PRIORITY NOTICE: Maine DOE Celebrates Extension of 9 USDA Waivers that Provide Maine Children with Better Access to Food

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) received confirmation on Monday, August 31st that 9 waivers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be extended, allowing continued flexibility in the way that school districts and other non-profit, community organizations can offer meals to children 18 years of age or younger.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Maine DOE, in partnership with Maine schools, has sought continued flexibility in federal school meal programs so that schools can continue to provide Maine children with easy access to food, even when they are not at school.

The 9 waivers all apply to the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which was established as a way to ensure that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer months, when school is not in session. Throughout the pandemic however, flexibility in this program, granted by the USDA, has allowed schools to provide meals to children while they are learning remotely.

Through the flexibility of the SFSP, school nutrition teams across the state have partnered with community organizations, prepared and packaged food, set up food delivery service with school transportation teams, and created community pick-up locations, among many other methods, to ensure families have safe options for receiving food. The 9 waivers will allow schools to continue providing meals with this same flexibility as the school year begins.  

The first round of waivers began in March of 2020 when COVID-19 started spreading throughout the United States, and schools switched to emergency remote learning. The waivers have been extended numerous times throughout the summer, with word of the most recent 9 happening early this week. 

The 9 waiver extensions, which apply to all 50 states and U.S. territories, became effective on Sept. 1, 2020 and will extent to Dec.31, 2020.  

  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Non-congregate Feeding in the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option – EXTENSION 4 (#54) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children – EXTENSION 4  (#55) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Pattern Flexibility in the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option – EXTENSION 7  (#53) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver of Meal Service Time Restrictions in the Summer Food Service Program – EXTENSION  (#50) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Offer Versus Serve Flexibilities in the Summer Food Service Program – EXTENSION  (#51) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Waive First Week Site Visits in the Summer Food Service Program – EXTENSION  (#49) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Area Eligibility for Closed Enrolled Sites in the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option – EXTENSION  (#48) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Summer Food Service Program through December 2020 (#56) 
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Extend Area Eligibility Waivers – EXTENSION 2 (#52) 

Maine schools are excited about their ability to continue providing more meal flexibility to all children in their communities. The DOE Child Nutrition Team has been working with school nutrition teams and district leaders across the state to ensure they have the most updated guidance for school meal programs as the 2020/2021 school year begins. The team also continues to process SFSP applications on an ongoing basis.  View an interactive map of schools providing meals through SFSP. 

Districts interested in applying for the SFSP can do so by contacting the Maine DOE’s Child Nutrition Team. 

School Food Service Webinar for Superintendents 9/2 at 1pm

Maine DOE Director of Child Nutrition Walter Beesley will be hosting a webinar for Maine Superintendents on the topic of School Food Service for the 2020/2021 school year. Please register ahead of time for this webinar. 

WHEN: Wednesday, September 2nd at 1:00 pm
REGISTER: Register here for this Webinar »

This session will be recorded and available on Maine DOE’s Child Nutrition YouTube Playlist.

For more information or help with registration, contact Paula Nadeau at Paula.Nadeau@maine.gov

Mother and Son Team Up for Virtual Farm to School Cook-off

When the pandemic closed school buildings abruptly in March, the annual Maine Farm to School Cook-off was put on hold. The cook-off is an annual competition among students and school nutrition staff, featuring Maine grown ingredients, organized by the Maine Child Nutrition office. As an alternative, a virtual Farm to School Cook-off was offered to participating teams to showcase their prepared meals in a virtual format.

Capitalizing on the unique opportunity of being in the same household during the pandemic, Gina and Caleb of Team “Sonday” from RSU 54, playfully named to showcase the mother and son duo, embraced the challenge and created breakfast and lunch videos to showcase the meals they had planned for the cook-off.

Two challenge ingredients were part of the competition, donated by Maine farms and producers, including rolled oats from Maine Grains in Skowhegan and ground beef from Common Hill Farm in Jackson.

The team did a great job showcasing the recipes they used which consisted of a strawberry shortcake smoothie for breakfast (what creative use of rolled oats!), and a Mexican inspired lunch, consisting of a taco mashup bowl and Mexican fruit salad. Check out the videos created by this stellar team.

Thank you, Gina and Caleb, for your dedication to this event and for being an annual participant in our Farm to School Cook-off since School Year 2017. Team Sonday will be awarded a breakfast and lunch plaque, as well as a certificate of appreciation for the longest running team to participate.

MEDIA RELEASE: In Celebration of School Lunch Heroes Day, Maine’s Governor and Department of Education Release Special Thank You Video

(Photo: Nutrition staff from Connor EUT School)

In recognition of May 1, 2020 being designated National School Lunch Heroes Day, Governor Janet Mills and the Department of Education have created a special thank you video for school nutrition teams, volunteers and all school staff across Maine, who have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure Maine kids have nutritious and healthy meals while learning remotely at home.

Your efforts during this unprecedented time of need are truly appreciated! THANK YOU!

PRIORITY NOTICE: Update and Guidance From Commissioner Makin: April 1, 2020

Dear Champions of Education, 

Yesterday, Governor Mills issued a “stay at home” order, offering specific guidance around curtailing non-essential activities, gatherings, and travel. She also ordered schools to refrain from in-person, classroom instruction practices until after May 1st (or until further orders are issued).  

As we close in on the third week of remote instruction, please know that your resilient leadership and ongoing efforts are making a huge difference for Maine students and families. While everything is so suddenly chaotic and unfamiliar to everyone, our schools continue to shine like a beacon of hope. I have received countless emails and messages from legislators, parents, community members, and students sharing their gratitude for the steady support, the nutritional services, and the deeply human connections that are provided by educators, counselors, and school administrators. I’ve heard anecdotes from teachers who have noticed increased participation and engagement from students who had previously been among the most disconnected and apathetic. The lesson in this phenomenon is an important one… they’re counting on you even when their outward behaviors disguise this fact. 

Updates and information: 

  • Essential employees:   PreK-12 educational and. Child nutrition staff are all considered essential during this crisis. We are currently working with our educational organizations’ leadership to develop clarified and unified guidance in light of the Governor’s most recent Executive Order.  
  • Nutrition programs and April vacation: Maine DOE’s Child Nutrition team continues to seek flexibilities and waivers for our SAUs and communities. We are thrilled to share that there have been waivers granted for schools with fewer than 50% free/reduced meal students and bulk service provisions. Read more here.  We have applied for a waiver that will allow meal programs to be Reimbursed For the meals served during April vacation- currently not reimbursable. We will provide an update as soon as we hear from USDA. 
  • The CARES Act federal relief package will provide schools/SAU’s with funding to mitigate some of the financial impacts of the COVID-related disruption. Much more on this coming very soon! 
  • Remote Learning Plans/Sharing: Although we’re not requiring districts to share their remote learning plans, some have shared theirs with us and offered them as a resource to others that are still developing their plans! We will be happy to collect and share in a protected way with colleagues. Thank you to all who have shared their well-developed plans! If you’d like to offer your districts plan as a guide for others, please email Chief Innovation Officer, Page Nichols at page.nichols@maine.gov. 
  • Home Instruction: The Department recognizes that disruption due to COVID-19 may impact a home instruction family’s ability to maintain the required number of instructional days, and is therefore including home instruction in the statewide waiver granted for the minimum of 175 days of instruction for 2019-2020 school year.  Demonstration of satisfactory academic progress is still required to be submitted to superintendents by September 1st.  
  • School Budget, voting, etc:  We have been working with MSMA, the AG’s office, and the Governor’s office to develop an executive order that will provide the various flexibilities that have been requested. Please stay tuned – solutions are imminent.  (The Legislature did vote our GPA budget IN and intact, so your ED279 printouts provide an accurate basis for what you’ll receive in state subsidy).  
  • DOE is open for business – including CERTIFICATION office!  The system is up and running, the phones are being monitored by our knowledgeable and helpful team of experts, and we are eager to get your completed applications for renewal or initial certification processed as soon as possible! We have had some state level issues with phone system overload, so don’t hesitate to use email also!  As mentioned in an earlier notice, we do intend to provide extensions for those who have had education, testing, fingerprinting, or practicum/internship disruptions due to the COVID emergency – but for those of you who have completed the necessary steps, please submit necessary documentation and move ahead with your renewal application!   

Silver Linings: 

  • It’s possible that we’re demonstrating capacity for never having to make up “snow days” in the future!  
  • We have a perfect opportunity to redesign our state assessment system! 
  • Every time we do something kind or selfless to benefit someone else, we get a bump of serotonin … It even works when we simply observe someone being kind to someone else!  
  • Amid the fear and loss and physical disconnection, watch empathy, compassion, and humanity shining like the North Star – far above the fray.  
  • We will emerge from this better than we’ve ever been. 

Thank you for all you are doing on behalf of your students, staff, and communities.  

 Pender