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Accommodating Disabilities in the School Meal Programs: Guidance and Q&As

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Policy Memos
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PDF Icon Policy Memo (130.90 KB)
DATE:April 25, 2017
MEMO CODE:SP 26-2017
SUBJECT:Accommodating Disabilities in the School Meal Programs: Guidance and Questions and Answers (Q&As)
TO:Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs
All Regions
State Directors
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

This Question and Answer (Q&A) memorandum is designed to provide practical guidance related to accommodating disabilities in the school meal programs, which are the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), the Special Milk Program (SMP), and the NSLP Afterschool Snacks Program. This Q&A discusses relatively common situations which have raised questions in the past. These examples illustrate certain principles and give general direction on what local educational agencies (LEAs), school food authorities (SFAs), and schools must do to comply with federal law and ensure children with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the school meal programs.

The attached questions have been grouped under the following headings:

  • General Information
  • What is a Disability?
  • Procedural Safeguards
  • Requesting a Modification
  • Making a Meal Modification
  • Reimbursement for Modified Meals
  • Accommodations to the Meal Service
  • Non-Disability Situations and
  • Miscellaneous.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will revise this Q&A as needed to address other questions as they arise.

With the release of this guidance, the following memorandum is rescinded with regard to the school meal programs only. The memorandum still applies with regard to the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program:

  • SP36 CACFP10 SFSP12-2013: Guidance Related to the ADA Amendments Act, April 26, 2013.
Recent Guidance on Accommodating Disabilities

On Sept. 27, 2016, USDA-FNS issued SP59-2016: Policy Memorandum on Modifications to Accommodate Disabilities in the School Meal Programs to update Departmental requirements related to accommodating children with disabilities participating in the NSLP and SBP. This Q&A memorandum is a companion piece to SP59-2016. To view SP59-2016, please see:

The question of whether a child has a disability for purposes of making modifications to program meals has been simplified by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (PL 110-325; Sept. 25, 2008) and should no longer require extensive analysis. After the passage of the ADA Amendments Act, most physical and mental impairments will constitute a disability. The central concern for SFAs should be ensuring equal access to program benefits for children with disabilities.

Circumstances often vary, even when a disability diagnosis may be the same. The nature of the disability and age of the child should be considered when developing appropriate modifications. Each situation should be treated on a case-by-case basis. SFAs and schools should direct specific questions to the state agency if they are unsure how to proceed.

State agencies are reminded to distribute this information to program operators immediately. Program operators should direct any questions regarding this memorandum to the appropriate state agency. State agencies should direct questions to the appropriate FNS regional office.

Angela M. Kline
Policy and Program Development Division
Child Nutrition Programs
Roberto Contreras
Civil Rights Division


Page updated: January 16, 2024

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.