Rochester, N.Y.— Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, all Rochester City School District students—regardless of income—will get free lunch at school.
According to RCSD, the district has qualified for a new state program called the Community Eligibility Option (CEO). RCSD qualified because the district already has so many students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
According to Jerome Underwood, the district’s senior director of operations, 62.5 percent of students in a district had to already be eligible for free or reduced lunch in order for districts to get CEO. In Rochester, about 89 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“[That statistic] is nothing to celebrate,” Underwood says. “That's a sad commentary on our community; however, there is some benefit to that because we know that for some students, we know that the meals they eat at school [are] the meals they will eat that day.”
A parent whose incomes qualifies for free and reduced lunch will no longer have to fill out an application. However, all parents of Rochester school students will have to fill out a form and return it to the district. The district says that’s the only way the state will know RCSD is eligible for CEO.
So far, parents like the idea of all students getting free lunch at school.
“It's easier for working parents,” says Ebony Washpun, a mother of six RCSD students. “It’s easier for struggling parents to know that their kids will be eating lunch regardless of whether they have money. That's a good thing.”
Santosha Kuykendall’s daughter goes to School #15. Kuykendall believes the new program will be better for students’ self-esteem.
“I think it's a wonderful thing that children are no longer being sorted into these categories where this child is getting free lunch and everyone knows they are getting free lunch,” Kuykendall says.
Jerome Underwood agrees. He says the new CEO program will wipe away the stigma of reduced or free lunches.
“We've had some students decide not to fill out the free lunch form because of the stigma associated with it, now everyone is in the same boat. We would also send letters home saying ‘Hey Jerome still owes money [for lunch]’. Now that stigma goes away and no one has to pay.”
RCSD sent out letters and new forms to all district parents on Wednesday. Underwood encourages parents of every income level to return the form.