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In this 2012 file photo, children pick up lunches at Nebraska Elementary school.

FWCS’ lower grades to receive free meals

All Fort Wayne Community Schools elementary and middle school students will receive free breakfast and lunch beginning in the fall, officials said.

School officials said it is not financially feasible to offer meals at no cost to high school students, but they would reevaluate providing meals to those students at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in May that eligible Indiana school districts will be able to offer free meals as part of the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Districts will receive federal reimbursements for the cost of lunches going to students who qualify and can opt in or out of the program each year.

To participate in the program, school districts must agree to offer free meals to all students within an eligible school, according to the USDA.

FWCS officials said they would be able to provide meals to elementary and middle school students because the revenues from those schools exceed the expense of providing meals.

There are enough eligible students at those schools that providing free meals to students who would not normally qualify is not a problem, FWCS Chief Financial Officer Kathy Friend said.

But providing free meals for high schools would not be feasible because the revenues would not exceed the expenses, she said.

The FWCS school board unanimously approved the plan Monday for all elementary and middle schools as well as Ward Education Center. The free meals will be offered beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

In Allen County, 46 schools are eligible to apply for the provision including 38 Fort Wayne Community Schools, four East Allen Community Schools and four private schools.

EACS will not participate in the program next school year, officials said.

For a school to be eligible, at least 40 percent of the students in each building must qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Students who are homeless, runaways, migrants, Head Start students and some foster children are also counted toward the 40 percent, according to the USDA.

FWCS families will no longer need to submit an application for free or reduced-price meals but will still need to apply for free textbooks, officials said.

“Right now, sometimes we are the only source for nutritious meals,” Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.

“ … For me, it was a simple decision because we take that out of the hands of children who may not have an option and parents who feel that they don't have options.”

Sometimes families are simply too embarrassed to sign up for the free- and reduced-price meals, so this program is designed to make sure students have access to nutritious meals, Robinson explained.

Fort Wayne Community Schools has 19,265 students who receive free lunches and 2,664 who receive reduced-price meals, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said, and 8,697 students pay for lunches.

But the number of students who qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision isn't the same as the number of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, Stockman said.