By Michael Hutchins / Herald Democrat
The new school year is bringing new changes to food service for both Sherman and Denison Independent School districts. Officials with both districts said free school meals for some students will be discontinued going into the new school year.
As part of COVID-19 relief, both districts were able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students within the district in 2020 and 2021, however funding for this relief has since lapsed for students in middle and high school.
“When COVID hit, congress passed funding allowing universal meals for everybody,” SISD Food Service Director Tasha Alcala said. “Those funds have not been authorized for this school year so we’ve had to move back into determining eligibility through the meal applications for middle and high school students.”
For SISD, the coming school year represents a return to some level of normality following the pandemic. In addition to the changes to free and reduced school lunches, Alcala said the district had to make some changes to the food service due to the pandemic and supply chain issues it created.
“They’ve been able to keep pretty much on the same track of being able to offer hot entrees with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and canned fruits and frozen vegetables to our students,” she said. “I think the only thing that we are going to see this year is being able to introduce more new foods to the menu.”
Under current programming, SISD will be able to offer free meals to students through fifth grade through funding provided by the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, which is separate from the COVID funding. Meanwhile Denison, which uses an intermediate school model will be able to offer the same benefits through the sixth grade.
For upper levels, the districts will be returning to the free and lunch programs that were used prior to the pandemic. Students and their families will need to apply for the benefits and determine if they are eligible for free or reduced meals. These waiver requests are available on each district’s website. The districts also plan to send out physical copies of the applications at the start of the school year to allow a bridge between previous benefits and this year’s programs.
Parents can apply for the aid as districts have additional benefits including reduced fees for college applications and some youth sports programs. There will be a 30-day grace period for students who were eligible for benefits last year.