PORT ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended its waiver program offering free meals to students through the end of the school year.
Public school districts are now to be reimbursed for free meals to students through June 30, 2021, an extension from the initial end date of Dec. 18.
“As our nation recovers and reopens, we want to ensure that children continue to receive the nutritious breakfasts and lunches they count on during the school year wherever they are, and however they are learning,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a press release.
“We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now.”
Each district has been feeding students who attend in-person through the cafeteria, but for students who are not in-person that day, a variety of strategies are being used for pick-up and delivery depending on the district.
“We are excited to continue providing meals at no cost to students for this school year,” said Jennifer Sperline, communications coordinator for Port Angeles School District. “It definitely serves a purpose within our community.”
The district has been delivering meals to students by school buses, but it will not be able to do that as it phases-in in-person learning form remote learning.
“Staff is needed onsite, as well as buses are running routes that transfer students to their schools,” Sperline said.
Meal pick-up is offered at individual schools. The pick-up times for non-pre-ordered meals at elementary schools is from 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.
Families must contact Stevens Middle School and Port Angeles High School directly for pick-up times at those sites.
Beginning today, the district also is offering a pre-order system for meals.
“This will allow families more flexibility in determining on a weekly basis how many meals they need, varying from one to seven days’ worth of meals,” Sperline said.
Meals can be picked up at Port Angeles High School from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Orders must be placed by noon the day prior to the individual’s pick-up day. The order form is available online and at all school sites.
For more information, see the district website at portangelesschools.org.
The new order “affects all school districts to the good,” said Sequim Superintendent Roy Clark. “Those families going through some tough times get some free meals.”
Sequim School District has buses and vans going out to families with meals and also has meals available for students who are in class at brick-and-mortar buildings.
“The families that are in need of them are accessing them,” Clark said.
Food service is for children from 2 to 18 years old.
Deliveries are on Mondays and Wednesdays. Each child gets four meals — breakfast and lunch for two days — on Mondays and six meals on Wednesdays for three days worth of meals.
The district serves about 1,500 meals a week.
For more information, see the district website at sequimschools.org.
The Cape Flattery School District includes Clallam Bay and Neah Bay, which is on the Makah reservation.
Neah Bay students remain on a remote learning plan while the district is in the process of transitioning elementary school students in Clallam Bay to in-person learning, said Superintendent Michelle Parkin.
“The waiver being extended will allow the district to continue distribution of meals to all of our K-12 students, even though most of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch program,” Parkin said, adding that “the tracking of meals distributed was going to be extensive without the waiver.”
In Clallam Bay, the district is now providing door-to-door delivery of meals to about 120 students.
In Neah Bay, 800 meals for 400 students are provided. A partnership between the Makah tribal forestry department and the Neah Bay schools is in the process of designing wooden hatches that are elevated off the ground and covered to protect them from wintertime inclement weather, Parkins said.
This will allow students to get meals at the delivery points after their Zoom classes are over.
The federal program reimbursement for free meals at this time provides additional funding to help offset the additional staffing needs to distribute the meals, Parkin said.
“It doesn’t take care of all of it, but it helps,” she said.
For more information, see cfsd401.org.
Superintendent Dave Bingham could not be reached on Sunday for comment.
For more information about the district in Joyce, see csd313.org.
Diana Reaume, superintendent of the Quillayute Valley School District, said all district officials are glad to see the free meals extended to the end of the school year.
“It’s good for Forks. It’s good for our families,” she said Sunday.
About 70 percent of Forks students are eligible for free or reduced lunches, she said.
Also, “it’s really important to us to be able to serve siblings who are not in school,” Reaume added.
Families in Forks were given the choice of continuing with remote learning only or going to a hybrid model of some in-person education along with some remote teaching. About 60 percent choose the hybrid model and about 40 percent went with continuing internet-only education.
All are getting meals if they want them, whether they get them in a school building or from deliveries to bus stops.
For information about the district in Forks, see the website at qvschools.org.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski contributed to this story.