Free school meals now require applications in Marietta

As the economic status of Marietta City School students has improved, more paperwork is required for its students to qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch.

Starting this school year, Marietta City School families who receive free or reduced-priced meals will have to fill out applications to verify that they qualify for those benefits. It’s a change from the school district’s policy for the past 14 years, and one that may discourage some parents.

Marietta City Schools previously fell under a provision of the National School Breakfast and Lunch programs, which allowed students at some of its schools to receive meals at no cost, regardless of whether they filled out an application. The Provision 2 status was applied at Park Street, Sawyer Road, Dunleith, Hickory Hills and Lockheed elementary schools. The school district was reimbursed for the program with money from the federal government.

Cindy Culver, director of the system’s school nutrition program, said when the system rolled out the relaxed rules, about 69% of its student body qualified for free or reduced-priced meals based on their income.

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By the end of the 2018-19 school year, that number was down to 54%, so the school system is required to collect applications from parents. Culver said that while the school system is glad the economic outlook for the city appears to be improving, more than half of its student population will still qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.

“We really want to stay focused on families who are in need to have access to complete the application,” Culver said.

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Park Street Elementary School Principal Diona McIntire said the new rules “have definitely been a shift” for parents. Before the start of the school year, the school began a public information campaign to educate parents about the change so their children can get a hot meal. McIntire said there are some parents who are worried about the implications of filling out an application.

“There’s definitely some fear from some of our parents who may be undocumented and who may have anxiety about filling out the applications,” she said.

That fear could be part of the reason why the school has seen significantly shorter lines for breakfast since school began on Aug. 1, the principal said. To make sure students won’t go hungry throughout the day, Park Street now keeps a stash of snacks students can nibble on if they can’t grab a meal.

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“Kids don’t learn as well if they are hungry,” she said, adding the school will reach out to parents if they notice a child doesn’t have breakfast or lunch several days in a row.

To cover students who may rack up debt if they cannot pay for their meals, a new program called Lunch Angels has launched in the Marietta City Schools community. Teachers and residents can donate money to offset student debt incurred at any of the system’s schools. The new initiative has generated a lot of buzz in the community, as several adults have asked how they can contribute to the cause.

“That has been helpful for a lot of our families and students,” McIntire said.

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For more information about Lunch Angels, contact Kim Blass, director of external affairs for the Marietta City School System at