Students at five Stafford County elementary schools and those in the Head Start program will receive free breakfast and lunch this school year, the division announced this week.
The Stafford schools join other local schools and school divisions that provide free meals to all enrolled students through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP.
The program, which was created by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, allows schools and school districts in low-income areas to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications.
Schools and school divisions in which 40% or more of enrolled students are eligible for free meals under the National School Lunch Program can participate in CEP.
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In Stafford, Kate Waller Barrett, Anne E. Moncure, Falmouth, Widewater and Rocky Run elementary schools, as well as Head Start programs at both North Star and Rising Star early learning centers, will participate in CEP this school year.
Overall, about 29% of Stafford students qualify for free meals, but at some of the participating schools, such as Barrett and the Head Start programs, more than 50% of students qualify.
Locally, Caroline, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg schools also participate in CEP.
In Caroline, just under 47% of all students qualify for free school meals, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Students at all five county schools will receive free breakfast and lunch this year.
This will be the first year Caroline participates in the program, despite signing up in 2019, nutrition services director Keith Conner said.
All eligible Spotsylvania County schools—and some that are nearing eligibility, where more than 30% of students qualify for free meals—participate in CEP.
The participating schools are Battlefield, Berkeley, Cedar Forest, Lee Hill, Livingston, Riverview, Salem, Smith Station, Spotswood and Wilderness elementary schools; Battlefield, Chancellor, Post Oak and Thornburg middle schools; and Chancellor, Massaponax and Spotsylvania high schools.
Overall, just under 36% of Spotsylvania students qualify for USDA free meals.
All five Fredericksburg City public schools have participated in CEP for several years. About 47% of city school students qualify for free meals.
King George County is the only area school division that has no schools eligible for CEP, although King George Elementary is nearing eligibility with just under 34 percent of students qualifying for free meals.
Families with students who attend non-CEP schools can apply through the school at any time for free or reduced-price meal benefits.
Last school year, most local school divisions made use of waivers passed by Congress at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide free meals to all students, but most of the waivers expired on June 30.
Lawmakers last month reached a deal to extend some of the waivers, such as those permitting substitutions in case of supply-chain disruptions and higher federal reimbursement rates, but not the waiver that suspended eligibility requirements for free and reduced-price meals.