Universal Free Lunch Waivers Expire for Oberlin City Schools

Federal funding has provided waivers allowing schools to give students free lunches regardless of income since the beginning of the pandemic. Congressional funding for the waivers expired in late June, and free school lunches in Ohio will no longer be available to all students. However, Cleveland and Akron public schools will continue to provide free lunches to all students.  

 “Our meals in Akron will still be at no charge under the Community Eligibility Provision, as we were prior to the pandemic waiver,” a spokesperson for Akron Public Schools said in a statement released toward the end of the summer. “Our parents will not be required to do anything differently here in Akron, but this does affect many other school districts.” 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service’s Community Eligibility Provision allows schools serving many high-need students to provide all meals without cost or an application process. 

“To determine eligibility of a school for the CEP, calculate the number of identified students as a percentage of school enrollment,” reads a fact sheet produced by the Ohio Department of Education for the Community Eligibility Provision. “The percentage of identified students to enrollment must be 40% or greater.” 

However, Oberlin City Schools do not qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision — despite the fact that 50–70 percent of students in the district qualify for federal support. As a result, the district is no longer providing free lunches to all students as of this 2022–23 school year.

In an email to the Review, Oberlin Board of Education President Anne Schaum noted the importance of families submitting applications for support. 

“We have been working to get all parents/guardians to submit the free- and reduced-lunch applications to maximize the federal support that is available for families who qualify,” Schaum wrote. 

This announcement comes as Oberlin City Schools increased menu prices in August. Effective for the 2022–23 school year, Oberlin Elementary School lunch prices rose from $2.75 to $3.00, and Langston Middle School and Oberlin High School lunch prices rose from $3.00 to $3.25. Price increases can be attributed to the supply chain issues also faced by Akron Public Schools and Avon Lake City Schools. 

In response to high food prices, President Joe Biden signed the Keep Kids Fed Act, which provides schools with “an additional temporary reimbursement of 40 cents per lunch and 15 cents per breakfast, and child care centers with an extra 10 cents reimbursement per meal” and equips the United States Department of Agriculture with “additional flexibilities to support schools, as needed, based on their local conditions.” 

Despite the end of Congressional funding, Oberlin City Schools vows never to let a child go hungry — whether or not a student has funds available in their lunch account, the student will be able to eat a full meal. 

“While we do reach out to families when balances go negative, we don’t let that interfere with the daily nutrition we feel is critical to educational success,” Schaum said. 

However, when outstanding balances reach a certain level, Oberlin High School graduates are unable to receive their diplomas. On May 27 of this year, when the graduating class still owed a collective $2,100 in unpaid fees, one community member contributed $1,000 to ensure that seniors with an outstanding balance could receive their diplomas. 

Oberlin College second-year Jimena Granados visits Oberlin Elementary School five times a week to teach Spanish as a S.I.T.E.S. instructor and English as a part of the America Reads program.

“As an Oberlin College student, I recognize that there is often an unawareness of issues such as these that involve the larger Oberlin community, despite the fact that students are living here for a significant amount of time,” Granados said. 

During her time at Oberlin Elementary School, she has noticed the importance of all students receiving regular meals. 

“I know that students should always be able to have access to a meal, as this affects their ability to stay focused in the classroom and their overall well-being,” Granados said. “Many students could possibly be affected, and with such an amazing student body like that of OES, it is important to ensure that all students are at their best each and every day — including what they eat.”