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Texas schools keep feeding students despite canceled classes

Children who rely on school for meals will still be able to get them on a “to-go” basis even as all Texas campuses remain closed.
And they’re bracing for even more families to have needs as businesses are forced to close and workers lose their jobs due to social restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Just because classes are out doesn’t mean that hunger ends,” said Michael Rosenberger, executive director of Food & Child Nutrition Services for Dallas schools. “Our biggest messages to families right now is that you are not alone.”
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all schools to close until at least April 3 to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. And some school leaders have expressed concerns that schools could be shut down even longer.
Angie Andrade (center) and her children (from left) Angel, 10, Austin, 7, and Abigail, 3, wear face masks as they walk to pick up sack lunches at J.T. Saldivar Elementary School during spring break. DISD will move to drive-through style pickups as the district continues to provide meals to students amid closures.
Angie Andrade (center) and her children (from left) Angel, 10, Austin, 7, and Abigail, 3, wear face masks as they walk to pick up sack lunches at J.T. Saldivar Elementary School during spring break. DISD will move to drive-through style pickups as the district continues to provide meals to students amid closures.(Lynda M. Gonzalez / Staff Photographer)
So school districts are working through the logistics to meet what is expected to be increasing demands for food over the next several weeks — or longer — while keeping families and staff at safe distances.


DISD, for example, will give each student three days of meals at drive-throughs set up twice a week at 48 middle and high school campuses in the district. These locations will also offer families a chance to pick up printed instructional materials in case of limited internet access.
Nearly 86% of about 156,000 students in DISD come from low-income families.
Rosenberger said DISD has been in daily contact with others in the Urban School Food Alliance, which includes a dozen of the nation’s largest districts. The consensus among the group members — some of which are in areas hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak — is to plan for about 10% to 15% of students to show up during this crisis.
Fort Worth saw such an outpouring of need during its first week of school closures that social media posts with photos of families standing in long lines circulated from those concerned that parents and children were forced to be in close proximity to each other as they waited for meals.
FWISD has expanded meal sites from eight schools to 10 to 17. The district also added staff at the sites to keep families at the recommended social distance, district officials said.
Carrollton-Farmers Branch expanded from four schools originally to 26 starting Monday.
State and federal officials have been frequently updating waivers and guidance to schools, giving them more flexibility in serving free meals. Typically, schools work under strict federal regulations about when, where and how they can provide free meals to children. The cost is paid by the federal government.
Emergency coronavirus legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, for example, allows states to expand meal programs even if it increases the cost to the federal government.
Woodrow Wilson High School sophomore Eric Yañez receives a laptop from special education teacher Cori Wilson, right, to take home for spring break in case Dallas students can't return to school due to COVID-19.
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The Texas Education Agency has linked its txschools.gov site to a meal-finder map to help families find schools offering meals near them.
On Wednesday, a handful of area superintendents updated the Dallas City Council on their measures amid COVID-19 closures.
Cedar Hill Superintendent Gerald Hudson noted his district has a nurse on hand to check staffers each day before they prepare the meals students pick up at four schools. Hudson said all surfaces in the preparation areas are frequently cleaned during breaks and overnight.
Cedar Hill, which is just shy of about 8,000 students, served 2,260 meals in its first week of closure, which began on Monday.
Dallas schools were on spring break this week. Officials had planned to provide breakfast and lunch at 14 campuses during the break. The district quickly pivoted so that families walk up to the school steps to pick up grab bags of food. Dallas ISD also added six distribution sites.
In the coming weeks, as schools remain closed, DISD plans to offer meal pickups on Mondays and Dallas Latest News Thursdays at most comprehensive middle and high school campuses.
Julie Fletcher, director of support services in nutrition services, said secondary schools were chosen for distribution because staff need more room to work at safe distances from each other while packaging the meals.
Much of the meals will be prepackaged, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or corn dogs.
As spring break was ending, Jared Tapia, 11, raced his younger brother and older sister up the steep hill on Keeneland Parkway to Nancy J. Cochran Elementary to pick up lunch.
Because most sports events were canceled, Dallas Press Release Distribution Service the sixth grader said the daily walks to get the school meals gave them a reason to get out of the house, if just for a bit.
“We have to be careful, so this is something that can give us a little push to be faster to get here,” Jared said.
His sister, Leslye Tapia, 23, was recently laid off from her serving job because the restaurant where she worked was losing business. That means money will be tighter for the family, so the DISD meals help.
“At least I can be there for my brothers right now and tutor them, make sure they’re following a schedule academically and get them outdoors from time to time,” she said.
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