Senate Bill 250 Frequently Asked QuestionsFrequently asked questions related to the implementation of Senate Bill 250.
What agency types are affected by SB 250?
The following agency types that participate in the National School Lunch and/or School Breakfast Programs are required to follow this law: Public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools.
When does this bill go into effect?
SB 250 went into effect on January 1, 2018..
SB 250 mentions a federal meal charge policy. When does the federal meal charge policy have to be in place?
The federal meal charge policy must be in place effective July 1, 2017, and must be communicated in writing to families at the start of the school year, and to families transferring to the school midyear.
Information regarding local meal charge policies can be found in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Policy Memo SP 46-2016: Unpaid Meal Charges: Local Meal Charge Policies on the USDA Food and Nutrition Services.
Additional resources include the USDA guidance manual, Overcoming the Unpaid Meal Challenge: Proven Strategies from Our Nation’s Schools.
Is providing an alternative meal considered "overt identification" of a paid student? For example, Student X (full price) is standing behind Student Y (free). Student X does not have money, so the cashier stops the line to talk to them about not having money and gives them the alternate reimbursable meal. Is this considered as the cashier overtly identifying the student?
Local educational agencies (LEA) need to have processes in place that do not overtly identify any student, regardless of their free, reduced-price, or paid status. The California Education Code (EC) Section 49557 refers only to the overt identification of free or reduced-price students.For more information regarding overt identification, please review the CDE Management Bulletin SNP-05-2015 Prevention Overt Identification of Children Certified for Free or Reduced-Price School Meals and Vending Machine Reimbursements.
SB 250 states that the student that cannot pay for a meal will not be offered a meal that is different from what other students are receiving. If the alternate meal is also one of the choices that all students can select from, is it acceptable to offer an alternate meal to a student with a negative balance?
Yes. A paid pupil, who has unpaid meal charges, is to be served a reimbursable meal for as long as the federal meal policy allows. This means that the meal provided can be an alternate reimbursable meal, an alternate meal, or no meal (if that is what the agency’s meal charge policy states), and that all children with unpaid meal debt or no money to pay for the meal would receive that same meal or no meal.
Important note: If an LEA does not have a meal policy in place, that has been provided in writing to the household—that LEA will be required to provide a regular reimbursable meal to all students that do not have cash in hand or have a negative meal balance until the end of the school year or until a meal charge policy is in place and has been communicated in writing to the households.
Can alternate meals still be part of the program?
Yes. Alternate meals may still be part of the program, as defined in the federal meal charge policy.
When at the meal debt threshold, can you give the child an alternate meal one day and then turn them away the next day, or do you continue alternate meals indefinitely? How is giving an alternate meal not treating the child differently?
All actions that would occur when thresholds are met or exceeded, such as what the deadline is for the tolerance of delinquent meal charges, and how delinquent debt is being communicated to the households must be clearly stated in the meal charge policy.
Our policy clearly states that a student is allowed to charge up to $15 on the meal account (equivalent to five lunches). If delinquent charges on the account exceed $15, the student will be served an alternate meal consisting of a half cup of fruit, a half cup of vegetables, and milk. Can we continue this practice?
Yes. The LEA may continue this practice, as long as it is clearly stated in the meal charge policy and has been communicated in writing to the households. The CDE encourages the LEA to include a protein source.
What if our policy states clearly that only one meal charge is allowed?
Each LEA’s policy must state how many meal charges the LEA will allow. Some districts have a zero tolerance of debt while others will be more flexible.
We offer multiple entrée choices each day, in our secondary schools we offer up to 10 different entrée choices a day. Can we mandate that a student with delinquent debt only take a specific entrée designated by our department (an entrée that is already on the menu and available for all students to choose)?
Yes, as long as it is clearly stated in the meal charge policy.
Can LEAs deny a meal to a student based on SB 250?
Yes. An LEA may deny a student a meal if the household has unpaid meal charges that exceeds the threshold established by the LEA, or if the meal charge policy states zero tolerance, and that the meal policy has been communicated in writing to the household, this would be allowable. EC 49557(b)(1) states:
A local educational agency, including a local educational agency in which there is a school that is required to serve a free or reduced-price meal during the school day pursuant to EC Section 49550 and at which all pupils are not eligible to be served breakfast and lunch under the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2 of the federal National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1751 et seq.), shall ensure that a pupil whose parent or guardian has unpaid school meal fees is not shamed, treated differently, or served a meal that differs from what a pupil whose parent or guardian does not have unpaid school meal fees would receive under that local educational agency’s policy. This paragraph does not prohibit a school from serving an alternative reimbursable meal to a pupil who may need one for dietary or religious reasons.
The important section to note is that the local meal charge policy should state how many meals (or dollar threshold limit) will be served if the pupil has unpaid meal fees. If the threshold has been met (meaning the student has exceeded the debt threshold or meals allowed by the local meal charge policy), then the policy must state what type of meal the child would be served or if they would receive a meal at all. The meal charge policy must be communicated in writing to the household.
Unpaid Meal Charges and Balances
What is the recommended threshold for unpaid balances if the LEA has exhausted all other measures?
The threshold is up to each LEA to decide what works best for them. There are districts with a zero tolerance threshold and some LEAs may allow the serving of meals throughout the entire year. While we would all like to feed all of the children all of the time, regardless of the circumstances, each LEA must set the debt threshold based on a business and public relations decision.
Many parents use the "alternate meal" as a signal that the meal application from the prior year has expired and otherwise ignore frequent reminders. What are some ideas to avoid this, assuming the LEA already sends reminders, e-mails, texts, and phone calls of unpaid balances?
The LEA’s meal charge policy must be communicated in writing to all households at the beginning of the year (and to new student households during the year). The CDE recommends also communicating the meal charge policy during back to school and open house events, or any opportunity that allows the LEA time to discuss the district’s meal charge policy with all parents and students so they understand the policies and consequences.
The bill states that "nothing" in this section is intended to allow for the indefinite accrual of unpaid school meal fees." Will the guidelines include any language that clarifies this statement?
Yes. The guidance reminds LEAs that they must have their meal charge policy in place, as of July 1, 2017. The meal charge policy must address the accrual of unpaid meal fees. This could be a threshold of the number of meals served or a dollar amount.
If the LEA does not have their meal charge policy in place stating deadlines or thresholds, then the LEA will be required to serve regular reimbursable meals until the end of the school year to all students.
SB 250, Section 3(d) states that "an LEA shall not take any action directed at a pupil to collect unpaid school meal fees." "Any" is a strong word in this case.
The law does not permit LEAs to take any action directed at a pupil to collect unpaid meal fees. Staff can only reach out to the parent or guardian to collect unpaid school meal fees.
What do you do if the unpaid balance goes beyond the limit stated on the district unpaid meal charge policy? It is not the child's fault, but maybe either the child and/or the parent knows that they will receive meals indefinitely and continue to get meals because they can. How can this be prevented? Is there clarification on the portion of the bill that states this is not meant to be indefinite?
The LEA meal charge policy should address this issue and include the consequences that would occur when thresholds are met or exceeded and what the deadline is for the tolerance of delinquent meal charges.
Many LEAs have different meal charge policies based on grade levels. Specifically, EC 49557.5(g) states that the law is not intended to allow for the indefinite accrual of unpaid meal fees.
Some parents are "unreachable" and the only way to communicate is to kindly remind the child to "bring lunch money." Is this practice still allowable?
Avoid talking to the child about this issue in the lunch line or publicly.
EC 49557.5(d) states in part,“A local educational agency shall not take any action directed at a pupil to collect unpaid school meal fees. A local educational agency may attempt to collect unpaid school meal fees from a parent or guardian…”Sending a note home with the child is not taking action directed at a pupil. It may not be the most reliable form of communication (relying on a child to deliver the message) and it is possible that the child may think they are in trouble and may not give their parents the note. Another option is for the teacher to quietly, without telling the child, put a note in the child’s backpack.
Some paid students like to monitor how much they use the account and will ask how much money is in the account. Are we allowed to tell the child the account balance?
Yes. If a student is asking how much money is in their account, staff is not shaming them by telling them their balance. In this specific case, the student is trying to make an educated choice of how much money they have available to determine what they can purchase.
If LEAs are not able to communicate with the children when a balance is low, will this create more negative balances since the parents would not be notified until the balance is already negative?
It is recommend that LEAs have multiple forms of communication with parents. The number one step would be to attempt to directly certify the child (that includes sibling extensions). If the child is not directly certified, distribute a household meal application and request that the family complete the application.
If those methods have failed to determine if a child is free or reduced-price and the household is near or close to delinquent debt, the LEA may want to try reaching out to the household on multiple occasions. One best practice example includes:
$10.00 to $5:00: Reach out to the family to alert them of the low balance
$5.00 to $0.00: Alert family to the very low or no balance
$0.00 to −$5.00: Contact family with negative balance
−$5.00 to −$10.00: Have the principal reach out to the family about the negative balance, stating when alternate meals will be served or meal service will stop.
If attempts to communicate with the household fail (e.g., they are nonresponsive to mailers, phone calls, e-mails, and text messages), what course of action is available to LEAs to encourage payment?
That will depend on what the LEA’s meal charge policy states and that it has been communicated in writing to the household. The policy may state that the LEA will not serve any meals past a certain threshold or alternate meals will be served. Some LEAs ask the principal or vice-principal to contact the parents directly.
Can we say anything to the student about their account (i.e., "please tell you parent to send money tomorrow.")?
The CDE does not recommend communicating through the child regarding unpaid or delinquent meal debt. It is best to communicate directly with the parent. If packets of homework or notices are sent home with the student as a normal method of communication, a sealed notice could be included in that packet. The CDE does not recommend that staff verbalize any request to a child about the need for money.
EC 49557.5(d) states in part,“A local educational agency shall not take any action directed at a pupil to collect unpaid school meal fees. A local educational agency may attempt to collect unpaid school meal fees from a parent or guardian…”
Parental Requests Regarding Meal Charges
When a parent has specifically asked that a child not charge any meals and the account is flagged to reflect that, can we still abide by the parent’s wishes and turn the student away?
The CDE would recommend that the LEA has the parent’s written request on file (e-mail or letter). SB 250 specifically addresses delinquent and unpaid meal debt. This question is referring to a parent’s choice. An example might be that a child can get a reimbursable meal with their account money, but they cannot get a la carte items. Therefore, food service staff would be able to tell the child that their parent is not allowing that specific expense.
Sometimes a school will serve children who do not have money and, when the children build up a balance and the parents are notified, the parents will claim that the school does not have permission to feed their child. Some parents also claim that they send a sack lunch everyday with their child so they should not need a school lunch. Is the intent of the bill for the state to reimburse the districts for meals they are serving to children in order to treat them fairly? Is the district free from litigation with parents who claim they never authorized us to feed their child?
The intent of the bill is to prevent the shaming or different treatment of a child if they do not have money to pay for their meals by requiring schools to have a written, communicated, and enforced policy on unpaid meal charges.
Please discuss any litigation concerns with the district legal counsel. A best practice is to involve the legal counsel and have a board approved unpaid meal charge policy.
In instances where households do not fill out a meal application prior to the end of the 30 day rollover period, can schools back-date free or reduced-price qualifications to close the gap between applications during which charges accrued?
The LEA can only go as far back as the approval date of the application or the date that the direct certification (DC) list was entered into the point-of-sale system. If the LEA is approved to participate in offering flexibility in establishing the effective date, the LEA can go as far back as the date the application was submitted and the date the DC list was created.
For more information, please review the CDE management bulletins below:
Forms in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS):
SNP 46: Flexibility in Establishing the Effective Date of Eligibility (Meal Application)
SNP 48: Flexibility in Establishing the Effective Date of Eligibility (DC)
How and when will compliance with this law be assessed? Will it be part of the administrative review?
The meal charge policy is reviewed during the School Nutrition Programs Administrative Review (SNP AR). When completing the SNP AR Offsite Assessment Tool questions in CNIPS, the LEA is required to upload a copy of their unpaid meal charge policy. During the on-site portion of the SNP AR, the LEA must review the meal charge policy with the CDE and provide details of how it was communicated in writing to the households and district staff that is affected by the law.
We currently import DC information from the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) once a month. SB 250 states that an LEA shall notify the parent/guardian of a negative balance within 10 days and that, “Before sending this notification to the parent or guardian, the local educational agency shall exhaust all options and methods to directly certify the pupil for free or reduced-price meals.” Are we satisfying the requirement of “exhausting all options and methods to directly certify the pupil” by importing DC information monthly?
Yes. If the LEA uses a monthly DC list, they have met the requirements of checking the DC list. As for exhausting all options, LEAs can do more. Directly certifying children based on CalFresh, CalWORKs, and Medi-Cal will meet the intent of the law. However, LEAs can do more by conducting sibling/household extension matches for those children that receive CalFresh, CalWORKs, and Medi-Cal, and by running the foster list in CALPADS.
Please remember that CALPADS does not have homeless, migrant, runaway, and Head Start student lists uploaded from outside sources. That information is uploaded from the district’s lists supplied by their liaisons. The CDE recommends that LEAs obtain the foster, homeless, migrant, runaway, and Head Start student lists from the liaisons. Please note that the foster list is also available in CALPADS.
Meal Charge Policy
Is there ever a time to say “no food for you?”
The CDE does not support ever saying the words “no food for you.” This is shaming.
EC 49557.5(g) states that “nothing in this section is intended to allow for the indefinite accrual of unpaid school meal fees.” As long as the meal charge policy states clearly (and has been communicated in writing to households) at what point the child will no longer be provided meals. However, that is a choice that the district has to make.
Can you have a “no charge” policy in your secondary schools and not provide an alternate meal? Or must you always provide an alternate meal?
Yes. An LEA can have a “no charge” policy or a zero tolerance threshold and not serve a meal to a child. However, that will depend on what the meal policy charge states and what has been communicated in writing to the households. Each site can have meal charge policies that apply specifically to that site. Some LEAs even have different meal charge policies based on grade levels.
LEAs have discretion as to what is included in their meal charge policies as long as any updates or changes are communicated to all households at the beginning of the school year or at the time a student is transferring in midyear.
Is the CDE going to send send information to business officials on their responsibility to pay balances and help with balance collection?
Yes. The CDE Management Bulletin SNP-05-2018: Senate Bill 250: Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act of 2017 and USDA Meal Charge Policy Requirements was distributed on January 26, 2018.
Do the same rules apply for breakfast?
Yes. The same rules apply for breakfast. The law is about unpaid, delinquent, and bad debt, and breakfast plays a part in that debt.
Is the full nondiscrimination statement required on text messages, e-mails, and automated phone call balance notifications sent to the parent/guardian?
No. The long or short nondiscrimination statement is not required for texts, e-mails, or automated phone calls.
Community Eligibility Provision and Provision 2
Can the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2 (P2) eliminate unpaid meal debt?
Yes. Those LEAs participating in CEP must provide a reimbursable breakfast and lunch at no cost to students, therefore eliminating unpaid meal debt. Those participating in P2 can provide reimbursable breakfast and/or lunch at no cost to students, therefore also eliminating the need to charge students for those meals being served on P2. It is important that these provisions are the correct business decision for the district, but they are certainly worth consideration.