To me, living in Carmel is such a privilege. This city boasts over 100 roundabouts, highly ranked schools, and new development projects that cost millions of dollars. However, last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many economic inequalities that existed in Carmel were exacerbated by families losing their jobs, homes, and financial stability.
As a result, in 2020, Carmel Clay Schools Food and Nutrition Services announced that the USDA approved a nationwide emergency waiver that allowed all students to receive free school meals. Additionally, with the new school year approaching, CHS recently announced it would continue the free lunches program throughout the 2021-2022 school year as well.
To many families, this announcement was a godsend. Despite popular belief, school lunch cost remains a significant barrier to happy and healthy student life. In fact, the cost of each lunch adds up, meaning when students’ funds are depleted and bills accumulate, there’s an increasing burden put on the school districts that bear it. Last December, The Washington Post reported that students in D.C. owe a total of $500,000 in unpaid lunch debt for just one semester of the academic year alone.
That’s why I, along with many others, think CHS is making the right decision by extending the free lunches program to all students for an additional year. The economic impacts of COVID-19 still haven’t worn off, and many children continue to struggle with unstable home life and unreliable source of income. A student should never have to decide between paying for their lunch or paying for a textbook. And by eliminating some of these barriers, CHS is playing a big role in reducing socioeconomic barriers to quality education.
That being said, there’s always room for improvement. According to SNA, more than 40% of school districts in the US saw an increase in the number of students who are not certified for free meals but still do not have the funds to pay. In general, free and reduced-cost school lunch programs still pose serious barriers to access. For some families, application forms can be long and complicated. For others, families make just enough income to surpass the threshold for free lunch but still live in economic uncertainty. To assist these students, the school should work closely with their families to create long-term solutions to ease their school lunch debt.
Overall, the free lunch program has shined a light on a greater problem at CHS. While we’ve taken the steps to understand the diversity of race and gender, we must also take the time to learn about economic inequalities and the different obstacles many students face. Only then will we be able to ensure equal access to education for all students.
The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Sowmya Chundi at [email protected]
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