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Noncongregate Waivers for Unanticipated Closure


In order to support continued access to nutritious meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a statewide waiver that allows the California Department of Education (CDE), on a case-by-case basis, to approve noncongregate meal service in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) when congregate meal service operations are limited due to natural disasters, unscheduled major building repairs, court orders relating to school safety or another issues, labor-management dispute, or other similar causes.

Please note that the CDE may not approve a waiver for a school food authority for more than ten consecutive operating days without approval from the USDA. If your agency requires noncongregate meals for more than ten consecutive days due to an unanticipated school closure, please reach out to your assigned county analyst for technical assistance.

Agencies must apply to use these flexibilities during unanticipated school closures by completing the CDE’s online application.

The specific requirements that the CDE is able to approve for flexibility during unanticipated school closures are outlined below.

National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs Waivers

The waivers in this section apply to the NSLP/SBP during unanticipated school building closures when virtual classes are offered. Schools not operating a provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2, must continue to count and claim meals by type (i.e., free, reduced-price, or paid) when operating the NSLP or SBP. Schools participating in a provision must continue to claim meals according to the requirements of that provision when operating NSLP or SBP.

Note: These waivers are effective through June 30, 2024.

Non-Congregate Meal Service (NSLP and SBP)

Under the National School Lunch Act (NSLA), 42 U.S.C. 1753(b)(1)(A), and the Child Nutrition Act, 42 U.S.C. 1773(b)(1)(A), NSLP and SBP meals must be served in a congregate setting and must be consumed by participants on site.

The USDA has authorized the CDE to approve waivers on a case-by-case basis for the aforementioned requirements to serve meals through the NSLP and SBP in a congregate setting. Any other requirements referenced in these provisions remain in effect.

Meal Service Times (NSLP and SBP)

Under program regulations at Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR) 210.10(l) and 7 CFR 220.8(l), meals served in the NSLP and SBP must follow meal service time requirements.

The USDA has authorized the CDE to approve waivers on a case-by-case basis for the aforementioned requirements that set meal time parameters for school lunch and breakfast.

Parent and Guardian Meal Pick Up (NSLP and SBP)

Under program regulations at 7 CFR 210.10(a), 7 CFR 220.2, and 7 CFR 220.8(a), meals must be served to eligible children.

The USDA has allowed the CDE to approve on a case-by-case basis flexibilities to the requirements that meals may only be served directly to children. Any other requirements referenced in these provisions remain in effect. The CDE is required to ensure that local operators are able to maintain accountability and program integrity and have appropriate plans in place. This includes processes that ensure meals are distributed only to parents or guardians of eligible children, and that duplicate meals are not distributed to any child, parent or guardian.

Offer Versus Serve (NSLP)

Under the NSLA, 42 U.S.C. 1758(a)(3), and program regulations at 7 CFR 210.10(e), program operators of senior high schools must participate in offer versus serve at lunch.

The USDA has allowed the CDE to approve on a case-by-case basis flexibilities to the requirements to serve school lunches to senior high school students using offer versus serve. USDA also extends the offer versus serve flexibility to the SSO for the duration of this waiver when there is an unanticipated school closure during the school year.

Bulk Meals (NSLP/SBP)

The USDA authorized the CDE to approve waivers, on a case-by-case basis, for SFAs to provide up to 10 operating days’ worth of meals to students. However, SFAs cannot provide food in bulk (e.g., providing a gallon of milk instead of individual cartons, or providing large size canned fruit instead of portioned out fruit). SFAs may only provide the meal types for which they have been approved.

Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option Waivers

The flexibilities in this section apply to the SFSP and the SSO during unanticipated school closures. This applies when school buildings are closed and virtual classes are not offered.

Note: These waivers are effective through April 30, 2024, and require pre-approval from the CDE.

Non-Congregate Meal Service during Unanticipated School Closures (SFSP/SSO)

Under NSLA, 42 U.S.C. 1753(b)(1)(A), 42 U.S.C. 1761(a)(1)(D), and program regulations at 7 CFR 225.6(i)(15), SFSP meals must be served in a congregate setting and must be consumed by participants on site.

During an unanticipated school closure, USDA has authorized the CDE to approve on a case-by-case basis waivers for the aforementioned requirements to serve meals through the SFSP in a congregate setting. Any other requirements referenced in these provisions remain in effect. USDA also extends the non-congregate feeding flexibility to the SSO for the duration of this waiver.

Meal Service Times for Unanticipated School Closures (SFSP/SSO)

Under program regulations at 7 CFR 225.16(c)(1), (2), and (3), meals served in the SFSP must follow meal service time requirements.

The USDA has authorized the CDE to approve on a case-by-case basis waivers for the aforementioned requirements that set meal time parameters for SFSP sites. Any other requirements referenced in these provisions remain in effect. USDA also extends the meal service times flexibility to the SSO for the duration of this waiver.

Parent and Guardian Meal Pick-Up during Unanticipated School Closures (SFSP/SSO)

Under the NSLA, 42 U.S.C. 1761(f)(3), and program regulations at 7 CFR 210.10(a), 7 CFR 220.2, 7 CFR 220.8(a), 7 CFR 225.2 (Meals), and 7 CFR 225.9(d)(7), meals must be served to eligible children.

The USDA has authorized the CDE to approve on a case-by-case basis waivers for the aforementioned requirements that meals may only be served directly to children. Any other requirements referenced in these provisions remain in effect. The USDA also extends the parent and guardian pick up flexibility to the SSO for the duration of this waiver. The CDE is required to ensure that local operators are able to maintain accountability and program integrity and have appropriate plans in place. This includes processes that ensure meals are distributed only to parents or guardians of eligible children, and that duplicate meals are not distributed to any child, parent or guardian.

Service of Meals at School Sites during Unanticipated School Closures (SFSP/SSO)

Under the NSLA, 42 U.S.C. 1761(c)(1) and program regulations at 7 CFR 225.6(h)(1)(iv), the CDE may approve meal service operations only at non-school sites during unanticipated school closures.

During an unanticipated school closure, USDA has allowed the CDE to approve on a case-by-case basis the requirements that limit the operation of SFSP to non-school sites. USDA also extends the service of meals at school sites during unanticipated school closures flexibility to the SSO for the duration of this waiver.

Bulk Meals (SFSP/SSO)

The USDA has authorized the CDE to approve on a limited case-by-case basis waivers to allow SFAs to provide up to 10 operating days’ worth of meals to children. However, SFAs cannot provide food in bulk (e.g., providing a gallon of milk instead of individual cartons).

Unanticipated School Closure Program Operation

The table below outlines which program SFAs may operate during a specific unanticipated school closure.

Type of Closure Program
School closed; virtual school offered NSLP/SBP
School/site closed; no virtual school offered SFSP/SSO (site must be area eligible)

Resources and Contact Information

If you have any questions or need assistance regarding applying for the NSLP or SBP, please contact your SNP Specialist. A current list of SNP Specialists is available on the SNP Specialist Directory web page. You may also contact an SNP Office Technician at SNPInfo@cde.ca.gov.

For Children Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS) External link opens in new window or tab. technical questions, please contact the CNIPS Help Desk by email at cnips@cde.ca.gov.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, August 22, 2023
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