WASHINGTON – When winter weather closes Maryland’s public schools, it also shuts down the school lunch programs that provide tens of thousands of Maryland’s poorest kids with guaranteed meals.
While last week’s snow days already had child advocates concerned, the latest round of winter weather that is threatening to shut down schools has some worried that thousands of underprivileged children will be deprived of meals again this week.
Carolyn Frazier, spokeswoman for the Maryland Committee for Children, said snow days “really put families into a hardship situation.”
“The nourishment is the bottom line. What happens now, for the next two or three days? It makes you wonder,” Frazier said.
More than 255,000 of Maryland’s 860,000 public school children qualify to receive free or reduced-price meals — breakfast, lunch or both — during the school day.
Administrators could not say how many of the eligible students receive a meal on any given day, but they said there were more than 33 million subsidized meals served in public schools statewide last year.
State and local school officials said Thursday they have not received calls or complaints from concerned parents or students who have been forced to go without a meal because of school closing.
“It’s one of the situations when you hope that they are getting the nutrition that they need,” said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.
But while they expressed concern for the state’s most needy children, officials also said their ability to help ends when children leave school grounds. Assisting kids during periods of school closure “is outside the purview of the Maryland State Department of Education,” Reinhard said.
“When school is on, that’s when we can help,” he added.
Local school systems expressed the same sentiment.
Athena Ware, spokeswoman for Prince George’s County Public Schools, said the officials there are worried about the nutritional health of the more than 46,000 students who receive free lunch on a daily basis. “Naturally, we are concerned for our children, whether they are in the school or at home,” she said.
But Ware and others, like Baltimore City Public Schools spokeswoman, Marcy Crump said they can only hope for the best.
Crump said 66,237 of the city’s 96,000 public school children are eligible to receive food assistance.
“But when schools close, there is nothing we can do for them,” she said.
Ware said that the county will try to refer families to organizations that can help, if the parents call when schools are closed. But she and Crump said that rarely happens.
Frazier noted that many local school systems delay snow-related closures until after all children have taken their lunch periods, so the kids will get at least one meal before they are sent home.
“At least when they go to school, they are getting that balanced breakfast and lunch,” she added.