BARRIE, ONT. -- Large crowds of students outside high schools are getting a lot of attention now that school is back.

Once the lunch bell rings, hundreds of students head to various spots across Barrie, like the plaza at Bayview Drive and Little Avenue by Innisdale Secondary School.

Some wear masks. Some don't.

"I don't think masks are gonna stop it from spreading," said one student.

Students said that after wearing a mask for hours during class, they need a break from it once outside.

Students gather in Barrie during lunch break

While some schools stagger lunch breaks, it doesn't prevent large gatherings.

St. Joan of Arc Secondary School Principal Natalie Zyla said students have the option to stay in their classroom to eat their lunch or leave school property for their 40-minute break.

"We know that it can be really difficult for kids to be sitting in a classroom for six hours a day. This gives them a mental break," Zyla said.

Still, many in the community expressed concern over the large gatherings and question why students are permitted to have lunch outside.

High School students crowding

Dawn Stephens, Superintendent of Education with the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB), said they came up with the lunch plan in collaboration with the health unit.

"We want to have a balanced approach here. We want to support our students and their desire to not be inside all day in their classroom. At the same time, they have to be responsible outside of the classroom."

High school crowding

School boards said they are educating students on the importance of face masks and physical distancing, but said some of that falls on parents.

Zyla said the situation with schools is new and ever-evolving.

"I understand the concern, but I am very hopeful. We know that our kids can do it. We see them doing it inside the school. We see many of our kids practicing the social distancing and physical distancing outside, wearing their masks outside, and I'm hopeful that we can get to that point."

The SCDSB said it would continue to monitor the lunch break crowds and said it would implement changes at the health unit's recommendation, but it's staying the course for now.