Administrative Prerogative

According to 7 CFR 245.6(d), local school officials may complete an application for a child known to be eligible for meal benefits if, after household applications have been disseminated, the household has not applied. This option is intended for limited use in individual situations and must not be used to make eligibility determinations for categories or groups of children.

This limited use option acknowledges the various reasons that a family may fail to apply for free or reduced price meals, such as lack of understanding, fear of authority, alien status, substance abuse, etc.

To exercise this option properly, an application must be completed on behalf of the student, based on the household size and income information available or Other Source Categorical Eligibility status known to the official.  The source of this information must be noted on the application. Documented prior efforts must be made by the SFA to obtain a completed application from the parent or guardian.

The names of all household members, a social security number, or an adult signature need not be secured.  Instead, the name of the student, household size, estimated family income including source, and the administrator's signature must be provided.  The household must be notified of the student's approval status for free or reduced price meals.  These applications should be excluded from the verification process.

This option must be used judiciously and only after repeated efforts to obtain applications from families have been unsuccessful.  It is to be used on an individual basis and must not be used to provide eligibility determinations for large numbers of students.  It also may not be used when family income is above the eligibility guidelines, even though the children are coming to school without a meal or money.  Family economic status must remain the criterion for administratively making the decision to provide the student access to free or reduced price meals.

Reimbursement funds will be reclaimed for improper use of administrative prerogative.

Administrative Prerogative- Questions and Answers

1. Can a student be approved for free or reduced price meals without an application from the parent or guardian?

Yes.  Under special circumstances, a school official may use administrative prerogative and fill out an application for a student whom they have reason to believe would be eligible if the household were to apply.  However, the school must first attempt to obtain an application from the household. This prerogative should not be indiscriminately used to claim ineligible students for free meals or to generate aid for other federal programs.

2. How can a school show that attempts have been made to obtain the application from the household?

Copies of mailings to the household and documentation of conversations with the parent/guardian or a responsible adult in the household must be kept on file. An administrator cannot arbitrarily qualify students from families who did not reapply from the prior year.

3. If the parent/guardian of the student cannot be reached or communicated with due to language barriers, etc., who may be contacted for household information?

An employer, a Social Service official, immigration official, or a relative suggested by either the student or the student's teacher may be contacted to urge the household to apply.

4. Is there a specific time-period that the school must allow to pass before attempts to obtain an application are deemed unsuccessful?

No specific time-period is required.  The process should be facilitated as quickly as possible so that the student is not going without meals in school.

5. Can an administrative prerogative be implemented during the period of time in which the school is attempting to obtain an application from the household?

If the school has reason to believe that the student is going without meals in school on a regular basis due to financial need, the school may implement an administrative prerogative immediately. 

6. What should the school official be looking for as evidence that the student is not getting proper nourishment?

The student's teacher, the school nurse, or other school personnel in direct contact with the student may notice behavior indicating under nourishment, such as irritability, listlessness, complaints of headache or stomach ache, and absenteeism.  School cafeteria personnel may notice that a student has no food during the lunch period or is constantly requesting to charge lunch.

7. Can a school official simply write a note to the food service manager to add a student's name to the list of eligible students?

No.  The school official must complete an application that contains the name of the student, the household size, an estimated family income, and a signature of the school official.  The source of information must be noted on the application.

8. How should the school tell the student and the household that the student would have access to free meals in the school cafeteria?

The household must be informed of the decision via phone, correspondence, or in person.  The student may be told by the teacher, school nurse, or other school official.

9. Is an application completed by a school official handled in the same way as those submitted by households?

Yes.  Like other applications, it must be counted for purposes of the claim for reimbursement and retrievable by building during a review.  However, the application should not be included in the verification process.

10. Can the administrative prerogative be implemented for families or groups of students who appear to be lacking proper nutrition?

No.  Applications must be completed on an individual basis.

11. Can an application be completed for a student who appears to be lacking proper nourishment, if the household has indicated that it is not eligible for benefits?

No. An application can only be completed for students who appear to be missing meals for reasons of financial need.  Other problems occurring in a household that may result in poor eating habits, but are not a reflection of family economic status, should not be resolved by this measure.