This memorandum addresses a question that has been raised concerning the responsibility of Massachusetts school districts and approved private special education schools to have school meals available to students with disabilities who have been placed in out-of-district programs at public expense. As explained below, consistent with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and G.L. c. 69, §1C, sending school districts and approved private special education schools must collaborate to make breakfast and lunch available to publicly-funded students with disabilities if they would have had access to such meals in their sending district. Also, if a student is eligible for free or reduced price meal benefits, that benefit must be available to the student while the student attends the approved private special education school. Districts are required to communicate with out-of-district programs whenever a student is determined to be eligible for a free or reduced price breakfast and/or lunch and/or whenever a student's eligibility status for school meals changes.
Massachusetts state law, G.L. c. 69 Sec 1C, requires all public schools to make lunches available to all students. Some public school students obtain free or reduced price lunches based on their family income, and some pay full price. Reimbursement for school lunch meals is available through the National School Lunch Program discussed in more detail later in this memorandum.
When a district has an enrolled student in an out-of-district placement, the district remains responsible for ensuring that lunches are available to the student even if the approved special education school does not participate in the National School Lunch Program.1 In addition, eligible students must have access to free or reduced price meals. A number of different arrangements may be made between the district and the approved private special education school to meet this obligation. Meal service arrangements have included the district sending meals for students, using meal services at the approved private special education school, or entering into an agreement with a local school district or other food service vendors for the provision of meals.
The same principle of access to meals applies if a student with disabilities would have been eligible to participate in a school breakfast program at the school the student would have attended if the student had not been placed out-of-district.
School districts must provide school breakfast programs in schools that draw from attendance areas with high numbers of needy students. The Department refers to these schools as "breakfast-mandated schools." When a district places a student from that school in an approved private special education program, the student's sending district and the approved private special education school must collaborate to provide the student access to school breakfast. The approved private special education school may make the breakfast program available to all students, regardless of family income, provided that eligible students from a breakfast-mandated school have access to meals.
If the student is eligible for free meals under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program criteria, meals must be made available at no charge. If the student is eligible for reduced price meal benefits, the maximum charges allowed in the National School Lunch Program (40 cents) and School Breakfast Program (30 cents) apply. The district is responsible for any difference in a meal charge. If a student is not eligible for free or reduced price meal benefits, the established paid meal charges are applicable and are paid by the student's family. Meal program reimbursements are available when the school is participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program. Reimbursement rates are set annually. Note that even full-price meals receive a federal subsidy. Approved private special education schools can apply to participate in these programs.
Documentation related to free or reduced price meal benefits, including meal benefit applications, must be maintained by the school district or approved private special education school claiming meal reimbursement. If the approved private special education school is not in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program, the application would be maintained at the school district in which the student is enrolled. Meal reimbursement may be claimed by either the district or the approved private special education program, not both.
Approved private special education schools2 should review the availability of meals to students who are publicly funded and districts should do likewise with respect to students placed in such schools by the district. If a school does not provide access to meals, approved private special education school leaders must contact the district to discuss arrangements that can be made to meet their mutual responsibilities.
The Department's School, Nutrition, and Health staff will be available to districts and approved private special education school staff to discuss arrangements that may be made to meet these obligations and to work with approved private special education schools interested in participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.
Additionally, questions may be sent to School, Nutrition, and Health at 781-338-6480 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
1 This memorandum also applies to out-of-district placements in "unapproved programs" pursuant to 603 CMR 28.06(3)(e).
2 An entity seeking approval or reapproval as a private special education school must have a policy reflecting that it will work with districts to meet the responsibilities set out in this memorandum.
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
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