They promised that the return to school in September would come hand in hand with the return to school canteens, guarantors of nutritional health for children and of conciliation for many households. In Spain, 53% of families use this service. But despite its proximity to the classroom, its protocols against COVID-19 are sometimes being revealed incompatible.
The associations of mothers and fathers denounce that the lack of monitors at lunchtime is forcing the bubble groups to crack, a measure that provokes skepticism among teachers, fear among managers and that it has been revealed as a chimera in centers with a large number of students.
“It is useless for them to be respected in the classrooms and for the patios to be divided into plots, if upon reaching the dining rooms several groups of several cycles are going to coexist at the same time,” says Mario Gutiérrez, president of Education at the CSIF (Central Sindical Independent and of Officials). In his opinion, “the bubbles” are only part of the “newspeak that has been implemented at the beginning of the course to give the image of false security,” the spokesman snaps. His union has received numerous complaints from schools for this reason and calls for “extraordinary regulations to adapt the ratio of monitors to the coronavirus protocol.”
This gap between protocols of two adjoining rooms, such as the classes and the dining room, is due to the fact that 64% of the centers in Spain use external catering services, while only 36% have a kitchen inside the school. The hiring of the monitors, therefore, is the direct competence of the company. The only thing the school management can do is ask for more, something that is not being granted at the moment.
This has been denounced by the Madrid public center Núria Espert, where the AMPA has issued a complaint through social networks to the Aramark company, one of the big four offered by the country’s school services. “It had been reported that the children would eat in their classroom so as not to break the bubble group (…) but they have told us that there are not enough monitors for all the classrooms, since the cafeteria company cannot bear the cost”, have reported on Twitter. Aramark has not yet spoken or responded to questions from this newspaper about its business situation after the quarantine.
One of her monitors acknowledges that, in the two schools in Madrid where she works, “the situation is under control, but it may change this week.” Sara attends two bubble groups of four years, one of seven and one of ten. In normal situations, it would be almost 30 children, a ratio that has not been reduced either by your company or by any administration and that would make their work “impossible” under these conditions.
“The ideal would be one monitor per bubble group, but the teachers in public schools are paid by the State and they can afford it, in our case it is difficult for a company to assume it,” explains Sara in relation to Aramark, although she acknowledges that “more staff” is needed.
“I hope they don’t give me more bubble groups because the protocol is more difficult to manage in the dining rooms than in the classrooms,” explains the guard. “You have to ensure that they are seated, that they eat everything and now also without touching them and preventing them from touching children from other groups,” she says. If they have no other choice but to catch them, she and her partner carry out an extreme disinfection ritual before passing on to another child and without losing sight of the little ones, “who are still choking.”
Still, Sara is a faithful defender of the dining room service, as a monitor and as a mother. But she is reluctant to turn classrooms into dining rooms and desks into picnic areas, “as long as it can be avoided.”
Against the lunchroom classroom
Almost all the Autonomous Communities have decided to expand the number of monitors in their dining rooms due to the obligatory nature of the service. However, the reality varies according to the school and, above all, according to its size. In Tenerife, the two guards at the La Cuesta school canteen have set up two shifts, although in the case of Primary they attend 50 children at the same time. “The first days are being hard”, they admit, but they are in agreement with the protocols.
However, not in all regions the general picture is so optimistic. In Andalusia, the bankruptcy of several catering companies has affected 126 centers that have not been able to offer the service in the first week of the course. And, in which it is offered, the lack of concise protocols, personnel and spaces has forced the classrooms to be prepared to eat in them, a measure “far from recommended” for Sara and for many other monitors.
“In the classes there are some rules and in the dining rooms, others. The change of chip is quite noticeable”, she relates. She believes that keeping the kids in the same room for five hours that will later be used for lunch “can be disorienting” since they “need to go out and socialize with other people.”
For her, the dining room “is a didactic space where children learn to share, to respect and to be autonomous”. Bringing the tray to the desk, where they play and learn, can put at risk that other much-needed learning: that of discipline at the table. Therefore, their solution is to take more shifts and hire professionals who guarantee security, but under no circumstances suppress the service.
“It seems unfair to me that they say that dining rooms are dangerous sources of contagion when you go out to the street and all the children are together playing in the park. If they are infected, it will be outside,” he says about the rupture of bubble groups. “Apart from the shock it supposes for the families that we work with, that we cannot go out at one in the afternoon, and the tranquility that your son or daughter is eating a menu endorsed by a nutritionist, not Ayuso’s,” he continues .
The Telepizza case
Another advantage of recovering the dining room service, for the platforms of mothers and fathers, is to avoid what happened in March in Madrid with the award of school menus to Telepizza, Rodilla and Viena Capellanes. At the time, the FAPA Giner de los Ríos filed an administrative complaint and a complaint with the Ombudsman for the “nonsense” executed by Isabel Díaz Ayuso, but the plan continued its course.
In Leganés, where Sara works, the City Council renounced these menus for their families at risk of exclusion and contracted with the money from the parties that were not going to be held to another catering company with a menu more in line with the nutritional needs of the little ones. “It never occurs to anyone to give pizza to a child several days a week,” claims this dining room watchman.
30.3% of those under 18 years of age are at risk of poverty, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics for 2019. “Guaranteeing the right to healthy food is basic and essential for human rights. The WHO recommends that in the process of childhood development, children must eat the necessary proteins two or three times a week and in Spain the number of families that cannot guarantee this intake is growing “, recalled the director of the organization Educo Spain, Macarena Céspedes, before this return to school.
But beyond the content of the menu, for the Spanish Confederation of Associations of Parents and Mothers of Students (CEAPA), the socializing and educational component of the school dining room is a great claim. “We must take care of them because they are another part of the educational system and they have great importance to prevent the risk of social exclusion and for conciliation,” shares the CSIF spokesperson.