Two Rowan schools lose provision on free and reduced-price meals
SALISBURY — Recent months have brought significant cause for celebration in Rowan County: increasing property tax values, population increases, large economic development scores and a downward trend in unemployment.
But the gains also have brought growing pains for Rowan-Salisbury Schools. According to Nutrition Director Lisa Altmann, two Rowan County schools will no longer be eligible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision this year: China Grove and Knollwood elementaries.
The provision provides free breakfast and lunch to all students enrolled at a school without the need for an application. Twelve schools were previously served through the federal program: Overton Elementary, Isenberg Elementary, China Grove Elementary, North Rowan Elementary, Koontz Elementary, Hurley Elementary, Hanford Dole Elementary, Knox Middle, Knollwood Elementary, North Rowan Middle, Landis Elementary and Henderson Independent High School.
During Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Altmann explained that qualification for the program is based on identified student population, with particular emphasis on four population areas: those receiving food stamps, those who are homeless, those who are from migrant families and those who are in foster care.
Altmann said the data is collected from the state Department of Public Instruction as well as the school system’s homeless liaison.
“The school population has to equal 40% of just those identified populations to qualify for the program,” she said.
Numbers in each category have drastically changed in recent years for China Grove and Knollwood, said Altmann.
“I’m not sure why. Those are two of our highest poverty areas.”
She said the provision allowed schools to be clustered and calculated together to reach that 40% marker, but that the two schools still fell outside the qualifying standards.
“What we’ve discovered is that when the economy improves, or as the job market becomes more comfortable, many families move past that mark,” said Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann. “Parents have taken a job that moves them beyond the area where they can qualify for these programs.”
Though the upward momentum is cause for celebration, it still means difficult news for those reliant on school nutrition services, said Altmann.
“It’s all the way across the country that we’re seeing this,” she said. “It’s just really hard to go back.”
Altmann said parents and caregivers of students will soon be notified of the change in procedure. According to the Community Eligibility Provision website, a loss of the provision will mean a return to requiring household applications for free and reduced-price lunch. It will also slow down meal lines.
But the nutrition director said that options are being explored to ease potential burdens, and that the department will continue to monitor data. If either site becomes eligible again, Altmann said she would reapply for the assistance.
The nutrition department also will be working to provide a universal breakfast at each site and to explore other means of providing nutrition services or assistance for those in need, she said.
Superintendent Lynn Moody echoed that sentiment, saying the food and nutrition department is “bending over backward to feed as many kids as they possibly can.”
“We’re not going to just let them stand alone; we’re going to be there with them,” said Altmann. “That’s our passion.”