School districts can now be reimbursed by the state for providing meals to students on remote learning days.

The Maine Department of Education announced the news Tuesday, the day after the Kennebec Journal published a story about the challenges Augusta-area districts faced in figuring out how to make up classroom time lost to snow days without pushing the end of the school year to late June.

Prior to Tuesday, if a district scheduled a remote learning day instead of calling off school, it would have to foot the bill for meals that are required to be offered to students.

That was because of federal guidelines that mandated the meals be consumed on school property in order for the district to be reimbursed at a rate of $2.50 per lunch.

For districts such as those based in Winthrop and Gardiner, that meant spending about $3,000 for food on each remote day instead of receiving that amount in aid.

That’s no longer the case, now that the USDA has approved a waiver of the federal restrictions requested by Maine’s state education department, spokesperson Marcus Mrowka said Tuesday afternoon.


The waiver will allow districts to be reimbursed for lunches consumed outside of the school setting during snow days and other unanticipated closures, such as those prompted by natural disasters, unscheduled major building repairs, court orders relating to student safety and labor management disputes, among other factors. 

“Under the waiver approval, the SAUs (school administrative districts) may serve meals in a non-congregate setting, adjust the time of meal service, allow parent pick up and allow service of meals at non-school sites,” a Maine Department of Education official wrote in an email to superintendents across the state Tuesday. 

Gardiner-based Maine School Administrative District 11 is among the central Maine districts that have already called at least four snow days this school year and has been grappling with the fallout.

Superintendent Pat Hopkins, partially dissuaded from using remote days because of the cost, decided to add an hour of school onto four planned early release school days and one regular-length day, to make up five hours that would count as a full five-hour day. The school board gave her the approval to make that move.

She said Tuesday that the new information about the waiver “would be shared with the school board at its March 2 meeting” and that she is “unsure” if the board will reverse its decision because, regardless of cost, remote learning days have been difficult for parents in the past.

In Maine, schools are required to have 175 days of classroom instruction, for at least five hours a day and provide lunch. If there is an interruption to a regular school day, the school district must make it up at a later date, which typically happens in June. 

When a remote day happens, if the district knows ahead of time the weather will be bad, they can send the lunches home with students. This however, cannot happen if there is a snow day on a Monday because the district cannot prepare lunch ahead of time for students in that scenario.  

The waiver is effective through June 30. 

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