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Florida DOE Orders Statewide School Closure; Districts Worry How To Feed Kids

A teacher reads to her student.
U.S. Department of Education
/
flickr

As concerns grow about the spread of the Coronavirus, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has ordered schools to be closed for the next two weeks, through March 30. The move comes as school officials raise concerns about kids going hungry during the down time. 

Public schools across the state will shut down soon, following the lead of Florida's public university system, which shuttered the universities for the next two weeks. As classroom instruction for college students moves online, it's unclear whether the public schools can or will do the same.

The decision to close K-12 traditional and charter schools came a day after Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna promised to keep schools open. 

“Our students live with their parents and their parents have jobs and need to go to work and our children need to be fed every single day and some of the only meals that our kids that are getting are breakfast and lunch at school," Hanna said.

Jefferson School District Superintendent Marianne Arbulu says her district has held discussions about what to do about feeding children during the shutdown. Jefferson has among the highest rate of food insecurity in the state and 100% of children at Jefferson Somerset qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. 

"We are preparing," Arbulu told WFSU. "When we have more information, we'll share."

She says Jefferson is planning to provide meals for its students.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services administers the National School Lunch Program. State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says her office is working to "ensure no child goes hungry while schools are out."

"For millions of Florida’s children, schools meals are the only meals they can count on. We are working closely with school districts to ensure that students have access to healthy, nutritious meals while schools are closed due to COVID-19,” Fried said in a statement. “We are working with the USDA on authority to provide schools with flexible options to make school meals available.”

According to the FDACS, during the 2018-19 school year, the school lunch program served nearly three million Florida students, of which 2.1 million qualified for free or reduce lunches. 

The Department says the decision to serve meals during school closures rests with districts. Fried says she's encouraging all school districts to keep providing the meals throughout the shutdown and says parents and families should contact their local school officials to see if and where meals will be provided.

Some districts, like Miami Dade are already organizing where and when meals can be picked up.