NC School Districts Scramble As Some Nutrition Waivers Near End

NC School Districts Scramble As Some Nutrition Waivers Near End

8:58pm Aug 11, 2020
Cafeteria tables and chairs are temporarily stored in a hallway at Sternberger Elementary in Greensboro. KERI BROWN/ WFDD

Many state school districts are worried about reaching vulnerable students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals, as buildings remain closed because of COVID-19 concerns. That’s because some federal waivers for nutrition programs will expire at the end of August.

When kids are physically in school, districts follow rules under the National Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Those include eligibility applications and providing an ID number at the cafeteria.

But implementing those rules when buildings are closed is a challenge, so the USDA granted waivers to help districts provide safe and easy access to meals during the pandemic. One of those is The Summer Food Service Program. It gives districts more flexibility to serve free grab-and-go meals with no questions asked.

Last summer, Guilford County Schools served about 6,500 meals per day (breakfast and lunch). This summer, they served about 19,000 to 20,000 meals per day (breakfast and lunch).

Cynthia Sevier is the interim director of nutrition with the district. She worries about families who face transportation, job losses, and other barriers.

"With the Summer Food Service program, we are actually allowed to serve from zero to18 years of age. But that will change," says Sevier. "They have to be enrolled in the school, and we have to be able to tie that meal to the child.”

Sevier urges families in need to fill out an application for the services online or contact their child's school. She says around 52 percent of students in Guilford County Schools qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

District leaders also say they’re concerned about employees who work in these nutrition programs. They say furloughs could take place if the number of sites and meals served are impacted by the changes.

Two bills have been introduced in Congress aimed at expanding school meal program flexibilities and access through the end of the academic year.

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you’re experiencing.

*Follow WFDD’s Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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