PCSSD offers food stability program

by Jessica Duff

It officially feels like fall, and many families around Central Arkansas are making holiday plans. However, the effects of COVID-19 will likely somehow impact those plans. Whether it is altered travel decisions or less elaborate meal planning or possibly financial instability, many families within the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) will experience the holidays differently this year. 

District staff members were ready to distribute food in the drive-thru last spring.

Thankfully, as is the motto of this holiday season, PCSSD offers a food stability program that aims to help lower the financial burden on families, while still ensuring students are being provided necessities like food. This comes in the form of free meals for all district students, regardless of eligibility, through Thursday, Dec. 31.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key’s waiver request to provide the federal Seamless Summer Option program. It is being extended through 2020 to assure that students have access to nutritious meals while the nation continues to recover from COVID-19.

“At PCSSD, we understand the importance of providing healthy and nutritious meals to families,” said Regena English, director of student nutrition for PCSSD. “Taking away the burden of breakfast and lunch costs at the school level allows families to focus on other important expenses at home, especially during the holiday season. It also allows our kids the ability to focus on their education because they know they are getting breakfast and lunch at school.”

This means that, since September, all students at every school in the district have received free breakfasts and lunches. The state also waived meal-pattern requirements, and it allows parents to pick up meals for their students who participate in the blended and virtual learning options. This is something the district already had set up for its students and families prior to the program’s implementation. 

The Seamless Summer Option program is separate from the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program, which PCSSD announced prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year. Twelve district schools were approved for the program, which provides meals at no charge for all students at these selected schools. The CEP program is an application process based on historically Free and Reduced applicants. For families in Maumelle, those schools include Crystal Hill Elementary and Oak Grove Elementary. The remaining 10 schools that qualified for this program are Cato Elementary, College Station Elementary, Daisy Bates Elementary, Harris Elementary, Joe T. Robinson Middle, Landmark Elementary, Lawson Elementary, Mills Middle, Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High and William Jefferson Clinton Elementary. 

Students at the 12 schools approved for the CEP program will receive breakfast and lunch at no charge for the next four years. However, it is important to note that the program is only for students who attend the schools. For example, if a student moves from a school on the approved list to one that is not among the approved schools, the eligibility does not follow the student.

The district-wide, free-meal waiver is effective through Dec. 31. It is important for families to still fill out the free and reduced lunch application to continue receiving free (or reduced) meals after Dec. 31. Even if families have received those in the past, the application must be submitted each school year. State and federal funds received by each district are determined by the free and reduced percentages collectively from meal applications. 

It has been made possible for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service program to extend the Seamless Summer Option program through congressionally appropriated funding.

CEP is made possible through the USDA Special Assistance Certification and Reimbursement Community Eligibility Provision. Federal reimbursement for meals is based on the Identified Student Percentage (ISP) established by the district. The information used to establish the ISP will be made available only to state and federal officials for review. 

All adults, including visitors, teachers, support staff members and administrators must assume the full cost of the meal.


Pulaski County Special School District spans more than 600 square miles in Central Arkansas and requires highly skilled and passionate personnel to adapt educational policies and personalization to 25 schools. Every school is accredited by the Arkansas State Board of Education. PCSSD has served schools across Pulaski County since July 1927.

PCSSD is committed to creating a nationally recognized school district that assures that all students achieve at their maximum potential through collaborative, supportive and continuous efforts of all stakeholders.