Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Education

Groups Push to Extend Relaxed Rules for Student Meals as COVID-19 Strains System

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 13, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The coronavirus pandemic has put enormous pressure on school meal services, and there have been recent signs that this safety net is coming apart. Now advocates say flexibility from program requirements that the federal government provided towards the start of the pandemic for schools and others should be extended for several months.

Since late last month, there’s been a Beltway push for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend waivers from various meal rules. These waivers cover those who provide school and summer meal services, as well as care providers that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Child and nutrition advocacy groups want the USDA to extend several of the meal waivers until Sept. 30. They say Congress gave Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue the power to grant that extension under the COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act that President Donald Trump signed into law in March.

Here are a few of the notable waivers the group is pushing for the USDA to extend that are due to expire June 30 or when the official federal public health emergency ends, whichever is sooner:

Another notable request: Groups wants an extension to the flexibility from normal meal-pattern requirements that govern things like serving sizes for different meals. Waivers from those requirements are due to expire May 31 or when the public health emergency ends, whichever is sooner.

Some of the flexibility related to the pandemic let meal providers operate under Summer Food Service Program rules. (See this one, for example, about serving meals in non-congregate settings during the summer.) So just because the academic year ends doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the COVID-related flexibility students and families are now benefitting from would vanish or diminish.

However, Carolyn Vega, a senior program manager at No Kid Hungry, a child nutrition advocacy group, noted that not all the waivers granted by the USDA cover the summer months and beyond in a way that would make it practical and safe for those serving meals.

“If they don’t know how they’re going to be able to operate in July and August, they can’t effectively make those plans now,” Vega said of those meal providers in a Tuesday interview. “They are already financially strapped.”

Vega cited the extension of the non-congregate meal waiver as particularly important, given how it allows providers to serve meals to children without having to gather in large groups.

The push on USDA included a letter sent late last month by hundreds of organizations.

“In absence of certainty from USDA about whether various program requirements will continue to be waived, sponsors, especially those facing the risk of continued social distancing measures, may be forced to refrain from program participation this summer,” the April 29 letter from the groups state. “As a result, vulnerable children will have decreased access to critical nutrition at a time of unprecedented need.”

In response to a request for comment, the USDA said in a statement Tuesday that it is “committed to maximizing our services and flexibilities to ensure children and others who need food can get it during this Coronavirus epidemic. This is a challenging time for many Americans, but it is reassuring to see President Trump and our fellow Americans stepping up to the challenges facing us to make sure kids and those facing hunger are fed.”

Photo: Cafeteria worker Cathy Piluso hands out free meals at Bensalem High School in Bensalem, Pa., in mid-March. Fears that food service workers could contract or spread the virus are spurring some districts around the country to rethink their alternative food service programs. --AP Photo/Matt Rourke


Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP