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Free meals for all students in Liberty schools
school lunches

For students in the Liberty County School System, there really is about to be a thing such as a free lunch — for all of them.

The school system officials will provide school breakfasts and lunches — to all students in the system — at no cost, beginning with the 2024-25 school year.

“We’re delighted,” said Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry.

“It’s just a win-win for everybody,” said Stephanie Fox, director of school nutrition.

Currently, more than three-fourths — 76.49% — of Liberty County School System students are enrolled in either free or reduced lunch programs, out of a total of 10,847 students. According to the school system, there had been nearly 1 million lunches served this school year as of March, more than 988,000, and nearly 870,000 breakfasts served.

Under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), breakfast and lunch will be served at no cost to all students without using household meal applications. Reimbursement is done through a formula based on the percentage of students participating. The CEP runs on a fouryear cycle and any funding shortages must be made up by the school system through non-federal funds.

Along with students eating breakfast and lunch at no cost, there also will be no negative balances on any student’s account, and the school system can make money on extra sales.

“We have had some organizations that would pay the balances off for our children,” Dr. Perry said.

The school system has been looking at the CEP and its provisions for nearly five years, operations director Arnold Jackson pointed out, and when the threshold was lowered, system officials jumped at the change.

“We put the pedal to the metal,” Jackson said.

Final approval was given last week for the program. Perry said schools officials have been looking at ways to relieve the financial burden on parents.

“We’ve had conversations all along,” he said.

Schools officials see other benefits stemming from the universal free breakfast and lunch.

“You don’t know what these students are going through in their homes,” Fox said. “We want to offer them a nutritious breakfast in the morning so we can stimulate their mind and their body and at lunchtime, provide them nutrition to carry them through the rest of the day.”

For some students who can’t afford a lunch, it also removes that stigma of not having the money to pay for it, officials added, and instead of thinking about where their next meal might come from, they can concentrate on school work.

“It also affects behavior,” Jackson added. “If they are hungry, they may be irritated and short-tempered and it leads to disruption in the classroom.”

Dr. Perry commended the staff for pursuing the CEP and paving the way to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students. He said it’s another example of their work, which includes securing $30 million in grants over the last four years.

“When we get these kinds of situations, it relieves parents or relieves taxpayers, because we can do some things that are not coming out of general funds. We take advantage of every opportunity to relieve the citizens and give our children a good education.”

Schools can make money off sales of extra entrees to students and from sales of a la carte items.

“And those will be nutritious, smart snack items they will be able to purchase,” Fox said.

Dr. Perry said he also hopes it gets students attuned to eating healthy meals now and in the future.

“We want to get them into good habits so that when they become parents, they are in the habits of eating healthy meals,” he said. “I think by giving healthy meals at a young age, we are going to help them be able to eat healthier meals when they are on their own. Our nutrition program is a winwin situation. They get to know what healthy meals are, and I think that is important.”

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