COLUMBUS — Students at Columbus High School should always be able to find a seat at the table when it’s time to sit down for their 30-minute lunch period in the cafeteria.
That wasn’t always the case when the new high school along 33rd Avenue and Lost Creek Parkway started the 2017-18 school year, raising concerns among some parents about lunchroom seating availability.
A record enrollment in ninth through 12th grades of 1,239 students, up about 6 percent from last year’s student population of 1,168, led to cramped seating for the first couple of weeks of the semester.
It wasn’t unusual for a school visitor in the opening weeks to see some students sitting on the floor of the cafeteria to eat their midday meal, especially if they wanted to gather with friends.
“We had to move some classes around to level the number of students that went to the three lunch periods (to address any overcrowding),” Principal Steve Woodside said.
“We’ve got more than 70 new students. We had to do a little balancing,” he added.
In the initial days of classes this fall, school officials added four tables with seating for more than 35 students.
CHS has a handful of seating options available, including the tables that were added, that can accommodate the 1,172 students over the three lunch periods. Sixty-seven students who are enrolled at the high school do not attend a daily lunch period.
The cafeteria has 22 round tables that can seat eight students each and 31 square tables with room for four kids each. There are 10 booths that can handle four students each and 64 tall stools designed for eating at raised counters.
That is enough seating for roughly 400 students per lunch period. Woodside said the school’s average daily lunch count in October was 966 students, an average of 322 per lunch session.
Some students have opted at times to sit on the floor rather than break up their party of friends when they outnumbered the available seats at a particular table, Woodside said.
“We’ve tried to be responsive (to the situation with added seating),” the principal said. “We would never be indifferent to students sitting on the floor.”
School officials also discourage students from sitting on the floor because it poses a potential safety issue during emergencies.
CHS closed its campus to all students this fall. Last year’s seniors were the last class to be able to leave the school for lunch.
School officials have cited concerns about disruptions to the learning environment created by the number of unexcused tardies and absences as students straggled in late to afternoon classes.
An improved cafeteria at the new high school and enhanced food service program are also factors in the increased number of students eating lunch there.