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Universal free lunch program to end for Douglas County schools

Students will once again have to pay for lunch unless they qualify for free or reduced cost meals.

Kym Nepper, second from right, fills a cooler full of hot lunches
Kym Nepper, second from right, fills a cooler full of hot lunches that will be delivered to the Boys and Girls Club on Thursday, July 14, at Superior High School. The Superior School District provides up to 1,200 meals a day over the summer. Meals go to students in the summer school program as well as children in the city's park program and at community sites throughout the city.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Douglas County families will be paying for school lunch again this fall.

The federal government provided more than two years of free lunches nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that will end in August, according to the United States Department of Agriculture .

“We have done everything we can. We’ve been speaking to legislators and pushing our goals of sticking with it, and they are not buying it,” said Jamie Wilson, food service director for the Superior School District. “So beginning Sept. 1, we have to ask for applications and go back to the free, reduced and paid status.”

There is a short grace period for families who were receiving free or reduced price lunch prior to the pandemic. They must reapply by Oct. 14, or they will be charged full price for meals.

“We’re really encouraging everyone, more so than ever, to fill out a free and reduced form online,” Wilson said.

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Meal prices were a subject of conversation at both the Superior and Maple school board meetings Monday, July 11.

Maple

The Maple School Board approved setting lunch prices to the minimum limit allowed by the state, but won’t have a firm price for a few weeks.

Pre-pandemic lunch prices were $2.60 for elementary students and $2.85 for middle and high school students. Breakfast was free for students who qualified for free or reduced meals and $1 for those who did not qualify.

“Food and transportation of food costs are going up, so we strongly encourage all our families to complete the form to see if they qualify for free or reduced lunch and breakfast for their children,” said Maple District Administrator Sara Croney. “If they qualify for lunch, it is an automatic that they qualify for breakfast.”

Visit the school website for more information and the online application.

Superior

The cost of lunch for Superior students will be higher than before the pandemic.

The Superior School Board approved an increase in lunch prices for the 2022-2023 school year. The cost for elementary and middle school lunches went up by a dime, to $2.65 and $2.90, respectively. High school lunch prices jumped by a nickel, increasing to $3. The cost for a reduced price lunch is 25 cents, according to the district website.

Food services staff prepare hot lunches
Food services staff prepare hot lunches for delivery on Thursday, July 14, at Superior High School. The Superior School District provides up to 1,200 meals a day over the summer. Come fall, lunch in local school districts will no longer be free to all students.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Free breakfast will be available to all enrolled students in Superior, and free after-school meals will be served at Superior high and middle schools daily. Those programs also hinge on free and reduced price lunch applications. Wilson said the district can offer free universal breakfast and after-school meals because about 50% of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

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“We get that because of the amount of people who fill out those applications,” Wilson said.

The forms are available online through the school district's food service website and can be filled out with a computer, tablet or smartphone. Paper copies are also available at the district office. Links to the application will be posted on social media and included in every child’s enrollment packet, Wilson said.

A food services worker drops fries in with a cheese burger
A food services worker drops fries in with a cheeseburger as they prepare for deliveries on Thursday, July 14, at Superior High School.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Students are automatically eligible for free meals if anyone in their household recieves Foodshare, W-2 cash benefits or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Income guidelines have also increased. Schools should let families know if their child is automatically eligible.

Wilson said the number of Superior families who fill out applications dropped to between 400-600 per year while universal free lunch was available, down from a pre-pandemic level of 800-900. He stressed that all applications are confidential, and the only thing the district sees is whether the family is eligible or not. He encouraged all families to fill out the application.

Kym Nepper, center, fills a cooler full of hot lunches
Kym Nepper, center, fills a cooler full of hot lunches that will be delivered to the Boys and Girls Club on Thursday, July 14, at Superior High School.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

This story was updated at 8 a.m. July 15 with changes to a subhead and cutline to accurately reflect that some students will continue to receive free breakfast and after-school meals. It was originally posted at 7 a.m. July 15.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.