UPDATE: Seven Hamilton County schools stop free meals for all st - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Seven Hamilton County schools stop free meals for all students

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Thursday night, the Hamilton County School board voted 7-2 adopted changes that seven schools would no longer be able to serve free breakfast or lunch to all students.

They say eating a healthy breakfast is a recipe for success. That, along with lunch, gives students the fuel they need to thrive in the classroom.

But the cost of those meals is soon to increase for some students after the Hamilton County School Board voted 7-2 to eliminate programs that provided all students free breakfast and lunch.

School Board Member Rhonda Thurman voted against the change, she said she predicted this might be a problem a couple of years ago.

“Now parents grown accustomed to that the rugs been jerked from under them and there gonna have to come up with that money to buy their children’s lunch and their just now finding out about it,” Thurman said.

The affected schools are:

  • Allen Elementary
  • Hixson High School
  • Lookout Valley Middle/High
  • North Hamilton County Elementary School
  • Sequoyah High School
  • Snow Hill Elementary
  • Soddy Daisy Middle School

Due to a federal mandate and a recalculation, 40 percent of the student body must now be eligible for free meals for the school to qualify for the program.

It's a move the school board didn't have a lot of choice in. If the board had not voted to approve the change, the entire school district could have been at risk of losing free meals.

Still, it's a decision that has community members concerned.

Chris Rolle runs Love Express Ministry -- they hand out free meals and snacks to students throughout the city at their own expense. They said the change could present new challenges for organizations like his.

“The food bank is going to be hit harder I don’t know if they can stand it. We’re going to be hit hard, we buy the food and give it to the children out here and I’m sure there’s going to be an influx out here,” Rolle said.

"We’ve got people with the means to feed these children; it is our problem, Chattanooga’s problem. We call ourselves Chattanooga strong, it's our problem; these hungry kids are our problem,” Rolle said.

Students who do qualify under state standards for free or reduced meals will still be able to receive assistance, but Rolle worries about the kids just barely below that threshold.

"I think it's a need in every school and I think to say that school needs it and that one doesn’t is heartbreaking," Rolle added.

The school system will use a paperwork process for parents to quality for free or reduced lunch for the next school year.


PREVIOUS STORY: Several schools in Hamilton County may soon no longer serve free lunches to all of its students next year.

The school district had to recalculate which schools qualified for the federal program after Falling Water Elementary closed.
    
Now, seven schools which used to qualify no longer do.

Those schools are Hixson High School, Lookout Valley Middle/High School, Snow Hill Elementary, Allen Elementary, North Hamilton County Elementary School, Sequoyah High School and Soddy Daisy Middle School.

Free meals have been served here for the past three years, and some school board members are now criticizing the federal program saying it's not fair to the community.

"Some schools just didn't meet the criteria they had to meet in order to continue to get that benefit," said District One Board Member Rhonda Thurman.

In order to qualify for entirely free meals with the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) 40 percent of students in that school must be eligible for free meals.
    
Out of the seven schools that no longer qualify, four of them are in Rhonda Thurman's district.

"It pits one family against another, it pits one school against another, it is totally totally unfair the way this is done," Thurman said,  "We should have kept the system we had with a free and reduced lunch and based it on parents income."

While the number of free meals provided might decrease, the number of hungry students will not.
    
Liz Weidenaar with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank is concerned that could put more pressure on individual schools, or programs like hers, to fill the void.

"We recognize that kids don't have a choice when it comes to hunger, they don't have a choice what family they're in, their circumstances," Weidenaar said.

Weidenaar said she'll be watching the affected schools closely to make sure there aren't any negative impacts on the children.

"Our big priority is making sure every kid gets what they need," she said.

Thurman said she would rather see the community eligibility provision be scrapped, and offer individual free lunches to those who qualify, instead of school-wide.

"Like I said I voted against it the last time and I'll vote against it again," Thurman said.

The Hamilton County Board of Education will vote on these proposed changes next Thursday.

If it passes, the seven schools will only offer free meals to students whose families qualify based on need and income.

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