Meal delivery during coronavirus closures: Legal considerations

COVID-19 meal delivery requires written notice, as the National School Lunch Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act do not authorize release of household contact information for children without the parent's formal consent.
By: | March 31, 2020
Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesPhoto by John Moore/Getty Images

As COVID-19 response efforts continue, schools operating Summer Food Service Program or Seamless Summer Option sites may decide to expand strategies toward social distancing by providing meal deliveries.

Programs offering open SFSP or SSO sites, such as public libraries or schools, may deliver meals to all children in their eligible area, according to guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Programs operating a closed-enrolled site, such as a camp organized by the local parks and recreation department, may enroll children who are certified as eligible for free or reduced-price meals and deliver meals only to the enrolled, eligible children.

But schools must first obtain written consent from households of eligible children that they want to receive delivered meals, as the National School Lunch Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act do not authorize the release of household contact information for children without the parent’s written consent. This written consent may be done via email or other electronic means, according to USDA’s COVID-19 Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option Meal Delivery Using Existing Authority guidance.

The guidance states that the school must be the entity that makes the first contact about meal delivery with the households of eligible children and must notify the household if contact information will be shared with an external organization like a local nonprofit group that provides meal delivery.

Schools should confirm the household’s current contact information and the number of eligible children in the household to ensure the correct number of meals are delivered to the correct location while protecting the confidentiality of students and their households throughout this process.

Once the school receives written consent from the parent to release contact information, schools may share the information with other organizations involved with meal delivery. Schools that use private vendors, in accordance with regulations on implementing the NSLA, must have a memorandum of understanding agreement with the vendor concerning the confidentiality requirements. The agreement should include information such as:

  • What will be disclosed.
  • How the information will be used.
  • How the information will be protected from unauthorized uses and disclosures.
  • Penalties for unauthorized disclosure.

Johnny Jackson covers homeless and at-risk students and other Title I issues for a DA sister publication.