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Office of P-20 Education Policy
Child Nutrition Program Administration
89 Washington Avenue, Room 375 EBA, Albany, NY 12234
Phone: (518) 473-8781 Fax: (518) 473-0018

School Food Service Directors/Managers
Frances N. O'Donnell, Coordinator
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Preventing Overt Identification of Children Certified for Free or Reduced Price School Meals

This memorandum serves as guidance on the requirements for preventing overt identification of children certified for free or reduced price school meals, and provides suggestions about methods school food authorities (SFAs) could use to avoid overt identification as much as possible.

Defining Overt Identification

Overt identification is any action that may result in a child being recognized as potentially eligible to receive or certified for free or reduced price school meals.  SFAs must assure that a child’s eligibility status is not disclosed at any point in the process of providing free or reduced price meals, including notification of the availability of free or reduced price benefits; certification and notification of eligibility; provision of meals in the cafeteria; and the point of service.

Preventing Overt Identification of Directly Certified Children  

SFAs are not required to provide applications to parents when children are eligible for free meals through direct certification, but must assure that these children are not overtly identified through the method used to distribute applications.  If an SFA distributes applications to individual households, such as by mail (including e-mail), or in individual student packets; or online availability, applications do not have to be provided to households in which all children are determined eligible through direct certification.  If the distribution method is not individualized, all households must be provided applications. (See 7 CFR 245.6(b)(10)).

Prohibited Actions

The following actions are prevented by law and regulation:

  • Publicizing or announcing eligible households or children’s names;
  • Using different mediums of exchange (see below for additional discussion);
  • Having separate dining areas, service times or serving lines;
  • Limiting choices of reimbursable meals; and
  • Requiring that children work for their meals.

(See the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act section 9(b)(10), 42 U.S.C. 1758(b)(10), and 7 CFR 245.8.)

Media of Exchange Restrictions

Of particular concern is prevention of overt identification in the food service area, especially at the point of service.  Any meal cards, tickets, tokens or other methods to obtain reimbursable meals cannot be coded or colored in a manner that would overtly identify free and reduced price eligible children.  In addition, SFAs must take steps to assure that rosters, computer-screens or other equipment used at the point of service cannot be viewed by anyone not needing the information, especially students.  Further, the information on the rosters or screens should be masked or coded to avoid other students discerning any student’s eligibility status.

SFAs are encouraged to use prepayment systems as much as possible to limit exchange of money which inadvertently can indicate a student’s eligibility status. SFAs must make reasonable efforts to publicize and encourage use of prepayment options by students and parents.  SFAs should provide multiple ways to make prepayments, such as on-line, multiple locations within the school, especially when students are arriving or changing classes, and remind parents through e-mail, notices, or other means, when a student’s balance is low.

Food Service Area Considerations

SFAs are prohibited from having separate dining areas, service times or serving lines or limiting the choices of reimbursable meals based on a student’s eligibility status.  In addition, SFAs choosing to sell competitive foods during the meal service are encouraged to ensure the operation of the sale of competitive foods does not inadvertently result in eligible children being identified.  Ways to limit overt identification related to the sale of competitive foods include:

  • Limit competitive foods to those also offered as part of reimbursable meals on the reimbursable lunch lines;
  • Offer competitive foods on the same lines as reimbursable meals are offered; or
  • Only allow competitive foods to be purchased with a pre-paid card.


SFAs must avoid any policy or practice that has the effect of overtly identifying eligible children.  Where necessary, local education agencies should promptly update their policy statements, implementation procedures, and operations to comply with this guidance.  State agencies must assure that SFAs’ practices address ways to prevent overt identification.  This includes reviewing policy statements and point of service systems for new SFAs submitting applications for participation in the school meals programs.  State agencies are required to review the policy statement and the medium of exchange used as part of the general areas when conducting administrative reviews.

Please do not hesitate to contact your child nutrition specialist with questions on this memo.


USDA Nondiscrimination Statement

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA. 

Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.), should contact the Agency (State or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.  Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English.

To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, (AD-3027) found online at:, and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by:

(1)     mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture
         Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
         1400 Independence Avenue, SW
         Washington, D.C. 20250-9410;

(2)     fax: (202) 690-7442; or

(3)     email:

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.


For Nondiscrimination Statement translations, click here.

Los demás programas de asistencia nutricional del FNS, las agencias estatales y locales, y sus beneficiarios secundarios, deben publicar el siguiente Aviso de No Discriminación:

De conformidad con la Ley Federal de Derechos Civiles y los reglamentos y políticas de derechos civiles del Departamento de Agricultura de los EE. UU. (USDA, por sus siglas en ingles), se prohíbe que el USDA, sus agencias, oficinas, empleados e instituciones que participan o administran programas del USDA discriminen sobre la base de raza, color, nacionalidad, sexo, discapacidad, edad, o en represalia o venganza por actividades previas de derechos civiles en algún programa o actividad realizados o financiados por el USDA.

Las personas con discapacidades que necesiten medios alternativos para la comunicación de la información del programa (por ejemplo, sistema Braille, letras grandes, cintas de audio, lenguaje de seas americano, etc.), deben ponerse en contacto con la agencia (estatal o local) en la que solicitaron los beneficios. Las personas sordas, con dificultades de audición o discapacidades del habla pueden comunicarse con el USDA por medio del Federal Relay Service [Servicio Federal de Retransmisión] al (800) 877-8339. Además, la información del programa se puede proporcionar en otros idiomas.

Para presentar una denuncia de discriminación, complete el Formulario de Denuncia de Discriminación del Programa del USDA, (AD-3027) que está disponible en linea en: y en cualquier oficina del USDA, o bien escriba una carta dirigida al USDA e incluya en la carta toda la información solicitada en el formulario. Para solicitar una copia del formulario de denuncia, llame al (866) 632-9992. Haga llegar su formulario lleno o carta al USDA por:

(1)     correo: U.S. Department of Agriculture
         Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
         1400 Independence Avenue, SW
         Washington, D.C. 20250-9410;

(2)     fax: (202) 690-7442; o

(3)     correo electró

Esta institución es un proveedor que ofrece igualdad de oportunidades.