Monday, October 2, 2023

GISD program to provide free meals for all students beginning in fall


A new district program will soon provide every student at Granbury ISD with free breakfast and lunch — a program comparable to the COVID-era free lunch waiver that expired in June 2022.

The GISD board of trustees approved the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program for the 2023-24 academic year during Monday’s school board meeting.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. CEP allows the nation's highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications, according to the United States Department of Agriculture website.

"CEP, it is a special program that school districts can do if they're already operating under the National School and School Breakfast Program,” said GISD’s Director of Child Nutrition Amy Whiteley during the board meeting. “There's a formula that goes with it that allows us to be able to feed our students breakfast and lunch for free for the entire year. It's one of those programs that was created several years ago, and districts that qualify for it, they have to be within a certain percentage of economically disadvantaged to be able to operate under that program — and we do qualify for that.”

GISD Superintendent Jeremy Glenn explained that every year, the district’s economically disadvantaged population increases.

"During COVID, from a federal level, lunches became free. They were taken care of for all students, so this would allow us to opt into essentially a similar type of program,” he said. “However, I do caution that it does come with a small amount of risk. If our economically disadvantaged population begins to fall, there is the possibility we would be on the hook for those who do not qualify for the program.”

The program operates on a four-year qualification cycle, meaning once a district qualifies, it will qualify for the program for the next four years.

Whiteley added though that GISD can still opt out of the program at the end of any year if desired.

Although parents wouldn’t have to fill out the free and reduced-price lunch form this year, every household will still have to complete the socioeconomic information form.

“It has pretty much the exact same information and questions on it as it does for the free and reduced application,” Whiteley said.

Barbara Herrington, GISD school board president, commented that increased student participation in the CEP program is a “pro.”

"Especially on the secondary level, there's a lot of lunch shaming for the kids that qualify,” she said. “They should qualify, but they don't because they don't want anybody to know that they're economically disadvantaged.”

Granbury resident Jennifer Kochis spoke about the CEP program at the meeting during the citizens comments portion of the agenda.

“Back in October of this year, I was kind of noticing something was going on,” she said. “I have always packed extra lunches with all of my kids from day one, and this year was a little different because there wasn't ever enough food.”

Kochis said when she was a child, she always depended on meals at school, and that’s why she always packed extra meals for her kids because “you never know who’s in a situation where their parents may not have enough money in that week."

She said by working with Granbury High School Principal Jeremy Ross, they were able to learn and obtain helpful information regarding the best way to help students.

“We realized that we were in the midst of a perfect storm,” Kochis said. “We had inflation going on. We had a lot of parents that have not recovered from COVID from their jobs. We had just lost our funding for free breakfast and lunches from COVID, and we realized that our kids were hungry. We put in place what we could, but there were so many kids that just didn't qualify, or they were ashamed and embarrassed to say anything. I'm looking forward to the CEP child nutrition program to get passed, so that way I know that my work this year is done, and that next year our kids can go to school and have a meal waiting for them.”

Barbara Townsend, GISD school board vice president, said she was able to obtain information regarding meals served in the district from academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23 — and the results, she said, were “telling.”

"At the high school, when (lunch) was free, we had 135,821 meals that were served, and when that went away, it went down to 63,561,” she said. “Fifty-three percent of our kids were no longer getting lunch, and that is the reason why I think this program is so needed just from the situation we're in. When I looked at the elementary schools, it wasn't that different, but it was up at the high school where it really made a difference, so I think that meal shaming — if you want to call it that — is real and I'm excited about this program being put in.”

The GISD school board voted unanimously to approve the CEP program and it will start at the beginning of next semester.


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