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Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act

Frequently asked questions related to California law and implementation of Senate Bill 250, the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act of 2017 (ACT), and SB 265 which amended the ACT in 2019.

General Questions

What agency types are affected by the ACT?

The following agency types that participate in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs are required to follow this law: Public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools.

When does this ACT go into effect?

The original ACT, SB 250, went into effect on January 1, 2018. The amended ACT went into immediate effect on October 12, 2019.

What are the major changes from SB 250 to SB 265?

There are two sections of the law that changed. California Education Code (EC) 49557.5(b)(1) states that all pupils are to receive a reimbursable meal of their choice regardless of the household debt accrued.

EC Section 49557.5 is an urgency statute that allows for this legislation to go into effect immediately upon the Governor signing the bill.

Alternate Meals

Can alternate meals still be part of the program?

Yes, but per SB 265 alternate meals are only allowed to a pupil who may need one for dietary or religious reasons. Alternate meals are not allowed as part of unpaid meal debt.

No Meals

Can LEAs deny a meal to a student based on SB 265?

No. EC Section 49557(b)(1) states:

(b)(1)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 schoolday pursuant to 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 denied a reimbursable meal of the pupil’s choice because of the fact that the pupil’s parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees and shall ensure that the pupil is not shamed or treated differently from other pupils. 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, or as a regular menu item.

Unpaid Meal Charges and Balances

What is the recommended threshold for unpaid balances if the local educational agency (LEA) has exhausted all other measures?

SB 265 does not allow for debt thresholds. LEAs must serve reimbursable meals of the pupil’s choice regardless of the debt incurred by the household.

Communication

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?

No. Avoid talking to the child about this issue, especially 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 are 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 recommended 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 (F\RP) 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 to $5: Reach out to the family to alert them of the low balance

$5 to $0: Alert family to the very low or zero balance

$0 to −$5: Contact family with negative balance

−$5 to −$10: Have the principal reach out to the family about the negative balance.

Can we say anything to the student about their account (i.e., "Please tell your parent to send money tomorrow.")?

The California Department of Education (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 recommends that the LEA maintains the parent’s written request on file (email or letter). The ACT 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 ACT is to prevent the shaming or different treatment of a child if they do not have money to pay for their meals. Request from the household written communication that states they do not want their child to receive any meals from the school. If the household position changes, then they should also provide the change in directive in writing.

Please discuss any litigation concerns with the district legal counsel.

Reimbursement

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 F\RP 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 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 direct certification list was created.

For more information, please review the CDE management bulletins below:

SNP-07-2015: Eligibility Effective Date for Directly Certified

SNP-08-2014: Effective Date of Free and Reduced-price Eligibility

Forms in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System:

SNP 46: Flexibility in Establishing the Effective Date of Eligibility (Meal Application)

SNP 48: Flexibility in Establishing the Effective Date of Eligibility (Direct Certification)

Direct Certification

We currently import direct certification information from the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) once a month. The ACT states that an LEA shall notify the parent or guardian of a negative balance within 10 days and that, “Before sending this notification to the parent or guardian, the LEA 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 direct certification information monthly?

Yes. If the LEA uses a monthly direct certification list, they have met the requirements of checking the direct certification list. As for exhausting all options, LEAs can do more. Directly certifying children based on CalFresh, California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (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?”

No. EC Section 49557(b)(1) states:

(b)(1)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 schoolday pursuant to 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 denied a reimbursable meal of the pupil’s choice because of the fact that the pupil’s parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees and shall ensure that the pupil is not shamed or treated differently from other pupils. 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, or as a regular menu item.

CDE Communication

Is the CDE going to send information to business officials on their responsibility to pay balances and help with balance collection?

Yes. The CDE Management Bulletin SNP-22-2019: Senate Bills 250 and 265 USDA Meal Policy Requirements was revised in October 2019.

Miscellaneous

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, emails, and automated phone call balance notifications sent to the parent or guardian?

No. The long or short nondiscrimination statement is not required for texts, emails, 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 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.

Questions:   Resource Management Unit | snpcafefundquestions@cde.ca.gov
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, October 30, 2019
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