Return to pre-pandemic summer lunch program sparks concerns among Marion parents

Students are no longer allowed grab-and-go meals, must eat their food in the cafeteria

Parents are expressing concerns as the Marion County school district returns to its pre-pandemic plan for its summer lunch program.

MARION COUNTY, Fla. – Parents are expressing concerns as the Marion County school district returns to its pre-pandemic plan for its summer lunch program.

During the height of the pandemic, the school officials implemented grab-and-go meals, but now the school board said its reverting back to a program which will require the children to eat the food at school.

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Kevin Christian, a spokesperson for Marion County Public Schools, said they had no choice but to revert back to their pre-pandemic plan.

“That’s a part of the requirement from the USDA for us to get reimbursed as a school district to participate in the program,” Christian said.

Christian added that over the last two years, the county was granted waivers that now no longer exist.

“That just doesn’t seem just very convenient in any way shape or form for parents,” said Ariel Bruns, who has two children enrolled in Marion County schools.

She told News 6 parents are fed up with how the county’s summer lunch program is being conducted.

“I was on a parent page that stated they are only having it, but you have to go to the schools, go to the cafeteria and then have your kid sit and eat it there,” Bruns said.

Christian said the school board understands parents’ concerns, but in order to keep the program, it needs to feed students in person.

“We understand the importance of a summer feeding program because, many times, it is the best meal of the day that these students will get, and in some cases, it is the only meal these students will get,” he said. “So we understand the importance of this, but in order for us to put on this summer feeding program, we have to be reimbursed for the expense.”

According to Marion County Public Schools, there is no exception for parents who may have a hard time getting their children to the summer feeding program due to the guidelines provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The school district said it has 200,000 meals to distribute over the course of the summer between June and July.


About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.