By the Voice Editorial Board
Since Ontario’s return to in-person learning one month ago and with the start of a new semester, Richview students have had to make a number of adjustments, most notably and controversially, regarding their lunchtime plans. Upon attempting to enter the cafeteria at the start of the 2nd semester, students were greeted by bouncer-esque staff explaining that per a COVID-era policy restricting cafeteria capacity, only 150 of Richview’s approximately 1100 attending students are now allowed access to the cafeteria. Richview’s cafeteria, in which students both purchase and eat food, is the school’s only dining environment, i.e. the only accessible location with actual tables and chairs.
February 2022, students line up outside the cafeteria by Nawang Garzey.
The sudden implementation of the capacity limit sparked confusion, anger and chaos. On the policy’s first day, students accustomed to lunch in their same spot for as many as four years were told to simply find someplace else to go, and in response, some students took to banging on the doors of caf X (a section of the cafeteria typically reserved for grade 12 students). Others simply ignored the policy, crouching at tables, wall-sitting and standing, all while Richview administration, outnumbered and largely ignored, continued trying to ask students to leave.
Although the attitude towards the policy has now morphed into a daily, horde-like queue, students are continuing to voice their frustration. On a poll of 60 Richview students conducted by the Voice, 90% said that yes, Richview’s cafeteria policies need to change, one student calling the policies “nonsensical without acceptable alternatives.” Another grade 12 student told the Voice,
“I understand that there’s COVID, but it’s still bad because people are sitting in their cars in the freezing cold, and hallways are more crowded than ever before. I just don’t understand why they can’t open up the gym so we can sit on the bleachers.”
Shortly after the new cafeteria policy was established, a petition/open letter to Richview’s administration written by Richview’s Student Activity Council began to circulate on social media across students of all grades.
“Although the intent of this plan is to decrease the potential spread of Covid,” it reads, “the technicalities are illogical and infringe on the student experience.”
The letter goes on to propose multiple solutions to Richview’s dilemma inducing designated eating spaces outside the cafeteria equipped with tables and chairs such as classrooms or the gym, a maximum capacity increase to 300 students and 6 students per table and split lunch hours where grades 9 and 10 would eat during a separate slot from grades 11 and 12.
However, in the days to follow, the petition, despite its traction among students, seemed to have no effect on the administration’s decisions; none of the solutions suggested were considered. So, in order to better understand what was inhibiting the changes the student body had united to demand, the Richview Voice sat down for a conversation with Richview’s principal, Ms. Lucie Kletke.
“I’m really, really upset about this myself. And so are the Vice Principals,” she said. “But we have to follow the rules that are mandated by Toronto Public Health and the school board.”
The cafeteria & hallways pre-capacity policies in December 2021 by Rebecca Mendes.
Contrary to what the majority of the student body believed, Ms. Klekte explained that the rules were not created by Richview:
“Actually Toronto Public Health called me. Someone from the school, staff member, someone anonymously contacted Toronto Public Health and Ministry of Labour to report that there’s too many people, that we’re not following the rules, which means they come, and they did,” she explained. “We don’t make the rules. And they’re coming here to check that we are enforcing it.”
As mentioned above, Richview’s intended capacity was 950, and currently enrolls approximately 1100 students, leaving the building at 116% capacity. Because of this, Ms. Kletke went on to explain that Richview will actually be closed for optional attendance next school year, meaning that students not in French Immersion or with addresses inside the school’s geographic catchment won’t even be able to apply, let alone attend.
February 2022, post-capacity policy, by Sonia Bordin.
These capacity problems, however, are in no way exclusive to Richview. Former acting principal of North Toronto Collegiate Institute, Ms. Martha Bartley explained that, with about 1400 students, North Toronto’s cafeteria is “tiny. It’s even smaller than yours.” She goes on, “It’s a busy school. Those kids are all over the hallways. They were even before COVID, at most schools, I think. At CTA [Central Toronto Academy] they all eat in the hallways.”
Richview’s administration is hoping that warmer weather will fix the most glaring of Richview’s lunch issues. They’re also looking into new solutions that can be implemented in the upcoming months, such as picnic tables installed outside. However, this solution, along with many others that could be implemented across Ontario’s public high schools, is hindered by Richview’s funds, or lack thereof. This forces students to question: are the higher-ups of our boards and ministries truly doing what’s best for the staff and students of our public schools? Or are arbitrary restrictions without adequate support simply quick, no-cost ways to say that something is being done?
“And, you know, I’m upset too. I don’t like it either,” Ms. Kletke sighs. “But we have to, you know. It’s difficult. It’s quite difficult. But we are trying our best.”