Nutrition Services Division
To: Sponsors of the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Milk Program, and State Meal Program, County Superintendents of Schools, Diocesan Superintendents of Schools
Attention: Food Service Directors
Date: February 1998
|From: School Nutrition Programs|
Subject: Confidentiality of Free and Reduced Price Eligibility Information
|Reference: Education Code Section (ECS) 49558|
On October 9, 1997, Governor Wilson signed Assembly Bill 730 (Keeley). This bill, which took effect January 1, 1998, amends Education Code Section (ECS) 49558 to read as follows:
49558. Confidentiality of Applications and Records
- All applications and records concerning any individual made or kept by any public officer or agency in connection with the administration of any provision of this code relating to free or reduced price meal eligibility shall be confidential, and shall not be open to examination for any purpose not directly connected with the administration of any free or reduced price meal program, or any investigation, prosecution, or criminal or civil proceeding conducted in connection with the administration of any free or reduced price meal program.
- Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a public officer or agency may allow the use by school district employees, who are authorized by the governing board of the school district, of individual records pertaining to pupil participation in any free or reduced price meal program solely for the purpose of disaggregation of academic achievement data if the public agency ensures the following:
- The public agency has adopted a policy that allows for the use of individual records for these purposes.
- No individual indicators of participation in any free or reduced price meal program are maintained in the permanent record of any pupil if not otherwise allowed by law.
- No public release of information regarding individual pupil participation in any free or reduced price meal program is permitted.
- All other confidentiality provisions required by law are met.
For the purposes of subdivision (b), "a public officer or agency" means only school districts or their officers (county offices of education may not make such a designation). In adopting a policy allowing the use of individual records for this purpose (as required in paragraph (1) of this subdivision), the governing board must specify, either by name or by job title, exactly who may share and receive this information.
In the past, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed free or reduced price eligibility information to be shared for only two purposes:
- in applying for Title I funding; and
- in responding to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a program of the U.S. Department of Education.
However, when there is a difference between state and federal regulations governing school nutrition programs, school food authorities (SFAs) must comply with the more restrictive regulation.
Prior to the current amendment to ECS 49558, the California Education Code was more restrictive than federal guidelines because ECS 49558 prohibited the use of free and reduced price eligibility information for any purpose not directly related to school nutrition programs. Now, with this amendment to ECS 49558 effective January 1, 1998, the federal guidelines are more restrictive.
Therefore, in order to comply with both federal guidelines and the California Education Code, SFAs should understand that:
- Title I and NAEP are the only programs authorized to receive the free or reduced price eligibility status of individual participants;
- Only the student’s eligibility status may be shared with Title I and NAEP programs;
- All other information (family size, income, Social Security Number, etc.) must remain confidential and may not be shared; and
- The district governing board must adopt a policy that allows the use of eligibility information for these purposes and ensures that all other confidentiality requirements are met.
In California, the vehicle for collecting Title I data is currently the student answer document used in Standard Testing and Reporting (STAR), the statewide assessment program. In collecting information on individual students, the test publisher acts as an agent of the school district, and no identifying data on any student is transmitted to the California Department of Education or any other agency. The STAR Program is therefore an appropriate recipient of free or reduced price eligibility information on individual students, provided that only eligibility status is shared and that all other confidentiality provisions required by ECS 49558 are met.
The California Department of Education is preparing a legal advisory that will inform district superintendents of procedures to be used in establishing the district policy required by ECS 49558. When that advisory issued, the Child Nutrition and Food Distribution Division will distribute copies of it to food service directors.