Delaware City Schools: Pandemic's effect on meals to continue in 2021-22

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

Among the long-term changes brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is the way the Delaware City School District provides food to its students.

When the pandemic led Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to announce orders that the state's public schools close in March 2020, Delaware school district began providing free meals to families via curbside pickup.

Heidi Kegley

When most school districts began returning at least some of their students to classrooms last fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture waived all fees for its breakfast and lunch programs, providing the meals for free to every student, not only those on a free or reduced-price plan.

That free-food program will continue during the 2021-22 school year, Superintendent Heidi Kegley told the school board May 3.

"We're excited to share with you the National School Lunch Program will continue offering free breakfast and lunch for all students all next school year. We know that’s a huge benefit to all our students, and we’re grateful for that opportunity,” Kegley said. "So our food-service crew will continue to do an exceptional job providing breakfast and lunch, and that will be free to all our families."  

Before the pandemic, the district's school-year and summer lunch programs were part of the National School Lunch Program, district communications director Jennifer Ruhe said after the meeting.

Also before the pandemic, income guidelines were waived for the summer program to allow all students to participate, she said.

The USDA's latest action "just removes the income guidelines that are generally in effect during the school year," Ruhe said.

The USDA's April 20 news release about continuing free meals for the 2021-22 school year said the summer program – the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option – essentially has been expanded to operate year-round.

"Schools that choose this option will receive higher-than-normal meal reimbursements for every meal they serve, which will support them in serving the most nutritious meals possible while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply-chain challenges. This option also affords schools the financial flexibility to further customize their meal-service design to fit their local needs," the USDA release said.

Like many Ohio school districts, Delaware offered families two attendance options for the current school year. One is a hybrid schedule, with students alternating between remote learning at home and attending classes in school buildings. The second is a 100% remote-learning "online academy."

In addition to meals served in the buildings, "DCS has also provided lunches to families in the online academy and for students in the hybrid learning model on their days off,” Ruhe said.

“Families signed up to have those meals provided. Currently, we are providing about 4,500 take-home meals each month for online-academy and hybrid students," she said.

The district again will offer pickup of free meals this summer, she said.

"We will be distributing meals – breakfast and lunch – on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Woodward and Conger elementary schools from 11:30 a.m. to noon, starting on June 1. These are available to any child 18 and under. We will also have select bus routes to reach the more rural areas of our district," Ruhe said. "Students will receive three days of meals on Tuesdays and four days of meals on Thursdays.

“Because we are able to serve seven days of meals, we will not be doing the weekend blessing bags this summer. Those will likely resume in the fall when school starts. Last year, we served about 1,000 meals per week during the summer lunch program," she said.

At the height of the school closures last spring, the district gave away lunch and breakfast meal kits weekdays at each elementary building and the Willis Education Center, 74 W. William St.

 Meals were carried to families stopping their vehicles at the curb, and food bags were delivered with Friday meals. The district also distributed food to outlying neighborhoods with school bus drops.

Also on May 3, the school board approved the list of 2021 Hayes High School graduates, pending completion of all graduation requirements.

Graduation will be held at Cornell Stadium at the high school, 289 Euclid Ave., at 10 a.m. May 22.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews