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Limited English Proficiency

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: School Nutrition Program Sponsors

Attention: Food Service Directors

Number: SNP-09-2016

Date: July 2016

Reference: U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Policy Memorandum SP 37-2016; USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals; Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 245.6(a)(2); and California Education Code Section 49557(a)

Supersedes: Management Bulletins USDA-SNP-07-2013 and USDA-CNP-08-2011; USDA Policy Memos SP 21-2013, SP 42-2012, SP 44-2011, SP 23-2006, SP 23-2006, SP 14-2006, and November 22, 2005

Subject: Limited English Proficiency in School Meal Programs

This Management Bulletin (MB) provides highlights and California-specific guidance from USDA Policy Memo SP 37-2016: Meaningful Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in the School Meal Programs: Guidance and Q&As. You can view the entire Policy Memo on the USDA School Meals Policy Web page at

General Information

The term LEP refers to an individual with a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English. School food authorities (SFA) that receive federal funding to participate in the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Special Milk Programs have a responsibility to ensure that language and communication are not a barrier for individuals identified as LEP.

USDA Policy Memo SP 37-2016 issues guidance in a question and answer format that provides responses to questions regarding communication with LEP individuals. SFAs must provide meaningful access for eligible students from households comprised of LEP individuals. In order to diminish any language barriers, the Free and Reduced-price (F/RP) Meal Application and other household materials (letter to household, instructions, direct certification letter, approval/denial letter, and verification materials) must be available in a language that the LEP individual can understand.

As a reminder, if there is a need to translate the F/RP Meal Application and household materials into a language that is not currently available from the California Department of Education (CDE) or the USDA, SFAs may use the nonprofit food service account (Cafeteria Funds) to pay for translation services (only for food service purposes).

During a School Nutrition Programs (SNP) Administrative Review, the CDE will verify that the SFA is in compliance with LEP requirements.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, SFAs must ensure that LEP households have access to the same information as non-LEP households in a manner in which the household can easily understand. SFAs should have a process in place to determine whether they meet the language needs of LEP households.

All forms of communication available to the public regarding program availability must contain the appropriate nondiscrimination statement. It is important that all households, including LEP individuals, understand that they will be treated fairly when they apply for meal benefits. The current nondiscrimination statement is available on the CDE Civil Rights Fact Sheet Web page at and the USDA Nondiscrimination Statement Web page at

Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 245.6(a)(2), requires SFAs to communicate with households for eligibility determination purposes in an understandable and uniform format, and to the maximum extent practicable, in a language that parents and guardians can understand.

Identifying LEP Individuals

SFAs should identify the primary language of parents and guardians in the community when communicating school meal information to LEP households. To determine the primary language of each household or the community, SFAs can:

  • Conduct a survey during student enrollment

  • Check with local organizations that work with LEP households (i.e., migrant agencies) to determine the primary language of households with whom they work with within the community.
Written Translation

SFAs can develop their own eligibility materials in the languages applicable to their communities or use the translated resources available from the USDA. The USDA translated application package includes the F/RP Meal Application, letter to household, instructions, verification materials, and notification letters available on the USDA School Meals Translated Applications Web page at

To assist SFAs in efforts to ensure that meaningful access is provided to individuals with LEP, the USDA has translated written materials into 33 languages.

California Specific Requirements

SFAs that choose to use the USDA translated materials must modify the documents to comply with California Education Code (EC) as follows:  

  • Add EC Section 49557(a): “Applications for free and reduced-price meals may be submitted at any time during a school day. Children participating in the federal National School Lunch Program will not be overtly identified by the use of special tokens, special tickets, special serving lines, separate entrances, separate dining areas, or by any other means.” This EC section requires that the statement above be in at least 8-point boldface type and be placed on the application itself.

  • Change all references from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to CalFresh.

  • Change all references from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids.

  • Exclude the page Sharing Information With Medicaid/SCHIP found within the USDA family friendly application package. SFAs must adhere to provisions of EC Section 49557.2, which specifies how SFAs can share students’ school meal information with Medi-Cal.
Oral Interpretation and Language Assistance

If members of an LEP household speak a less prevalent language or have limited literacy, the SFA must identify available oral interpretation services and use those services to communicate with the household about school meal benefits. Parents or guardians should not rely on household members or friends to interpret information. SFAs may partner with local organizations (i.e., migrant agencies) to provide oral interpretations.

To reduce barriers for LEP individuals with limited literacy, oral interpretation services may assist with the application, certification, and verification processes. Individuals providing services to LEP households should understand their ethical obligations, and must emphasize confidentiality, impartiality, accuracy, and avoidance of a conflict of interest.

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this MB, please contact your School Nutrition Programs (SNP) specialist. The SNP specialist list is available in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System Download Forms section, Form ID Caseload. You may also contact an SNP office technician by phone at 916-322-3005, 916-322-1450 or 800-952-5609, Option 2, [The preceding information is no longer valid.] email at to be directed to your SNP Specialist.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Thursday, January 18, 2024
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