CEDAR RAPIDS — Thousands of students in Cedar Rapids began the school year Thursday without having to worry about how to pay for lunch.
This year, six additional schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District qualified for “community-based” federal meal funding, which means all students, regardless of their ability to pay, will receive free lunch at 16 schools in the district.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture program benefits schools where, among other criteria, at least 40 percent of children qualify for free lunch, an indicator of poverty.
“It’s for equity,” Grant Wood Elementary Principal Cindy Stock said, noting even students who bring food from home will have access to free milk and other snacks. “It’s an opportunity for all students.” Grant Wood Elementary is one of the six schools to qualify for the program for the first time this year. The others are Cleveland and Grant elementaries, and McKinley, Roosevelt and Wilson middle schools, according to the district.
In addition to feeding more students, Stock said she expects the schoolwide program to eliminate some logistical cafeteria issues, such as a stalled lunch line as students access their meal accounts.
“We’re looking forward to how smoothly it will go,” she said Thursday, after hosting an all-school assembly on the students’ first day back after summer break.
Ten additional Cedar Rapids schools have provided free meals to all students in the past and will continue to this school year: Garfield, Harrison, Hoover, Johnson, Kenwood, Taylor, Van Buren and Wright elementaries, and Polk Alternative Education Center and Metro Alternative High School.
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A meal in the district costs about $3, but many students experience an empty or overdrawn account at some point during the academic year, a district official previously told The Gazette.
Some schools in Iowa have made students with unpaid balances sit at separate tables, do chores or prevented them from participating in extracurricular activities. That drew ire from state legislators earlier this year, who passed legislation to stop “food shaming” in schools.
The legislation, which established guidelines for schools as they address lunch debt, went into effect July 1.
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