Incomplete paperwork can pose barrier to students, officials say

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, TENN. (WJHL) – A fresh year of school means a stack of paperwork for parents, and Washington County, Tenn., officials are urging parents not to forget a key piece of paperwork this year.

The free and reduced lunch paperwork doesn’t always get turned in, according to the county’s nutrition director, Caitlin Kite.

Even if guardians don’t believe they qualify for free lunch, Kite said it’s important to fill out the paperwork to see if students meet the criteria for reduced lunch.

“Oftentimes, families will qualify for that even though you have two working parents in the household,” she said. “There’s also that window of reduced that takes into account parents that need just, just that little bit of extra help.”

While the county as a whole has about 47 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, Kite said the number is possibly higher.

“If I was going to ballpark a number, 10 or 20 percent would probably qualify for benefits, there’s just a lack of filling the paperwork out,” she said. “I do think there’s a discrepancy between who’s actually filling it out and getting certified with benefits and the full amount of kids in the district.”

She added that the free and reduced lunch program data also factors into a school’s eligibility when it comes to Title 1 funding.

Title 1 funding is federal funding to help schools with a high number of low-income students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the funding is to help the children in those schools meet state academic standards.

Free-and-reduced lunch forms will be included with start-of-school paperwork packets sent home at the beginning of the year. Kite added that parents and guardians may also fill the forms out during each school’s open house or online at wcde.org.

If circumstances throughout the year change, Kite explained, families may reapply for free or reduced lunch status at any time throughout the year.

“I really want families to know we’re here to support them,” she said. “We’re here to feed these kids and we want them to get a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch and not feel that they have to worry about whether or not they have money to pay for it.”

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