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Modifications to Accommodate Disabilities in the School Meal Programs

EO Guidance Document #
FNS Document #
Resource type
Policy Memos
Guidance Documents
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Policy Memo (159.78 KB)
DATE:September 27, 2016
SUBJECT:Policy Memorandum on Modifications to Accommodate Disabilities in the School Meal Programs
TO:Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs
All Regions
State Directors
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

The attached policy memorandum, “Modifications to Accommodate Disabilities in the School Meal Programs,” includes important updates to requirements related to accommodating children with disabilities participating in the school meal programs.

Previous Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) guidance on this issue was included in FNS Instruction 783-2, Rev. 2, Meal Substitutions for Medical or other Special Dietary Reasons. The attached memorandum supersedes that Instruction as it relates to the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Milk Program for Children, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Instruction 783-2, Rev. 2 remains in effect for the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program until further guidance is issued, at which time Instruction 783-2 will be rescinded.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008 made important changes to the meaning and interpretation of the term “disability.” The changes demonstrated Congress’s intent to restore the broad scope of the ADA by making it easier for an individual to establish that he or she has a disability. After the passage of the ADA Amendments Act, most physical and mental impairments constitute a disability. Therefore, rather than focusing on whether or not a student has a disability, schools should focus on working collaboratively with parents to ensure an equal opportunity to participate in the school meal programs and receive program benefits. The attached memorandum clarifies changes made by the ADA Amendments Act and reflects the position FNS will take in compliance reviews and enforcement actions.

Of note, the memorandum retains previous requirements regarding submission of a note from a state-licensed healthcare professional documenting the disability. However, the policy memorandum clarifies that any person who is authorized to write medical prescriptions under state law qualifies as a state-licensed healthcare professional. For example, in many states, this will include licensed nurse practitioners as well as licensed physicians.

The memorandum also explains procedural safeguards required to ensure parents and children have notice of the procedure for requesting meal modifications and the process for resolving disputes. Use of approved existing procedures designed to address requests to accommodate students with disabilities in the classroom will meet these requirements. The memorandum also notes that school food service staff must be made aware of the procedures for handling requests for meal modifications.

State agencies are reminded to distribute this memorandum to program operators immediately. Local educational agencies, school food authorities, and other program operators should direct any questions concerning this guidance to their state agency. State agencies with questions should contact the appropriate FNS regional office.

Angela Kline
Policy and Program Development Division
Child Nutrition Programs
Roberto Contreras
Civil Rights Division
Page updated: January 10, 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.