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New study reveals impact of COVID-19 on nation’s largest school districts

The Food Research and Action Center analyzed how 54 school districts have fared during the pandemic.
Orange trays in cafeteria
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has released a report analyzing how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted some of the nation’s largest school districts. 

FRAC surveyed 54 school districts in 28 states and the District of Columbia about their breakfast and lunch participation and operating status in October 2019, April 2020 and October 2020.

In October 2019, the districts served a combined 38.8 million breakfasts and 62.8 million lunches. In April 2020, however, the districts served just 17.7 million breakfasts and 18.8 million lunches, a 54% drop and 70% drop, respectively. 

The New York City Department of Education, Los Angeles Unified School District and Clark County School District in Las Vegas each served more than 1 million fewer breakfasts in April 2020 than in October 2019, while Chicago Public Schools, Albuquerque Public Schools, Salt Lake City School District and Wake County Public School System in Raleigh, N.C., increased their number of breakfasts served. 

Lunches served across the districts dropped by 70% from October 2019 to April 2020.

Five districts (New York City Department of Education, Clark County School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, Broward County Public Schools in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and School District of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach, Fla.) each served more than 1.5 million fewer lunches in April 2020 than in October 2019. Chicago Public Schools was the only district to increase its number of lunches served.  

In October 2020, the number of breakfasts and lunches provided across the 54 districts increased from April, but did not return to October 2019 levels. Last October, 18.5 million breakfasts and 21.5 million lunches were served. 

Los Angeles Unified School District, New York City Department of Education, School District of Philadelphia and Clark County School District served at least 700,000 fewer breakfasts in October 2020 than in October 2019. Alexandria City Public Schools in Alexandria, Va., was the only district to increase its volume of breakfasts served. 

Five districts (New York City Department of Education, Los Angeles Unified School District, Clark County School District, Broward County Public Schools and School District of Philadelphia) served over 1.5 million fewer lunches in October 2020 than in October 2019.

FRAC ended its report by advocating for more support for and broader implementation of breakfast after the bell models to increase breakfast participation. It also encouraged Congress to implement universal free meals and expand direct certification to make sure that vulnerable children are being automatically linked to free school meals. 

“Schools will need more financial support to recover from the fallout of COVID-19,” Luis Guardia, president of FRAC, said in a statement. “We encourage lawmakers to provide free school meals for all students in the 2021–2022 school year and beyond to reach more children with the nutrition they need which also will help support school nutrition finances.”

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