Public schools and child care centers play a vital role in providing healthy, nutritious meals to some 30 million children across the country every year through USDA-funded school meal programs.

Below is guidance for affiliates working to ensure that students continue to have access to meals despite coronavirus-related school closures.

Continuing meal service

The USDA recently took steps to authorize School Food Authorities (SFAs) and other eligible community organizations to continue to serve meals to students affected by school or child care closures through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option (SSO).

Allowable activities*

States may submit waiver requests to serve meals immediately by providing their Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Regional Office with the required information. Waivers may grant schools the flexibility to do the following:

  • Provide meals in a non-congregate setting
  • Offer additional distribution sites outside of eligible area
  • Provide students with multiple meals and meal supplements
  • Serve meals at school sites and community sites Provide “grab and go” meal service.

Best practices

Continuation of school meals programs is an important part of maintaining the health and well-being of students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities that have closed schools have relied on a variety of approaches to distribute meals. Some best practices include:

  • Providing information in multiple languages and formats
  • Distributing information on meal sites through multiple channels
  • Maximizing access by providing flexible hours
  • Offering multiple meals at the same time, while practicing social distancing
  • Offering “grab and go” meals outside of buildings
  • Providing drive-thru options
  • Delivering meals to school bus stops
  • Delivering meals directly to students
  • Collaborating with local non-profits to ensure enough food for the entire household.

Other considerations

During this troubling time, students in need of meals may also need other services such as health care, mental health services, and social services. Be sure to virtually convene your specialized instructional support personnel, such as school social workers and school counselors, as well as local service providers to discuss addressing the entire range of student needs while schools are closed.

Resources

Ensuring Access to the Child Nutrition Programs in the Event of School Closures, via Food Research & Action Center

USDA Guidelines on Child Nutrition Program Meal Service During COVID-19 Outbreaks

NEA – Education Votes: Child Nutrition

USDA: Guidance on Human Pandemic Response

“Secretary Perdue Announces Proactive Flexibilities to Feed Children When Schools Close,” via USDA.gov

USDA’s new guidance Q&A: COV-19 SFSP and SSO Meal Delivery Using Existing Authority

*As of this writing, legislators are currently considering a blanket waiver, so check back on this site for the latest updates.

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