Arkansas Department of Education Division of Elementary and Secondary Education Policy Updates on Modifications to Accommodate Disabilities in the School Meals Programs

Memo Information

Memo Number
Memo Date
Memo Type
Child Nutrition
Regulatory Authority
USDA 7 CFR 15b, 7 CFR 15b.26(d), 7 CFR 210.10(m) and 220.8(m), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, and Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008
Response Required
Superintendents; Principals

Primary Contact Information

Memo Reference

No references available.

Memo Text




The purpose of this memo is to update schools on the Federal requirements for modifications to accommodate disabilities in the School Meal Programs.


Reasonable Modifications

Schools are required to make reasonable modifications to accommodate children with disabilities.  This includes providing special meals, at no extra charge, to children with a disability when the disability restricts the child’s diet.


Schools must make substitutions to meals for children with a disability that restricts the child’s diet on a case-by-case basis and only when supported by a written statement from a State licensed healthcare professional (see Commissioner’s Memo CNU-18-023).


Statutes and Regulations

The attached United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) memo SP 59-2016 details the governing statutes and program regulations that relate to modifications to accommodate disabilities in the School Meal Programs, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.


Children with Disabilities

The question of whether a child has a disability for purposes of this memorandum has been simplified by the ADA Amendments Act, and should no longer require extensive analysis. Schools should not be engaged in weighing medical evidence against the legal standard to determine whether a particular physical or mental impairment is severe enough to qualify as a disability. After the passage of the ADA Amendments Act, most physical and mental impairments will constitute a disability. The central concern for schools should be ensuring equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from the program.


Medical Statement

A medical statement should include a description of the child’s physical or mental impairment that is sufficient to understand how it restricts the child’s diet (i.e. dietary restriction).  It should also include an explanation of what must be done to accommodate the disability (i.e. accommodation needed).  This may include, but is not limited to, food(s) to avoid or restrict, food(s) to substitute, caloric modifications, or the substitution of a liquid nutritive formula.


When the school believes the medical statement is unclear, or lacks sufficient detail, they must obtain appropriate clarification so that a proper and safe meal can be provided.

Assessing Requests for Substitutions and Other Modifications

Schools may consider expense and efficiency in choosing an appropriate approach to accommodate a child’s disability, and schools are not required to provide the specific substitution or other modification requested (like a brand name product), but must offer a reasonable modification that effectively accommodates the child’s disability and provides equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from the program.


Serving Meals in an Integrated Setting

Schools must provide all meal services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the disabled child.



Reimbursement for modified meals served to children with disabilities that restrict their diet is at the appropriate rate based on the child’s eligibility for free, reduced price, or paid meals for the applicable program, regardless of the meal modification.



Schools are responsible for the accessibility of food service areas and for ensuring the provision of food service aides, where needed.


Procedural Safeguards

School food service staff and others in the district must work together to implement procedures for parents or guardians to request modifications to meal service for children with disabilities and to resolve grievances.  Procedures in place to address requests to accommodate students with disabilities in the classroom in compliance with Section 504 or the IDEA may be used to fulfill this requirement.


At a minimum, schools must notify parents and guardians of the process for requesting meal modifications to accommodate a child’s disability and arrange for an impartial hearing process to resolve grievances related to requests for modifications based on a disability.  The hearing process must include the opportunity for the child’s parent or guardian to participate, be represented by counsel, and examine the record.  It must also include notice of the final decision, and a procedure for review.


Team Approach

USDA and the Arkansas Department of Education Child Nutrition Unit (CNU) encourage a team approach to providing modifications to accommodate disabilities in the School Meal Programs.


USDA Policy Memo

Please read the attached USDA Policy Memo SP 59-2016 for complete details.  This memo outlines the requirements for districts participating in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and supersedes FNS Instruction 783-2, Rev. 2, Meal Substitutions for Medical or other Special Dietary Reasons for the School Meal Programs.  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.


Sample Form

A sample Meal Modification Form has been developed by CNU and is attached.  Districts may use the form with or without local edits.  The form is not required by USDA or CNU, nor may this form or any other form be required by the district. 


In an effort to ensure that all children have access to healthy meals that meet their dietary needs, the process for obtaining a medical statement for meal accommodations has been simplified and only the two USDA requirements are needed to begin meal modifications:


·         Dietary Restrictions

·         Accommodations Needed


These requirements will be reviewed during Administrative Reviews under the Civil Rights section.


If you have questions or concerns, please contact your district’s Area Specialist or the Child Nutrition Unit at (501) 324-9502.

Print Memo

Share this memo