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A Dozen Portland Schools to Axe Free Lunch for All Program

(Stephanie Yao Long/Oregonian)

Portland Public Schools will stop providing free lunches for all students at a dozen schools this fall because those schools no longer qualify for the federal program.

Notices to families at the affected schools — which are mostly located in North Portland and near 82nd Avenue — went out Thursday.

Students whose families can show there are low-income still will be given free or reduced-price meals. But all students at the 12 schools will no longer get free meals automatically, as has been the case for a few years.

The federal “community eligibility” program, which has been in full effect since 2013, gives schools money to provide free meals to all if 40 percent of students are served by income-restricted programs, primarily food stamps.

Madison, Jefferson and Roosevelt high schools are affected, meaning no Portland high schools will offer the schoolwide free lunches as of this school year.

The district’s notice to families blamed “changes at the federal level.” But the federal program is unchanged.

Portland Public Schools Assistant Director of Nutrition Services Whitney Ellersick said the improved economy has likely reduced the share of families qualifying for food stamps.

She said some families have told the district they decided not to apply for government assistance out of fear or because they feel the process is too arduous.

The schools will continue to serve free breakfasts to any students who want it, she said.

Free lunches will be served at the 12 schools through Oct. 11 to give families a grace period to apply for help.

After that, students who don’t qualify for free meals will have to pay $2.80 to $3.30, depending on grade level, to eat a school lunch.

“We are really saddened that we can’t continue this program and optimally we would love to be serving all kids at no charge,” Ellersick said. “We don’t charge for textbooks why should we charge for meals?”

— Bethany Barnes

Got a tip about Portland Public Schools? Email Bethany: bbarnes@oregonian.com

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