PARKERSBURG - Wood County Schools' director of nutrition says area schools will be in compliance this fall with the state's Feed to Achieve Law.
Beverly Blough said within the next week she will visit each of Wood County's 27 public schools and present administrators with options on how to increase student participation in the district's breakfast program.
The state Feed to Achieve Law was passed in 2013 and will take effect in September. The law aims to maximize school meal participation by making it easier for students to eat at school.
State officials say about 75 percent of the state's schools meet the requirements, which include specific requirements for providing students with breakfast options.
However, Wood County Schools does not meet those requirements.
"We're trying to move this forward, but we're still falling well short of the number of students that need to be eating breakfast," Blough said.
Blough said programs put into place earlier by Wood County Schools in an attempt to increase breakfast participation do not meet the program definitions of the new law.
"We had a program called Grab and Go, where a child who arrives late to school could take their breakfast to the classroom," she said. Under the new law, "we found out that was not an acceptable definition of 'Grab and Go.' As a consequence, we went from being a county that was participating to now a county that is not participating."
"The way we've done it and the way the state wants it done are not the same," said Superintendent Pat Law. "Obviously we are going to do it the way the state wants."
Law pointed to a pilot program at Edison Middle School which encourages students to have breakfast and offers options for those students.
"We've seen a nice increase in participation there and we're looking forward to taking some of those ideas to other schools in the county," he said.
Blough said she plans to visit schools in the coming weeks, meeting with administrators and reviewing options for breakfast programs.
"My goal is not to tell them what they have to do, but to present choices," she said.
Blough said this time around she hopes to see more schools participating.
"I have tried to get the schools to increase student participation in breakfast, but it is not something the schools have taken as seriously as I feel they needed to," she said.
"It was something we encouraged schools to try," Law said. "At that time it wasn't a requirement."
Now the district as a whole is feeling the pressure to have programs in place and operating well by September.
"When the state wrote the new Feed to Achieve, it became part of the law," Blough said. "It was optional, but now it is something we have to do."
"We will have it in place by this fall," Law said.
Blough pointed to the state Community Eligibility Option, which provides free meals for all students at participating schools, as a factor in meeting the requirements of the state law. The majority of the school systems which meet the Feed to Achieve requirements offer free meals to all of their students, she said.
The Wood County Board of Education has twice voted down recommendations by Blough to implement the program in Wood County Schools.
"The board has had some issues with the unevenness of that program, with some students receiving benefits they don't need and others receiving nothing," Law said.
However, Law dismissed the idea of that program helping other school systems to meet the Feed to Achieve requirements.
"I don't believe there is a direct link there," he said. "I don't believe it would impact the breakfast program."
Blough said the hardest part of not meeting the state requirements is the detrimental effect on students. Countless studies have shown hungry students, especially those who have not had breakfast, perform at much lower levels and have significantly more issues in the classroom, she said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)