SCHOOL LUNCH 01-11042016170215 (copy)

After two straight school years of universal free meals, families have to apply for the free or reduced-price option this year and those not eligible will have to pay full price.

The 2022-23 school year will be the first since the onset of the pandemic without universal free breakfast and lunches.

With just days to go, the number of applications the Madison Metropolitan School District has received from families for free or reduced-price lunches is well below the levels of pre-pandemic years.

As of Monday, the district had received 1,759 applications for students to participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program this year. In 2019, 9,726 students received free meals while another 630 were able to pay a reduced price for them.

“When considering past experience, we fully anticipate these numbers to significantly increase in the first couple weeks of school,” MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds wrote in an email.

Sixteen schools will provide breakfast and lunch for free to all students regardless of eligibility as they are part of the Community Eligibility Provision. The district still wants families who would be eligible for free or reduced-price meals at those schools to apply, however, for accurate data.

Those schools are Allis, Anana, Hawthorne, Henderson, Lake View, Leopold, Lindbergh, Mendota, Orchard Ridge, Sandburg and Schenk elementary schools; Badger Rock, Blackhawk, Sherman and Wright middle schools and Capital High School.

For the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, no applications were necessary at any school, as meals were available for every student regardless of income through federal funding related to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. That funding expired this year without an extension from Congress, leaving districts to move back to pre-pandemic practices requiring families to apply for meal eligibility.

LeMonds wrote in an email that the district had “leveraged all of its communications platforms, direct communication to families, newsletters, website and information provided at orientations” to remind families of the change.

“This is happening both at the district level and school level,” he wrote.

The district “is committed to ensuring every student is provided a nutritional meal each school day,” LeMonds wrote, and won’t turn a student away from receiving a meal if their family hasn’t submitted the necessary forms.

“If a student whose family has not submitted the proper paperwork for our free/reduced meal program, and is hoping to receive a free/reduced meal at school, they will receive a free/reduced meal, with the caveat that the appropriate paperwork be completed as soon as possible,” LeMonds wrote. “The school will then work with the family to ensure completion of the applications.”

The district will use the School Café service for families to connect with the school food program this year. That program allows families to deposit money, see menus and apply for free or reduced-price meals.

Creating an account requires a student’s school ID number.

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