Breakfast and Lunch at Private Special Education Schools

In a recent memorandum to school superintendents, special education administrators, and approved private special education schools, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) clarified the requirements surrounding breakfast and lunch for students who attend private special education schools at public expense. The DESE stated,

[S]ending 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.

All public schools in Massachusetts are required to make lunch available to students regardless of family income.  Schools that draw from attendance areas with high numbers of needy students are also required to make breakfast available. While some public districts offer free meals to all students regardless of income, others offer free or reduced-price lunches based on family income.  Students with a family income at or below 130% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for free meals at school.  Students with a family income between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for reduced price meals ($0.40 for lunch and $0.30 for breakfast).  Other students must pay full price for school meals, but federal subsidies help keep costs relatively low.  Boston, for example, offers universal free breakfast and charges $2.25 for lunch at the elementary level and $2.50 at the middle and high school levels.

If your school district pays for your child to attend an approved private special education school (or has placed your child in an unapproved program to meet his or her special needs), find out the cost of the meals your child would receive in public school.  Then, if you want your child to receive those meals, check in with your child’s private school to make sure that your district is meeting its mealtime obligations to your child.  Responsibility for provision of meals rests with the sending district, not with the private school.  As the DESE has stated, meal service arrangements may include “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.”

Bon appétit!

Melanie R. Jarboe is an associate in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

4 thoughts on “Breakfast and Lunch at Private Special Education Schools

  1. For outplaced students who are not eligible for free or reduced meals, is the sending district required to make meals available at the in-district cost?

    • The section of the DESE memorandum entitled “National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program Eligibility, Charges, and Reimbursement” provides information about pricing for students who are not eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

      • Yes, here is the language in the DESE memo: “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.” Unclear whether the “established paid meal charges” mean the established in-district prices or the prices established by the out of district school.

      • From looking at both the memorandum and the law, it appears that the “established paid meal charges” would mean the established in-district prices. If you check with your district and your private school and find a discrepancy, please feel free to call our intake line at (617) 227-7031 for further assistance.

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