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Districts in Protest Hot Spots Secure Food, Supports for Students

Closing an already tumultuous year, urban districts worked to get food and services out to children amid ongoing nationwide protests over a Minnesota man's death in police custody.

Calling the protests "a uniquely challenging moment for Chicago public schools as well as our city and, quite frankly, the entire country," Chicago Schools Chief Janice Jackson temporarily suspended meal pickup during another day of protests Monday, while assuring parents that the district would still deliver 18,000 meals scheduled to be delivered to children's homes. It pledged to resume pick-up meals on Tuesday.

"I can tell you, I live in these communities, the communities that have been shown on TV over the past few days," Jackson said. "So I know I have a good gut sense about the safety, and our goal is to make sure any program that we're implementing is done with that in mind. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if something happened to a student or a family member while they were trying to go and get food. We understand that food is a basic need, ... and we look forward to getting back to doing that. But out of an abundance of caution, this decision was made."

In Minneapolis, where 46-year-old George Floyd died after a white police officer pressed his knee into the black man's neck for more than 8 minutes, riots over the weekend left many parts of downtown damaged or burned, but Julie Schultz Brown, spokeswoman for the district, said school buildings have emerged mostly unscathed. "I can't believe it because I've been uptown and downtown and seen all the buildings boarded up and burned, but we've been really lucky."

Schultz Brown said regular school meals, which are delivered 14 meals at a time, were not disrupted, but the district had to close its emergency child care for first responders on Monday and has been working to distribute food from a large spontaneous community food drive, intended to help families whose local groceries have been damaged or destroyed during the riots.

"I've heard on emails from people, 'How do you think we can do this? I can't even find a grocery store near my house because grocery stores were burned out or overloaded,'" she said. "Metro transit was closed down too, so we were worried about how could people come to get their food. There's kind of a whole dystopic thing going on; all the movies have come to life, it's kind of gross."

Protests also continued Monday in cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles, but district officials there said they had continued providing food to children on schedule—in part because some scheduled multiple days' worth of meals and because the academic year has begun to draw to a close. 

"Bottom line, we are going to be here to help the children of our community through thick and thin," said Michael Rosenberger, executive director of food and child nutrition services for the Dallas independent school district. The district, which ended school last week, had its most recent meal distribution last Thursday, just before protests began.

At the end of an already turbulent year, district leaders said their final weeks will be filled with physical and social and emotional supports for students coping with the stress of the new turmoil. Both Shultz Brown and Robyn Harris, a spokeswoman for Dallas, said their districts would extend mental health supports for students into the summer.

"This tragedy must be more than a topic of conversation at every dinner table, in every board room and government hearing. It must serve as a wake-up call to unapologetically and with conviction address the systemic bias and institutional racism which exists in many parts of society," said Los Angeles schools Superintendent Austin Beutner in a statement. "We must better connect schools with the communities they serve. There will only be progress if all of us—schools, government agencies, philanthropy, business, labor, and community organizations—work together to support children."

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