NEW BRITAIN – To make sure students continue to have access to much-needed meals throughout the covid-19 pandemic, lawmakers across the nation are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be flexible toward those needs.
Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal joined 32 of their senate colleagues in a joint letter that implores the USDA to maintain student access to meals if the pandemic is extended throughout the 2020-21 school year, regardless of school opening status.
“The covid-19 pandemic has forced schools around the country to close their buildings and shift instruction to online and distance-learning models,” the senators wrote. “For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only healthy and regular meals they receive.”
“The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has also resulted in millions of parents losing their jobs, and millions more students will be dependent on school-provided meals. School meal program directors must begin procuring food, equipment, and supplies and placing orders now in preparation for the upcoming school year,” said the senators.
The letter is in support of the School Nutrition Association’s request to the USDA to extend a number of school meal program waivers for the entire 2020-21 school year, including Unexpected School Closures Waiver, Afterschool Activity Waiver, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Parent Pick-Up Waiver, Waiver of Child Nutrition Monitoring, Waiver of Food Management Company Contract Duration Requirements, Waiver of Local School Wellness Assessments, Area Eligibility Waiver, Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option Waivers.
Jeffrey Taddeo, resident district manager for Whitsons School Nutrition as part of the Consolidated School District of New Britain, said the senator’s push is extremely important because there has to be some long-term plans in place for students who need meals.
“We continue to do what we normally do, whether or not we’re in a pandemic we feed our kids normally,” Taddeo said. “But if the pandemic continues or if we have another outbreak, then the USDA will need to have waivers in place so we can keep doing what we need to do.”
While recognizing that there are safety concerns when schools reopen, Taddeo said the school district is doing everything they can to make sure that the school buildings are frequently cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected.
“I was part of the reopening committee so I had a lot of input and insight into what can work and what can’t,” he said. “We will make sure that the students get their meals safely and eat their meals safely.”
Under the district’s reopening plans released earlier this week, the food services director will work with all building principals to ensure that each school’s food service promotes social distancing to the highest possible extent.
In most cases, students will eat meals in the classroom. Desks, tables and other classroom surfaces will be disinfected and sanitized before and after meals.
When students are in the cafeteria, there will be no self-serve areas, whether it be food buffets or condiment areas. Physical barriers and partitions will be installed in food service lines. Social distancing throughout the cafeteria will be promoted to the greatest extent possible, according to the plan.
The food services director will be responsible for supplying food service workers with the appropriate equipment, including gloves and face coverings.
If families opt for their students to participate in the all remote learning model, grab and go meals will be provided at designated sites for daily pick up by either family members or the students, said Taddeo. That option will also be available if schools are shutdown again.
Outdoor tents will also be set up at every school so there can be outside feeding for safety and for the students to get some fresh air, said Taddeo. “We will also have security there as well so children know that when they get their meals, they have to go back to class,” he said. “Education is still important and we want to make sure the students are getting it.”
Summer meals will continue to be available until the end of August. For meal sites and more information, visit www.csdnb.org
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