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Shutdown's effect on school operations minimal; situation stresses some students

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The Daily Reflector

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Pitt County’s public schools are operating with minimal disruption despite the partial government shutdown, according to district officials.

However, some students are being affected personally by what is happening around them, officials said.

Pitt County receives federal money for both Title I schools and its child nutrition program. LaVette Ford, director of Federal Programs for the district, said Title I funds have already been disbursed to schools for this year.

“So, our schools designated as Title I schools will continue with programming as planned, and will see no adverse effects from the shutdown,”  Ford said.

Things are a bit more complicated for the child nutrition program, according to Director Gretchen Wilson.

"Our reimbursement funds should continue to be available, but our commodity items that were not purchased through the USDA before the shutdown may not be purchased (now), due to no current funds to purchase them from this year’s entitlement funds,” she said. “That may affect our commodity food Items that were to come to us in April, at around $28,400 for three USDA commodity food products.”

Parents and students will not see any differences in the lunch line this school year, however, Wilson said.

“Pitt County Schools will make any adjustments necessary and cover funding so no student will go without breakfast, lunch, or after school snack benefits as they are currently provided at our schools,” she said.

Wilson also noted that federal employees affected by the shutdown now are able to apply for free and reduced meals. Applications are available on the schools website or in the Child Nutrition office.

Students applying for college and completing FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms may be affected by the shutdown in “unexpected ways,” according to Cierra Baldwin, college adviser at South Central High School.

“First, the IRS data retrieval tool has not been accessible since the beginning of the year,” Baldwin said. “That can be difficult for some students this year, since FAFSA requires prior tax information, and parents may not have the information readily accessible.

“Also, students that are applying to colleges out of state need to be aware of the possibility of changing deadlines,” she said. “For example, Texas has recently announced a deadline change. Statistically, one third of North Carolina seniors have completed FAFSA so far, so some seniors may be affected this year.”

On a personal level, some students are feeling the stress of the shutdown situation, said Terese Ewing, a school counselor at Ayden Grifton High School.

“Over the past two weeks, we are hearing from more and more students that they fear their family will not receive resources from the government due to the shutdown,” Ewing said. “I have had students come to me expressing anxiety that they may not receive food stamps and other means of government assistance.

“These children should be able to think about school, sports, college planning,” she said. “Instead, they are expressing concerns not child-like at all: Will my family have enough food next week? Will my family be able to pay the rent and utilities?”

Luckily, Ewing said, the school system has “fabulous social workers, who are always at the ready to help students in need and direct families to resources, just as they did during the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

“There are so many community helpers who want to make sure our families are taken care of,” she said. “So, when these children voice their anxieties, I listen, offer comfort, contact the families, make referrals to connect them to resources, and follow up with the students. We also have licensed therapists who see our students weekly.”

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