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Editorial: Free lunch should continue after crisis

Already, our community has learned valuable lessons about itself as the nation’s coronavirus crisis continues. It will continue to learn new lessons as well.

At the top of the list should be the fact that schools are far more than place where  our children learn. Teachers are not simply people who drill new information into our children’s brains. For too many reasons to list, public education is a vital part of our community’s quality of life and a piston in our economic engine.

Lately,  local schools and those across the country have been tackling the herculean task of feeding students at no additional cost to parents (no lunch money required) and educating those children and teenagers remotely.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools are not yet feeding all students in the district, but they’ve prepared for that possibility, with yellow school buses are carrying food instead of children. Superintendent Lynn Moody said the district delivered breakfast and lunch for 12,000 people on Friday. The statewide capacity is now 571,000 meals per day — all free of charge.

Meals delivered will never equal 100% percent of students during a closure that Gov. Roy Cooper has extended until May, but there will be students who receive lunch that would have otherwise been asked to pay for it had they been in a school cafeteria. There are others who simply don’t need the food.

Maybe it’s time that school lunch is free for a larger percentage of the population or, perhaps, everyone. Students are compelled to attend school between the ages of 7 and 16 in North Carolina, but they must pay for lunch in a facility that tax money otherwise funds.

Something seems off.

Under the current system school staff end up chasing parents they know are living paycheck to paycheck for money. And it’s not uncommon for students with outstanding balances to be “lunch shamed,” which can be as simple as pestering the children about money in a long line that includes friends and fellow students.

If Rowan-Salisbury and school systems across the state are prepared to provide free lunches to everyone who needs it now, why shouldn’t that continue when students return to in-person classes — however far away that may be. State and federal lawmakers should make that a priority after the nation emerges from the coronavirus crisis.

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