Universal free meals to be gone at all but two Sullivan schools for 2017-18

Rick Wagner • Jul 2, 2017 at 9:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — There will still be such a thing as a free lunch next year in Sullivan County Schools, albeit a steeply reduced version.

The universal free federal meal program called the Community Eligibliity Provision (CEP) is about to end at five of seven Sullivan schools.

Ketron Elementary and Emmett Elementary are the only schools proposed to continue to have universal free breakfasts and lunches for the 2017-18 school year. Those set to be taken out of the program, by a vote at the July 10 school board meeting, are Blountville Elementary, Blountville Middle, Central Heights Elementary and North Middle schools.

Weaver Elementary also was in the program but was closed permanently in May. That prompted a re-evaluation of county schools eligible and financially feasible for the program a year earlier than otherwise would be required, said Amber Anderson, the system’s supervisor of school nutrition.

She explained to the Board of Education at a Thursday work session that although the CEP schools are proposed to drop from seven to two in the new school year, students whose parents or guardians successfully file for free or reduced lunch status still can receive free or reduced meals. However, with the change the four schools to be removed from the CEP program won’t automatically provide free meals for students who don’t qualify or haven’t tried to quality, except at Emmett and Ketron.

“A lot of these students at these schools will qualify for the free or reduced benefit,” Anderson said. Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said affected families will be notified by School Messenger emails, letters going home with students and letters mailed to homes. 

Anderson attributed the changes, which she said are occurring across Tennessee, to the growing difficulty to be certified eligible for free or reduced meals through things such as proof of low income or getting food stamps. 

She said the students from Weaver and other students in the system could become certified for free and reduced meals and get other schools up to a level where the CEP program would be feasible. If so, she said those schools could be added to the CEP in April of 2018. Also, she said any student who was on a free or reduced lunch status for 2016-17 will be given 30 days of free or reduced meals before being cut off for the 2017-18 school year. In addition, she said she should find out next week whether students from the five schools cut out of the CEP program could get the same extension.

Although parents have been given the option of putting former Weaver students in other schools, the system will provide transportation and has made plans for those former Weaver students to go en masse to Bluff City Elementary, which will become a K-4 school. Bluff City Middle will take grades 5-8, including the transferring fifth-graders from Weaver and the Bluff City fifth-graders.