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Child Nutrition Programs

If school districts participate in the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, or the Special Milk Program, they must provide both parents and the public with information about free and reduced-price meals and/or free milk near the beginning of each school year. 7 C.F.R. § 245.5. Districts also must provide parents with an application form. Districts may not disclose children’s free and reduced eligibility status, unless the requestor of such information falls into one of the categories specified in the National School Lunch Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1758(b)(6)(A)(i)-(v).

The USDA’s Eligibility Manual for School Meals contains information on federal requirements regarding the determination and verification of eligibility for free and reduced-price meals in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The document notes what the application for these programs is to contain and includes a link to an online application. The document also describes to whom (pp. 83-84), and under what conditions information regarding free and reduced eligibility status may be disclosed (pp. 83-93). 

Striving to reduce paperwork, Congress incorporated three alternative provisions into the standard requirements for annual determinations of eligibility for free and reduced-price school meals. Additionally, in schools where at least 80 percent of enrolled students have free or reduced-price meal eligibility, annual notification of program availability and certification only needs to occur once every 2 consecutive school years.

The 2016 amendment to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires school districts to inform and update the public (including parents, students, and others in the community) about the content and implementation of their local school wellness policies. 42 U.S.C. § 1758b(b)(4). School districts also must periodically measure and report on implementation of their local school wellness policies, including: (1) the extent to which schools under the jurisdiction of the local school district are in compliance with its local school wellness policy; (2) the extent to which the local school wellness policy of the local district compares to model local school wellness policies; and (3) the progress made in attaining the goals of the local school wellness policy. 42 U.S.C. § 1758b(b)(5)(A). The USDA final rules for local school wellness policies, which became effective on August 29, 2016, appear at 7 CFR Parts 210 and 220. See the USDA’s Local School Wellness Policy for other child nutrition-related information. 

The USDA published a guide on July 25, 2017 that highlights requirements for accommodating children with disabilities who participate in School Meal Programs. With the help of school food service staff, LEAs must implement procedures to enable parents and guardians to request modifications to meal services for their children with disabilities. 7 C.F.R. §§ 15b.2515b.6 (b). LEAs must notify parents and guardians of both the process (1) to request meal modifications that accommodate the child’s needs; and (2) for resolving disputes. The hearing process must follow the necessary procedural requirements: notice, right to counsel, opportunity to participate, and examination of the record.

According to the Local School Wellness Policy: Guidance and Q&As (2017), the USDA does not require a specific timeline for updates to a wellness policy. Ideally, however, the policy should be updated after conducting a triennial assessment. 7 C.F.R. § 210.31(e)(3)NOTE: The Food and Nutrition Service established a nationwide waiver to support schools unable to complete a triennial assessment of the local school wellness policies due to school closures. The updates are dependent on the structure of the LEA's policy. An LEA must notify the public about the content of its policy annually and discuss any updates. 7 C.F.R. § 210.31(d)(2). It also must inform the public about the progress made towards meeting the goals of the local school wellness policy. 7 C.F.R. § 210.31(d)(3).

For model and sample policy language endorsed by the USDA, see the resources below:

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA is granting states significant program flexibilities and contingencies to best serve program participants across their 15 nutrition programs. View the Food and Nutrition Services of the USDA’s Response to COVID-19 website for more information.