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Breakfast and Lunch Now Free for All Students

Nationwide Policy Provides Free Food for Public Schools

Originally published on November 9th, by Annie Welman

During April 2021, a nationwide policy was established that gave public schools across the country access to free school lunches for all students. Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this plan allows students to eat for free, regardless of family income or other factors that previously determined whether students received free food options.

At Ballard, this plan includes a free breakfast and lunch option for any student that wants it. Beginning months ago, the plan is now in full swing, letting students simply walk into the commons, choose their food and leave without any additional steps.

The USDA ultimately chose to begin this policy after discussion about increased food insecurity for families during the COVID pandemic. Countless families suffered financially during this time and providing free food to students was part of an effort to ease the strain on parents and guardians.

Staff, such as lunchroom manager Lan Dang, support this new policy.

“I hope the free lunch policy stays forever,” Dang said over email. “I’m so happy that every student doesn’t have to worry about their next meal or going to class hungry.”

Dang also describes how the policy has improved the role of lunchroom staff.

“It’s easier because I don’t have to worry about collecting payments from students or their parents,” Dang said. “I always felt bad before when I couldn’t serve food to a student because they weren’t able to pay.”

Many students also shared support for this new program, including sophomore Lilliana Wald.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Wald wrote in a text message. “Having a free option is very convenient.”

One reason for this convenience is that the policy allows a quicker meal pick-up process, because students no longer have to line up to pay for their food. 

Wald, along with other students, say that this system gives students enough time to get breakfast during the ten minute passing period between second and third period every day.

One drawback of the efficient process of getting meals, though, is that some students report getting to the lunchroom after all of the food has been taken. Though Wald has never seen food run out, not all students share that experience.

Principal Keven Wynkoop said that there has always been a meal available for every student. 

He also mentioned that more students are now eating school breakfast and lunch.

“We are serving a lot more students now than we did when students had to pay.” Wynkoop said.

Dang also witnessed this increase while serving students food.

“There’s been a definite increase,” Dang said. “About twice as many students are getting breakfast and lunch.”

Though the policy has shifted many aspects of school breakfast and lunch, the lunchroom staff have not changed.

“We have the same amount of hours and employees as we had before,” Dang said.

An additional complexity of this policy is that many families have stopped applying for the free and reduced priced meals plan. 

“Over the last two years, most families have stopped submitting that paperwork that makes them qualified.” Wynkoop said.

This decrease was anticipated because students no longer need to apply to get free breakfast and lunch, but it makes the number of students who need financial assistance difficult to keep track of.

It also means that those students no longer get access to financial accommodations like reduced AP exam costs, which used to be provided through the free and reduced meal application. Though the number of students who need financial assistance has increased during COVID, the exact comparisons are unclear because fewer people are applying.

Because of this, Seattle Public Schools is encouraging families to continue applying for free and reduced price meals despite the new free food policy.

“Even though the meals are free, there has still been a push to get families to fill out that paperwork,” Wynkoop said. “Because that will give them access to other free things…like an ASB card.”

Despite these elements of the new plan, many people think the switch to free food is a positive one.

“I think it’s an amazing policy because students shouldn’t have to worry about being hungry at school,” said junior Jane McKelvey.

National opinions about the policy vary, though. The Waukesha school district in Wisconsin, for instance, initially opted out of the federal free lunch policy. Though they reversed this decision recently, this view differs greatly from the position of schools elsewhere in the US. 

California schools have taken a different stance, committing to permanently providing two free meals a day to students. Currently, the federal policy only guarantees free school food through the 2021-2022 school year, in response to COVID, so the California decision is a significant extension.

Though Wynkoop says there has been conversation about a similar policy in Seattle, a decision following in California’s footsteps has not been made.

“I certainly know that it’s something that has been brought up, but I haven’t heard any decisions.” Wynkoop said.

For now, free breakfasts and lunches are assured for all Ballard students, though it is still undecided whether this policy will continue past the current school year.

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Breakfast and Lunch Now Free for All Students