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New Rule Lets Parents Pick Up Free Meals for Children During Coronavirus Closures

By Evie Blad — March 27, 2020 1 min read
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a simple change that state leaders requested to make it easier to serve free meals during mass school closures sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Under a waiver announced by the agency Thursday, parents can pick up “grab-and-go” school meals from school nutrition workers, even if their children aren’t present.

“Typically, children would need to be present to receive a meal through USDA’s child nutrition programs,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a memo announcing the new waiver option. “However, USDA recognizes that this may not be practical during the current COVID-19 outbreak.”

Schools and community organizations around the country have mobilized to provide free meals, under other recently announced waivers from the USDA that allowed them flexibility in how they feed children. Many students rely on free and discounted school lunches when schools are open.

Some state leaders had pushed for the newest flexibility. When families are trying to observe rules of social distancing and remain at home, it can be difficult for children—particularly those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable—to go to meal pick-up sites, the Council of Chief State School Officers told reporters last week.

Read Education Week’s Coverage of Coronavirus and Schools

As Education Week’s Corey Mitchell wrote this week, 91 percent food service directors who responded to a survey from the School Nutrition Association said they are at least moderately concerned that students will miss meals during the school shutdowns. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they are concerned about the safety of students and families when accessing food.

And school districts in at least five states have suspended or adjusted their meal-distribution programs because their employees have contracted coronavirus or there is fear that they will.

Photo: Joyce Dagner, a Prince George’s County Public Schools Support Manager, hands “Grab-and-Go” sack lunches to students at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover, Md. Maryland schools are closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. --Graeme Sloan/Education Week