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UPDATE: Some districts halt feeding programs; state asks them to continue

Posted at 6:15 PM, Mar 23, 2020

On Acting State Superintendent Beth Scioneaux sent a note to school system leaders following the stay-at-home order issued by the Governor. It asks districts to keep feeding children through Friday, while the state and the National Guard work on an alternate delivery system that will keep everyone safe. You can read the note for yourself by scrolling down.

For the most up-to-date list on who is serving, and when, click here

On Sunday, Acadia Parish announced they would be stopping the grab-and-go meals, on Monday morning, Calcasieu Parish announced they were closing their feeding sites as well.

Orleans Parish, which has the highest rate of infection, the highest number of cases and of deaths, is still conducting their feeding programs.

We reached out to Acadia Superintendent Scott Richard for his response, which you can read below. We've left messages with the spokeswoman for the Calcasieu Parish School System as well, and for the superintendents of Iberia, Evangeline and St. Mary parishes as well.

Lafayette Parish will continue feeding, but has changed their sites.

Vermilion Parish Superintendent Brad Prudhomme says his intention is to keep feeding kids through Friday, but his ability to do so will depend on his staff's ability to come in, and on his ability to keep them protected with masks and gloves. He said he's trying to keep feeding through Friday, but he can't promise he will be able to.

Iberia Parish Superintendent Carey Laviolette says that the school district will continue to serve meals through Friday, March 27 as follows: Tuesday pick up of Tuesday and Wednesday meals and Thursday pick up of Thursday and Friday meals. Pick up times on Tuesday and Thursday remain 10:45 PM – 12:30 PM. The meal program will be suspended on Friday until further notice.

St. Martin Superintendent Al Blanchard said St. Martin will continue feeding children through Friday. Some sites that are relatively close together may be consolidated, he said, but the sites will remain open. That won't happen this week, he said. All sites will remain open this week. Officials will re-evaluate everything on Friday, he said.

St. Landry Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said St. Landry will continue feeding children through Friday.

"At that point we will evaluate, in terms of safety of our employees and students," Jenkins said. "It's a very difficult situation." As of Friday, St. Landry had fed 2,800 children.
"We know there's a significant need," he said.

St. Mary Parish announced via a letter on Facebook that their meal service would be suspended. They said the stay-at-home order factored into that decision - but did not mention the request from the state that they remain open. The letter also states that the districts ability to obtain protective gear was a factor.

Jeff Davis Parish will continue lunches, but in a different way. They're going to give students four meals tomorrow, enough to last until Friday. Here's their statement:

"Due to the constant change in directives from the governor's office regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, we are making some immediate changes in the food program implementation. Tomorrow we will hand each student enough meals to last for the remainder of the week. The governor's office is working on a revised food plan for the state to take over the program next Monday. If that does not happen, we will plan to serve again next Monday and hand out five more meals for the next week. Any updates will be posted as we receive them."

When we asked the state department about districts stopping the feeding, they sent us this statement:
"It is their decision, but we, along with the Governor’s Office, have highly encouraged all school systems to continue to operate their current services to the extent possible, while we develop further solutions to both feed our children and to protect those who are working at school meal sites."

Here's Richard's response:
The decision to suspend the program was not an easily made decision. Major contributing factors include: the Governor's Stay at Home Order on Sunday, lack of recommended protective gear for our school system staff that are preparing and distributing meals, inability to implement the appropriate social distancing recommendations for the provision of the services, food service workers in other parishes working under similar circumstances requiring COVID-19 testing, overall safety for all stakeholders involved in the process of preparing and picking up meals, additional spread of positive cases of COVID-19 into our region, experiencing some challenges in receiving the USDA meal component requirements from food distributors, etc. We also want to assure the public that no existing food supplies will be wasted given the suspension of the service. We're also committed to exploring other options that may be made available to us based on the most current guidance provided by the LA Department of Education, as this is a very fluid situation. We appreciate everyone's understanding and cooperation as we work through things; and, we will be reassessing the ability to provide the service moving forward.

Here's the note from Scioneaux:

Dear Colleagues,

Closing schools means putting our children at risk of hunger. But thanks to your dedication and creativity, hundreds of thousands of meals have been served to our children in the last week alone. You have gone above and beyond, and the Department of Education is truly grateful for your efforts. The Governor, too, expresses his deep appreciation for all you have done for our children and our communities during this uncertain time.

As you’re aware, the Governor today issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order. The order, however, does not apply to those who serve essential functions, including those who work in public and nonpublic K-12 schools and in community-based operations, such as school meal sites.

Following the proclamation, on a call with you all, Mark Cooper, the Governor’s chief of staff, listened and acknowledged the concerns you all had regarding the directive. He committed to creating new models for the delivery of meals, but he also pointed out the challenge of creating a one-size-fits-all solution to a service that currently takes many forms.

As the Governor’s Office staff works to overcome that challenge, they ask that you continue to serve meals to children in your community through Friday, March 27, 2020. They ask that you use the current operational structures you have in place, while adhering to safety guidelines outlined by the Louisiana Department of Health.

While you do this, the Governor’s Office staff is partnering with the National Guard’s project management team to develop multiple, unique, alternate solutions for meal delivery moving forward. Data on your current operational structures and the circumstances faced at the local level is needed to make the development of these solutions possible. Our network teams have been tasked with collecting this information from you all, and we appreciate, in advance, your cooperation.

In addition to mapping the future of school meal services, the Governor’s Office is also working to overcome the shortage of personal protective equipment, like gloves and masks. This is an issue not only for school systems but also for hospitals.

Please let us know if you have any questions. Thank you again for all you have done and continue to do.

In service,