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Concern at Northern Ireland schools having to pay for children's meals

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Budgets: Schools have been told they will have to pay for hot meals for pupils

Budgets: Schools have been told they will have to pay for hot meals for pupils

Budgets: Schools have been told they will have to pay for hot meals for pupils

The Department of Education has said schools wishing to provide hot meals for pupils who are continuing to attend will have to find flexibility in their own budget to do so.

Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan has called on the Education Minister to put plans in place to ensure all children who are attending schools can get a hot meal.

The party's education spokesperson said she was concerned that the children of key workers who are still attending have not been receiving school meals.

Only vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers are able to attend nursery, primary and post-primary schools until the February mid-term break.

According to guidance issued by the Education Authority as new remote learning measures came into force, there will be no specific provision of school meals for vulnerable children or children of key workers still attending schools.

"While the majority of children are not currently at school because of the Covid-19 restrictions and parents of children entitled to free school meals are receiving a direct payment, children of some key workers are still attending school and concerns have been raised that some are not receiving hot meals," the Sinn Fein MLA said.

"I have spoken to the Education Authority on this issue and reiterated the importance of children receiving hot meals at school in a safe and responsible way.

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Concerned: Karen Mullan has said hot meals at schools must be a priority

Concerned: Karen Mullan has said hot meals at schools must be a priority

Concerned: Karen Mullan has said hot meals at schools must be a priority

"It is up to the Education Minister to put contingency plans in place to ensure children who are currently attending schools can get a hot meal."

A Department of Education spokesperson said: "As the vast majority of pupils entitled to free school meals are learning remotely from home (except pupils at special schools), the department considers the most expedient way to ensure that families have a means to provide food for their children is to make direct payments in lieu of free school meals.

"Direct payments will issue this week. School meals services will be available as normal in special schools.

"Pupils entitled to free school meals attending special schools will receive free school meals at school as normal.

"Although schools will remain open to children of key workers and vulnerable children, and as direct payments will issue to those parents, children attending school (other than special school), have been advised to bring a packed lunch to school.

"It is normal practice for schools to cater for any child who presents to school hungry. Procedures are in place with the Education Authority to provide for this. This is required to be followed up with a referral to the Education Welfare Service. Schools should liaise with school catering staff who will be on call as necessary.

"However, where a school has a number of vulnerable children attending and wishes to make hot meal provision, the school has the flexibility within its budget to provide this, liaising with its school meals service as necessary."

It is also now compulsory for post-primary pupils who are still attending school to wear face coverings in classrooms and at drop off or pick up outside school unless they are exempt.

Belfast Telegraph


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