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Windsor school’s COVID lunch plan left kids drenched in rain, irking some parents

Parents picking up their children Monday afternoon at Mattie Washburn Elementary in Windsor found that their youngsters had been drenched by the rain during an outdoor lunch, prompting a torrent of criticism toward school administrators.

They’d been exposed to the stormy weather as a result of school protocols aimed at reducing coronavirus transmission by holding lunch outside. On Monday, that well-meaning plan collided with a downpour.

“There’s really no excuse for this, in my opinion,” said Leslie Williams, one of several parents who aired their grievances in a Windsor Facebook group.

Her daughter, who is in kindergarten, was so wet after school that her jacket had to be “wrung out,” Williams said in a phone interview.

Anabel Moreno said her daughter came out of a kindergarten classroom shivering at the end of the school day.

“The first thing she’s saying is, ‘Mommy, mommy, I’m freezing. I’m soaking wet,’” Moreno said.

Windsor Unified School District officials sent a letter to parents about the lunch period on Tuesday afternoon.

Monday was the first time that the school had executed its “outdoor dining plan for rainy days,” aside from a few trial runs when the weather was clear, said the letter, signed by Superintendent Jeremy Decker, Principal Susan Yakich and Peter Sullivan, the district’s director of COVID mitigation.

The plan aims “to balance the consternation of parents who are opposed to indoor dining on rainy days due to COVID, with the concerns of parents who do not want their children out during inclement weather,” the letter said.

“Unfortunately, the plan did not work as hoped,” it continued. “We recognize that the roll out caused alarm among some of our parents and we apologize for any discomfort experienced by your children and anxiety we may have caused our parents.”

According to the letter, the students sat under tents, which kept them dry while they ate. But they got wet when the rain picked up and they were walking around campus.

Moreno, however, contested that claim, saying that her daughter reported getting soaked while sitting at a lunch table.

After transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students ate lunch and administrators saw them getting wet “we made changes to the first and second grade plans and had students eat in the cafeteria or classrooms,” the letter said.

The school did not specify how many students were affected. Decker and Yakich did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Tuesday.

School officials said they are working to improve the rainy day plan, but it is “difficult to commit” to keeping students in classrooms for snack, recess and lunch breaks due to staffing shortages.

“We are currently examining all of our schedules and staffing to try to create a schedule that can allow this,” the letter said, noting that because the campus has outdoor walkways, students “are going to get wet” on rainy days.

For the rest of the week, the school plans to cover the sides of the tents and is aiming to have students eat lunch indoors during heavy rains, according to the letter.

The Windsor Unified School District has been especially aggressive in its lunchtime coronavirus protocols, adopting in September a 14-minute cap for unmasked “eating time” to reduce transmission risk.

The cap is one less minute than the 15-window window that can qualify someone as an exposed contact and require school officials to send students home from school for 10 days, or seven if they test negative for the infectious disease sooner.

At the time, no other local district reported taking the same approach to cut down transmission risk and the scope of quarantines.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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