School meals continue during coronavirus closures

Although many public schools across the country are closing to help slow the spread of coronavirus, the federal government is working to safely continue providing the free meals students normally get at school.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture normally is required to serve meals in a group setting. However, that's not possible with school closures, with the situation further complicated by recommendations for social distancing.

Yet USDA rules also say that when schools are closed unexpectedly, they can tap into a summer meals program. That move gives permission to waive the group setting requirement through June 30.

"If schools are closed, we are going to do our very best to give you all the tools you need to get those kids fed," USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

The USDA said that rules passed in December 2018 benefit nearly 99,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children annually through USDA's school meal programs.

Two more proposals announced in January "put local school and summer food service operators back in the driver's seat of their programs, because they know their children best," the USDA wrote in a news release.