Students should be able to eat lunch outside every day due to COVID-19

Dear Editor:

I am the mother of two children at Princeton Middle School and one at Littlebrook as well as an associate professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health and director of the Epidemiology Concentration. My main research expertise is on environmental exposures in relation to children’s health, and during the pandemic, I have also pivoted to work on COVID-19-related issues including exposures among health care workers and increasing access to testing among vulnerable populations. I have published scientific papers on these topics and shared my expertise on local television, radio, and in publication. My husband, moreover, ran a COVID+ ICU at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital during the height of the pandemic in April 2020, so COVID-19 has truly permeated our personal and professional lives.

I would like to commend Princeton Public Schools for their commitment to getting children back to school in person and fully agree with the decision to try to return to as much normalcy as possible.  At the same time, I am very concerned about the indoor lunch periods when eating outside is a totally reasonable option on all but the most inclement days. I can tell you that the epidemiology department is not holding any in-person events that include eating and we are all vaccinated adults. The thought of putting dozens or even hundreds of unvaccinated children in cafeterias to eat together without masks (even with 6-foot spacing) is a recipe for a super-spreader event that may result in infections as well as loss of learning due to quarantine.

I would like to encourage the schools to permit students to eat outdoors every day. We have an opportunity to vastly reduce the potential for transmission with relatively little burden or effort. While I understand there are reasons to stick with indoor lunch, I believe those logistical advantages to be vastly outweighed by the risk to our children and I know many other parents feel the same way.

Thank you for considering this request. I know that we all have the same ultimate end goal – to keep our kids happy and healthy through this stressful period- and I appreciate your partnership in these efforts.

Please feel free to get in touch with any comments or questions.


Emily Barrett


  1. It makes sense to have lunch outside and lower the infection risk until the young kids are eligible for vaccines, hopefully before winter. We were told that lunch will be outside when possible at our school, however it wasn’t clear to parents what are permitting criteria for having lunch outdoors.

  2. The Princeton Charter School has been having lunch outside under the tents every day so far. Hopefully, the weather will hold up until younger children can be vaccinated.

  3. Agreed! We had assumed that the permitting criteria were weather-dependent, but children are eating indoors, spaced 3 feet apart in classrooms and cafeterias, even on beautiful days like Friday and today.

  4. Thank you Emily ! I also have a child in the schools and totally agree with this request.
    Also, any classes or activities that can be held outside in addition to lunch, would be great! It does not make sense to most parents and frankly most people that the children are being allowed to eat snacks outside without masks so snack time as a mask break but that the lunch is inside unmasked. At the Middle School they are being rushed at lunch and told to sit at old-school individual desks separated by several feet and told to eat alone. Our children need fresh air and mask breaks and to socialize so why isn’t the middle school lunch outside

    This issue of having the activities outside was brought up in summer meetings with parents in summer of 2020, and parents were told by the bureaucracy which refuses to represent us (PPS) that outside activities would not be possible bc of security issues that there was no protocol for this .. now given the number of well paid police in our town and the billions of dollars floating around the schools should be able to secure the perimeter of a school by investing in a few guards and getting the police to drive by during lunch or park outside the school during lunch. We are talking about our children and the health of our community here and the mental health and ability of children to socialize and be educated. They absolutely need to have lunch outside and as many classes and activities outside as possible. These are not big spend solutions ; they are common sense putting kids and health first solutions.

    We want better representation in our pseudo democracy of parents and taxpayers on the school board and in the school bureaucracy… it is almost imposible to communicate in an open way with school administration to have any constructive innovation from parents or taxpayers that is initiated by parents and taxpayers and this is really sad…. we need to be able to meaningfully engage to do better… stop worrying bout the value of the McMansions and start providing the value the school system is supposed to provide here spending more than 30k per kid… and with the flood of money schools are getting… start making sure they represent what the kids and the parents and the taxpayers need…

  5. The problem with children under 12 is that they cannot receive a vaccinated shot. The k-12 public schools need to set up alternative outdoor eating arrangements. The reality is that the schools are not doing systematic testing of the children and they have no data base of school children. The schools are “germ factories” that compounds the spread of Delta virus into the schools. The Teachers are not required to have masks or vaccination.

  6. Children of America, You’ve Been Gaslit at Lunchtime The feeding of America’s relentless superspreader event

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