• 81°

Surry, IW to continue providing free school meals

Surry’s and Isle of Wight’s school systems will continue providing free breakfast and lunch for students during the 2021-2022 school year, regardless of family income status.

As of February 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service required a household of three to earn $27,729 or less annually to be eligible for free meals. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA eased its income requirements to allow schools to distribute to-go meals at drop-off sites when schools shuttered and went virtual.

Earlier this year, the USDA announced it would be extending universal free meals for the 2021-2022 school year.

Last school year, “we operated under the Summer Food Service Program which allowed all children to receive free meals,” said Renita Bailey, Surry’s food services coordinator. “This year we will be operating under the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) which also allows all children to eat free.”

If and when schools return to the practice of requiring students to pay for breakfasts and lunches, Surry’s will remain free.

Surry has qualified over the past several school years for the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision, which, according to the agency’s website, allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications for free or reduced-price lunches.

According to an April 2021 USDA Community Eligibility Provision report, Georgie D. Tyler Middle School in Windsor would also be eligible for this option were schools charging for meals this school year. Carrsville, Hardy, Westside and Windsor elementary schools and Smithfield Middle School are further listed as being near the eligibility threshold.

Prior to the pandemic, at the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Isle of Wight County Schools saw a 12% increase division-wide in the number of students qualifying to receive free or reduced-price meals compared to the previous school year.

Surry published an Aug. 30 letter to parents on its division Facebook page regarding Surry’s continued eligibility to offer free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision, even though all public schools nationwide are already covered this school year under the USDA’s waiver in light of the continuing pandemic.

“This information was posted on our Facebook page because it is an annual requirement to inform parents/public that we are approved to participate in CEP,” Bailey said.