In a previous update, MREA shared that parts of the new federal school lunch guideline may be voluntary, according to a report from the American Association of School Administrators. However, MREA has received this clarification from Deb Lukkonen, supervisor of the Schools Nutrition Programs for the Minnesota Department of Education, regarding options to participate in the Federal School lunch Program.
The entire school lunch/breakfast program is the optional part. Schools can decide to participate in a meal program or not to. There is no federal or state mandate requiring public (or private) schools to participate in the school meals program. In Minnesota, there are only a few instances where a public school decides not to participate.
If a district or private school does decide to participate, then it is required that the sponsor follow the new Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act requirements. The new meal pattern is a requirement of participation.
There is no opting out of the meal pattern requirements. The 6-cents additional reimbursement is an incentive to get districts to update their meal pattern sooner rather than later.
It is expected by next school year, all sponsors that are participating in the National School Lunch Program will have updated menus. MDE will be randomly validating 25 percent of sponsors to verify whether their menus are in compliance or not.
Some schools will received additional assistance from MDE to help bring menus into compliance.
If a sponsor finds the new meal pattern cumbersome, unrealistic or for some reason in conflict with vision and mission, then they can choose not to participate in the National School Lunch Program. This is considered a worst case scenario. If this decision is made, it raises the questions: What is the alternative to providing a meal free or at a low cost to students eligible for free or reduced price meals, or to the rest of the enrollment at a reasonable price?
Going “off the program” is a serious decision, Lukkonen said. She shared that she hopes that districts never come to this point because the overall benefits of the new meal pattern outweigh the short term challenges. If your district needs some one-on-one assistance, they may contact Deb at MDE.
In the previous report from AASA, MREA reported that school districts could opt out of the new meal pattern, give up the .06 additional meal reimbursement, and remain in the school lunch program. AASA has not been able to confirm that interpretation, so MREA advises its districts to proceed based on Lukkonen’s explanation.