EASTHAMPTON, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A concerned parent reached out to our newsroom with questions about lunch time conditions at an Easthampton middle school.
“I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ I just, I was shocked, totally shocked. Why not even a chair? And then I also asked, ‘Do you have a table in front of you?’ No table,” said Katie Hanchett of Easthampton.
Hanchett never imagined that when she sent her children back for in-person learning this month, their new normal would include sitting on plastic buckets to eat lunch.
“They made us sit on buckets, which I thought was wrong ‘cuz, you know, we should at least get chairs and they have chairs in the auditorium that they’re not using…like fold up chairs…and I just feel like why do we have to sit on buckets if they have chairs that are not in use,” said White Brook Middle School eighth grader Connor Donnis.
Donnis told Western Mass News when he took his concerns to the school’s principal, he received the following response.
“She said it was the school committee’s fault and not hers and then I mentioned the chairs in the auditorium. She said she’d look into, it but that was Monday so,” Donnis explained.
When his mother found out, she was outraged and wondered why the school would spend funding on buckets, especially during a pandemic.
The mother of four said she felt obligated to speak out and voiced her concerns exclusively with Western Mass News.
“If they weren’t ready to bring them back, obviously, they weren’t ready if they’re sitting on five-gallon buckets outside, they’re not ready...We have two-and-a-half months left of school. What’s the rush?” Hanchett added.
Easthampton School Supt. Dr. Allison LeClair said in a statement:
"We have taken a creative approach to eating lunch in Easthampton. This creativity stemmed from numerous conversations with our COVID-19 Response team, who made recommendations to the superintendent, and I brought them to the School Committee for approval."
One of the most significant recommendations was to eat meals outside - in the fresh air. The School Committee felt this was an important decision and strongly encouraged us to secure tents at all of our schools. We creatively thought about how to flexibly use the tent space. Looking to colleagues in other communities, we took some ideas from them, including using yoga mats, beach towels, and buckets for flexible seating. Keep in mind that students either bring their lunch or have a bagged lunch provided by the school. Sometimes chairs are brought out if the ground is even and hard enough. Students are separated by six feet and enjoy lounging on a mat, sitting on a bucket (that acts like a stool), or using the bucket as a table.
Our schools and students have been creative, and our families and staff are appreciative of the efforts to keep students safely distanced in an outside environment."