ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – With less than a month until the first day of school, 62% of students have already enrolled in the county’s LaunchED learning option, according to Orange County Public School officials.
The innovative digital learning platform will keep kids from traditional face-to-face learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but will not keep students who rely on free or reduced meal programs from getting their daily nutrition.
“What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna have grab-and-go meals at the schools that the students attend,” Mark Watson, the director of operations for OCPS, said.
Watson said it’s a similar setup to what the school district has been using since schools first closed due to COVID-19 last semester. The grab-and-go meals will begin to be distributed to families who are eligible for the free and reduced-price school meals program under the National School Lunch Program.
All students can receive the meals, students who qualify will receive them for free or at the reduced price.
“We’re in the process of deciding if we’re gonna have one day where they pick up the meals for the whole week or if we’re gonna have them come a couple of days and they would come to a designated area outside the school,” Watson said. “We’re trying to do that without them losing any class time because during the LaunchED they have to go to a regular school bell schedule.”
If a parent or student isn’t able to go to their school to pick up a meal, OCPS officials said the Florida Department of Agriculture gave the school district a waiver so another parent or volunteer group can help out their struggling neighbors.
“We do have some parents and some organizations who come and pick up for their entire area,” Watson said. “Just as long as they bring identification of the kid with them when they come so we can put ‘em in our POS system that they could take multiple meals back to their area.”
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News 6 also learned the Department of Children and Families sent out P-EBT cards in June as part of the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program. Each card was issued with funds and mailed specifically for families affected by the school closures due to the pandemic. It’s a one-time benefit for households with children who lost access to free or reduced-price school meals.
During a recent news conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the program as one of the reasons why students need to return to brick-and-mortar schools.
According to the governor, 61.4% of Florida’s 2.9 million public school students live in low-income households and 71.1% are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
“That matters because some of those low-income parents, they may not have the same luxuries in terms of the options of what they can do,” DeSantis said.
Currently, 73% of OCPS students get their nutrition from school either for free or at a reduced price. According to the school district, there are 48,000 students who have not returned their applications and could potentially be missing out on those benefits.
Families who have not received a P-EBT card or need information about the program can click here.