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Guidance on Prohibition of Separation by Gender

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: Child Nutrition Program Sponsors

Attention: Food Service Directors and Chief Business Officials

Number: CNP-09-2015

Date: July 2015

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service Policy Memorandum SP 31-2015, CACFP 12-2015, SFSP 14-2015: Guidance on Prohibition of Separation by Gender During Child Nutrition Program Meal Service

Subject: Guidance on Prohibition of Separation by Gender During Child Nutrition Program Meal Service

This Management Bulletin (MB) provides guidance on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Policy Memorandum SP 31-2015, CACFP 12-2015, and SFSP 14-2015: Prohibition of Separation by Gender During Child Nutrition Program Meal Service. This policy memo explains this prohibition and outlines select circumstances under which gender-based separation may be permissible.

School food authorities (SFA), organizations, and institutions participating in any of the following federal child nutrition programs (CNP) are affected by this guidance: National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Special Milk Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). These include any schools, child or adult care institutions and facilities, camps, residential child care institutions, and other sites as defined in Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), sections 210.2, 215.2, 225.2, and 226.2, which provide meal service as a program activity.
SFAs, institutions, and organizations participating in the CNPs are not permitted to separate children on any protected basis during the service of program meals or snacks as outlined in 7 CFR, Parts 15, 15a, and 15b. Federal law prohibits discrimination based on gender at any educational institution receiving federal assistance.
Exceptions to the Prohibition on Gender-separated Meal Service

For coeducational schools and school-based sites:

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service recognizes religious exemptions granted by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) without prior express approval for coeducational schools and school-based sites. USDE guidelines allow coeducational schools and school-based sites to apply for an exemption when federal law prohibiting gender separation is inconsistent with the institution’s religious tenets.

Although USDE guidelines allow for the approval of gender-separate instruction at public primary and secondary nonvocational schools, a coeducational school may not use these guidelines to justify blanket gender separation during meal service.

For other institutions and organizations:

The California Department of Education (CDE) may approve exemptions allowing separation by gender during a CNP meal service for participating SFAs, organizations, and institutions–without express prior approval from the USDA, in the following circumstances:

  • Meal service at religious institutions operating under the dictates of the religion with which they are affiliated
  • Meal service at juvenile correctional facilities where combining members of the opposite gender would present a potential safety risk
  • Meal service at facilities that fully separate by gender as part of their normal operations (for example, gender-separated summer camps)
The above listed exemptions are the only acceptable bases for gender separation during CNP meal service. Any gender separation not based on the USDE or USDA approval exemptions is strictly prohibited. Situations that do not clearly fit into any of the exemptions outlined above may be considered by the CDE on a case-by-case basis.
Exemption Requests

CNP sponsors must complete a Gender Separation Request, Form ID CNP-02, to request gender separation during CNP meal service. The sponsor must specify which of the above-listed reasons qualifies the agency for gender separation and why this request is necessary. Form ID CNP-02 is located in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS) Download Forms section. Completed forms can be submitted to your School Nutrition Program (SNP), CACFP, or SFSP specialist.

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this MB, please contact your SNP, CACFP or SFSP specialist.

School Nutrition Programs: A list of SNP Specialists is available in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS, Form ID Caseload. You can also contact an SNP Office Technician by phone at 916-322-3005, 916-322-1450, or 800-952-5609, Option 2.

Child and Adult Care Food Program: A list of CACFP Specialists is available in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS, Form ID CACFP 01. You can also contact Kayla Christensen, CACFP Unit Office Technician, by phone at 916-324-6153 or by email at [Note: The preceding information is no longer valid. The CACFP moved to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). Please visit the CDSS CACFP web page at or call 1-833-559-2420 for more information.]

Summer Food Service Program: A list of SFSP Specialists is available in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS, Form ID SFSP 01. If you have questions, please contact

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, October 18, 2023
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