MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — Since the start of the pandemic, the government has provided free meals to all students regardless of economic status. However, children in Maryland’s largest school district were at risk of losing those free meals for the upcoming school year.

Through waivers from the USDA, all students in the country were provided free meals since the beginning of the pandemic when virtual learning began. But on June 30th, that assistance ends, leaving schools to foot the bill of cafeteria costs.

Hannah Donart has two kids in the MCPS system. She is an advocate for universal and healthy school meals.

“If kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from, it’s going to be hard for them to focus in school and mentally be okay,” Donart said.

Montgomery County Public Schools proposed changes to their school food program back in December of 2020 that didn’t sit well with some parents.

Fania Yangarber is a former MCPS parent and a longtime Healthy School Food Maryland, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health outcomes for Montgomery County schoolchildren. She feels that the eligibility cut-off in the county for the Free and Reduced Meal program, or FARM, is disproportionate to the self-sufficiency standard in the county. She explained that the eligibility cut-off for a family of four before the pandemic was $47,000 while the self-sufficiency standard for the county is $86,000 for a family of four.

“We as one of the richest counties in the country can certainly afford to make sure that those free meals continue at a minimum for any child who needs one but we feel that there should be no distinction in the cafeteria,” Yangarber explained. “Every child who walks into the cafeteria should be able to get a meal for free if they need or want one.”

Some parents believe taxes could fund free school meals.

“I’m a believer in you pay for what you get. So if my taxes go towards universal meals, I’ll be getting something for it,” Donart said. “My children will be learning in a space where it’s more inclusive, where they’re providing basic needs to all children.”

The new plan includes:

  • Contacting parents or guardians about overdue cafeteria charges instead of an alternative meal
  • Not seeking repayment for students who accumulated meal charges before qualifying for free and reduced meals
  • Not allowing students to charge a la carte items to their account if they have overdue charges

The effective date of this program is July 1st, 2022, and was passed unanimously by the Board.