining. In this aspect, Stonestown’s indoor dining areas may be safer than Lowell’s cafeteria. Due to a new city wide policy, all people must show proof of vaccination in order to eat inside at Stonestown. While the restaurant-goers may not be made up of 100 percent students, students would have the peace of mind knowing that everyone eating there is 100 percent vaccinated.

The ineffectiveness of this rule and the detriment it has on students creates more harm than good.

Closed-campus lunch is also an unnecessary addition to the already abundant list of changes to the school year. Students are juggling a masked environment and a longer school day. Dances have been restructured to adhere to COVID-19 protocols, and Lowell’s beloved Arena system was scrapped last year due to the schedule uncertainty created by COVID-19. These are the new realities that we are learning to adapt to, some of which are necessary and well justified. But that does not apply to a closed-campus policy. The ineffectiveness of this rule and the detriment it has on students creates more harm than good.  

Going off campus for lunch provides many students a mental escape from the daily pressures of life as Lowell students. Academic competition and an intense workloads result in a lot of stress. By going off campus and enjoying a meal, students are able to forget about their studies, recharging mentally and physically for the remainder of the day. Without an open-campus policy, many students are finding themselves in a high-pressure atmosphere for over eight hours straight. 

Open-campus lunch is safe and provides students with vital downtime. The freedom of an open campus should be reinstated, allowing students to enjoy a bit of normalcy for the remainder of the challenging year ahead of us.