Since March 13th, 2020, when, due to the spread of COVID-19, students went home from their respective schools across the state to begin online learning, Anderson County Schools have provided all students within the district the opportunity to have free breakfast and lunch. Anderson County Schools were able to fund and provide those meals due to two mechanisms: the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option. However, recent changes in funding by the USDA meant that our district would have to begin charging for meals once again at several schools within Anderson County as early as this upcoming school year. That is, until decision-makers within our Central Office, led by Superintendent Sheila Mitchell and Director of Programs and Operations Ronnie Fields, put together a proposal for the School Board Meeting held on June 13th.
They proposed that, for the 2022-2023 school year, ALL schools within the district be able to continue to offer free meals to students since families are still reeling from the after-effects of the financial impact of COVID; previously, only three of the schools within the district provided free meals to all students based upon the socioeconomic makeup of the students’ families within those schools. The school board unanimously agreed to extend that free meal offering to ALL schools within the district for next school year, with an estimate of nearly 633,000 meals to be provided free of charge across the district within that academic year.
For the 2022-2023 school year, Anderson County Schools will once again provide all students with the opportunity to receive a free breakfast and lunch by operating under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP for short). If the CEP program can continue to operate in our district past this coming school year it depends on student participation in receiving meals at school as well as parent participation in filling out the yellow Household Income Forms that will be sent home with Anderson County Public School students in the first week of school; only one form needs to be filled out per household no matter the number of students enrolled within the district.
Certain households within the district will receive a “Notification Letter for Free School Meals Direct Certification” by the end of the first week of school, in which case they do not need to fill out the yellow form. However, if families do not receive a “Direct Certification Letter,” Anderson County Schools are asking that families fill out the yellow Household Income Forms to see if the family qualifies for benefits. If you are wondering why you need to fill out the form when it has already been determined that all students will receive free meals at school, it is because that information is necessary if the program is to continue by providing a more accurate snapshot of the needs across the community and it drives other funding sources at both the state and federal levels. Information included on this form is directly tied to other funding for the school system including Title I and the FRYSC program, among others-- the funding for which will be lost or reduced dependent upon the level of household participation.
To clarify, many state and federal programs use socioeconomic status, based on household and income information, to determine eligibility for their programs. By completing this form, your school is able to determine your child(ren)’s eligibility for additional program discounts (e.g. student fees, athletic fees, etc) and the school is able to gather information about the economic needs of the district as a whole, thus justifying why the Community Eligibility Provision should continue to support all schools in the district and not just a select few. In the short term, we have a victory to celebrate: that all students enrolled in Anderson County Public Schools will receive breakfast and lunch at no charge and help families ease some of their financial burdens for at least one more year.
The only money students will owe will come from the purchase of “extras” or if money is owed from past overdue balances. If students choose to purchase additional food or drink above and beyond the standard meal offerings, those students must have a positive balance in their meals account. Families may deposit money into their child(ren)’s account and check their child(ren)’s balance by visiting the MySchoolBucks website at www.myschoolbucks.com. Parents wishing to deposit money via a credit card may do so on the website for a small fee. Alternatively, Anderson County Schools will collect checks from students to deposit those funds into the child(ren)’s meals account as well at no additional fee. Additionally, students who had overdue charges in previous years will be receiving charge letters next week if the student owes more than $50; for overdue balances less than $50, please check the myschoolbucks website to view any outstanding fees your child(ren) may have accrued.
The last thing Anderson County School board members or school leaders want is for the students in our district to try to learn while hungry. And, even though food and other inflation costs have hit the school system as well, Anderson County Public Schools have voiced their mission clearly-- to put the students first by focusing on their immediate needs; they know that students should be focused on learning and not on an empty belly.