The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the extension of multiple coronavirus emergency feeding waivers through the end of the 2020-2021 school year, a move requested by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and school nutrition professionals. The extension will allow school meal programs to continue grab-and-go meal pickup for distance learners, serve meals to students in the classroom or adjust meal service in the event of sudden COVID-19 school closures through the next school year. Additionally, USDA announced a new waiver to address offer versus serve requirements at the high school level.
“As the country re-opens and schools prepare for the fall, a one-size-fits-all approach to meal service simply won’t cut it,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in announcing the waiver extension. “The flexibilities announced today give states, schools and child care providers the certainty they need to operate the USDA child nutrition programs in ways that make sense given their local, on-the-ground situations and ensure America’s children can count on meal service throughout the school year.”
As fall nears and schools consider various learning models, the waiver will allow school meal programs to operate the National School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs to best serve students throughout the school year. It also allows providers in the Child and Adult Care Food Program to tailor operations to serve the children in their care. USDA is providing flexibilities around meal patterns, group-setting requirements, meal service times and parent/guardian pick-up of meals for kids across all three programs to address anticipated changes for the coming school year.
USDA is also announcing a new flexibility that waives the requirement for high schools to provide students the option to select some of the foods offered in a meal. While this practice, known as “offer versus serve” is encouraged, social distancing or meals-in-the-classroom models would make it difficult to enforce.
SNA had sent a letter to Perdue earlier this month to request vital regulatory extensions and support to ensure meal programs are equipped to meet children’s critical nutrition needs this fall.
The current announcement follows the announcement earlier this month of a nationwide extension of a waiver for the USDA’s child nutrition programs that allows school nutrition programs to continue serving free meals to all children, regardless of where they live, for the remainder of the summer.