Confidentiality is an integral part of the federal Child Nutrition Program free and reduced price meal benefit. See below the new written guidance issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for federal or state education programs and Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)
Local Education Agencies (LEAs) may disclose, without parent / guardian consent, children’s names and eligibility status to persons directly connected to the administration or enforcement of NAEP because NAEP is a Federal education program. Additionally, LEAs may disclose children’s names and eligibility status to persons directly connected with the administration or enforcement of State educational assessment programs to the extent that the State assessment is part of the NAEP or the assessment program is established at the State, not local, level. Other State education programs also are eligible to have access to participants’ names and eligibility status, without parent / guardian consent, but the program MUST be established at the State, not local, level.
The term “persons directly connected” for the purpose of disclosure of NAEP includes Federal, State, and local program operators responsible for NAEP program administration or program compliance and contractors of the program operators. This DOES NOT IMPLY that the persons have ROUTINE ACCESS to participants’ eligibility status. There MUST be a “need to know” for legitimate NAEP purposes.
LEAs are encouraged to inform households when planning to disclose or use eligibility information outside the originating program and to have a written agreement with NAEP officials. See Attachment 2 for prototype agreement.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
Because NCLB is a Federal education program, LEA officials MAY disclose a child’s eligibility status to persons directly connected with, and have a NEED TO KNOW, a child’s free and reduced price meal eligibility status in order to administer and enforce the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements. However, other information obtained from the free and reduced price school meal application or obtained through direct certification cannot be disclosed. LEA officials MUST keep in mind that the intent of the confidentiality provisions is to limit the disclosure of a child’s eligibility status to persons having a “need to know” for proper administration and enforcement of a Federal education program. LEAs MUST establish procedures that limit access to a child’s eligibility status to as few individuals as possible.
LEA officials, prior to disclosing information on the eligibility of individual children, should enter into a memorandum of understanding or other agreement to which all involved parties (including both officials administering the school meals programs and officials administering the overall education functions) would adhere. This agreement would specify the names of the individuals that will have access to the information, how the information would be used in implementing NCLB, and how the information will be protected from unauthorized uses and third-party disclosures, and should include a statement of the penalties for misuse of the information. See Attachment 2 for prototype agreement.
See also Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner’s Memo IA-05-018 regarding privacy of free and reduced price meal eligibility.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Federal Department of Education has established that education records are under the purview of FERPA. However, for the school meals programs, the restrictions imposed by the laws governing these programs, not FERPA, apply.
PENALTIES FOR IMPROPER DISCLOSURE
The National School Lunch Act establishes a fine of not more than $1000, or imprisonment of not more than 1 year, or both, for publishing, divulging, disclosing, or making known in any manner or extent any eligibility information not authorized by Federal law.
For a listing of information disclosure that IS authorized by Federal law see the Eligibility Manual for School Meals, Part 7, and Appendix D. This manual can be found on the Child Nutrition website at http://cnn.k12.ar.us under the purple “eligibility” button.
PROTECTION OF STUDENTS
Protection of the identity for students eligible for free and reduced price meals must be the top priority. Due to the liability involved for both the district employee and the district, it is prudent for each district to establish a written policy and procedures for protection of the data. Orientation of school staff and consistent administration of the district policy and procedures will provide the best protection of students. Consistent policy implementation can provide some defense if allegations concerning misuse of eligibility information arise.
Any information released related to federal or state requirements is by decision of the LEA.
DISTRICTS THAT CHOOSE NOT TO DISCLOSE ELIGIBILITY INFORMATION SHOULD HAVE A WRITTEN POLICY TO THAT EFFECT.
It is advised that school districts use the attached Prototype Disclosure Agreement for Federal/State Education Programs for any meal status by the school nutrition program. Request for disclosure must include a written justification of the “Need to Know” and the intended use of the information. If the explanation does not specifically indicate one of the education programs listed in Appendix D of the "Eligibility Manual for School Meals", information CANNOT be disclosed. If the explanation does specifically indicate one of the listed education programs, for example National Association of Education Programs, then both administrators should complete and SIGN the form. All persons receiving the information should be trained on confidentiality of the information and should be made aware of the penalty and fines for disclosure.
LOCAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS
It is important to understand that local education programs administered by the LEA ARE NOT ELIGIBLE to receive information regarding student meal status. Principals, counselors, teachers, and administrators should NOT HAVE ROUTINE ACCESS to individual student eligibility status. Education programs such as afterschool tutoring or additional training for standardized tests administered by the LEA ARE NOT ELIGIBLE to receive student meal status information.