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ANDERSON — Whether they attend in person or virtually, all Anderson Preparatory Academy students will receive free breakfast and lunch when they resume classes on Aug. 10.

Commander Jill Barker, the school’s superintendent, said Thursday the school has been approved for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service’s Community Eligibility Provision program.

“This is important for our families and school on so many levels, especially given the financial impact due to COVID,” she said. “Since the pandemic hit, we have been doing everything in our power to make sure our students and families don’t go hungry including offering pickup and delivery options. Being able to offer this continues to help our families in both the short and long term. Our students will have the healthy nutrition they need to be successful in the classroom and our families will be able to see a great cost savings that they will hopefully be able to put to other needs.”

Students will be automatically enrolled in the program, and no documentation will be necessary, Barker said.

APA is the second Madison County school corporation to offer free meals to all students. Anderson Community Schools started offering free meals to all students in 2018.

The program is offered to schools and districts that have a high population of students eligible for free lunch, as well as homeless, migrant and runaway students and children in foster care. Students often also are considered eligible through participation in federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, about 76% of APA’s students are considered economically disadvantaged.

Barker said though there are household income requirements for free and reduced-fee lunch, many of APA’s struggling families did not qualify because they were just over the threshold leading to large, unpaid lunch bills. Making free lunch available to all students captures those who previously may have had a need but weren’t eligible.

“We have a policy that ensures that the students would still be able to eat without food shaming, and while it’s what we believe is the right thing to do in order to do what’s best for kids, it does add up,” she said.

The CEP program allows schools and districts to be reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students eligible for free lunch.

“At the school level, it helps us be able to better allocate our fiscal resources to the classroom, (social emotional learning), and facilities,” Barker said.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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