Two of Frederick County’s public schools will see a change in their daily meal offerings for the 2019-2020 school year. Thurmont Primary and Spring Ridge Elementary schools will no longer offer free, in-the-classroom breakfast to all students.
According to Dian Nelson, a spokesperson for FCPS, schools can participate in the program, called Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA), if at least 40 percent of their students qualify for free and reduced-price meals (FARM).
The program, launched in 1998 by the State Department of Education, provides free breakfast after the bell to all students, regardless of whether they qualify for free and reduced-price meals. In previous years at Thurmont Primary and Spring Ridge Elementary, breakfast was provided to students in the classroom before instruction began. According to the MMFA website, providing breakfast in a classroom setting “ensures that every child has the time and opportunity to eat breakfast before learning, and no child is singled out due to full class participation.”
When schools begin participating in the program, they usually run for two-year phases before numbers are re-evaluated.
Nelson said Spring Ridge Elementary had qualified for the program for eight years, but as of October 2018, the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals fell to 33 percent.
Thurmont Primary, which had been running the program for two years, had its percentage drop to 38 percent.
Robert Kelly, senior manager of FCPS Food and Nutrition Services, said in an email the schools will still offer breakfast in the mornings. The difference is that breakfast won’t be free to all students, regardless of eligibility, and it will be served in the cafeteria instead of the classroom. Kelly said 10,698 students district wide were approved for free or reduced-price meals for the 2018-19 school year.
Kelly said that regardless of eligibility, it is important to remember that the morning meal is essential to successful student performance.
“When kids eat breakfast, they can focus in class on schoolwork and listening because they are not focusing on being hungry,” Kelly said.
He also said the school system encourages students to eat breakfast at school due to its convenience and low cost. Students who qualify for reduced-price meals can purchase breakfast for 20 cents, and students who do not qualify for free and reduced-price meals can buy breakfast for $1.60.
The MMFA program can be restored at the schools for the 2020-2021 school year if the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals rises again to 40 percent or above. Kelly says the only way to make sure the data is as accurate as possible is if families fill out an application to see if they qualify.
“If every family fills out the application, even if they don’t think they qualify, we are sure to accurately and completely capture the need in the community. ... They don’t have to use the benefit just because they qualify for it,” Kelly said. “The free and reduced meal rate is used to determine more benefits for a school than just free or reduced-price meals. Students who qualify often also receive discounted prices on other services. The school may also receive additional funding for education with higher free and reduced meals rates.”