The purpose of this memorandum is to remind School Food
Authorities/Local Education Agencies (SFA/LEAs) and schools that they are
required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to school meals
for eligible students from households comprised of Limited English Proficiency
(LEP) individuals. This memorandum summarizes existing U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) guidance intended to
assist Program participants (SFA/LEAs) in providing meaningful access for LEP
persons. Guidance incorporated in this memorandum is described in detail below.
The intent of the school meal programs is to provide
nutritious and appealing meals that support the growth and development of
students during the school day. In order to connect children in need with
healthy meals, schools must make families aware of the National School Lunch
Program (NSLP), and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). They also must reduce
barriers to participation and certify children who are eligible for free and
reduced price meals within 10 operating days of the receipt of the application.
Some schools, however, face challenges in reaching eligible students from
households comprised of individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).
USDA guidance released in 2014 requires State agencies, SFA/LEAs,
and schools that receive Federal funding to ensure language is not a barrier to
receiving school meal benefits. State agencies, SFA/LEAs, and schools are
required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access for individuals
with LEP to the information and services they provide. Guidance to Federal
Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding the Title VI Prohibition Against
National Origin Discrimination Affecting Persons With Limited English
Proficiency is available at: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-11-28/pdf/2014-27960.pdf.
Agency-specific requirements are included in FNS Instruction 113-1: Civil
Rights Compliance and Enforcement – Nutrition Programs and Activities,
available at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/113-1.pdf.
In addition, as required by Section 9(b) of the Richard
B. Russell National School Lunch Act, 42 USC 1758(b), and program
regulations at 7 CFR 245.5, SFA/LEAs must publicly announce the availability of
free and reduced price meals. The announcement must include an assurance that
there will be no discrimination against LEP persons in the school meal
programs. An overview of the public announcement requirement may be found in
the Eligibility Manual for School Meals, available on the
Guidance page of the Arkansas Child Nutrition Unit website.
FNS is issuing the following Question and Answer (Q&A)
to provide straightforward responses to questions that FNS has received
regarding communications with LEP individuals. Topics include:
• General information about language access for LEP
• Identification and assessment of the language assistance
needs of LEP persons and the resources to serve them;
• Translation of vital information using qualified,
• Provision of oral interpretation services using
qualified, competent interpreters; and
• Other factors to consider when developing procedures for
serving LEP persons.
SFA/LEAs, should direct any questions concerning this
guidance to their Area Specialist at the Child Nutrition Unit.
English Proficiency Q&A
1. What is “Limited English Proficiency”?
A person with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) is someone
who does not speak English as their primary language and who has a limited
ability to read, speak, write, or understand English.
2. What are the main responsibilities for
schools communicating with LEP individuals?
Consistent with Section 9(b) of the Richard B. Russell
National School Lunch Act, 42 USC 1758(b), and according to 7 CFR 245.6
(a)(2), schools are required to communicate school meals eligibility
information “in an understandable and uniform format and to the maximum extent
practicable, in a language that parents and guardians can understand.”
Once a school becomes aware of an LEP individual’s needs,
the school is responsible for ensuring that their application and other
household materials (letter, instructions, notices, and verification materials)
are available in a language the LEP individual can understand.
3. What factors should be considered when
planning LEP communications?
According to FNS Instruction 113-1, when determining
the need for and extent of LEP communications, State agencies, LEAs, and
schools should consider:
• The overall number of students from households comprised
of LEP individuals,
• The proportion of students from households comprised of
LEP individuals as compared with the overall student population,
• The frequency of communications with LEP individuals,
• The means through which communications are sent (e.g.,
mail, telephone, websites, etc.), and
• The resources already available (i.e., USDA translation
materials) and the resources that will need to be supplied (i.e., oral
4. How can schools pay for translations that
are not readily available, either on the USDA website, through the State
agency, or through local partners?
The nonprofit food service account may be used to pay for
translation services for food service purposes if there is a need to translate
materials in a language that is not currently available.
5. How are schools evaluated for LEP
Compliance with LEP requirements is considered part of the
general areas for review in an Administrative Review. Schools that fail to
provide services to LEP individuals may be discriminating on the basis of
national origin in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Findings that indicate probable noncompliance must be handled in accordance
with the procedures for resolving noncompliance contained in FNS Instruction
6. When should LEP individuals be identified?
FNS recommends identifying LEP individuals prior to the
distribution of school meal applications and when additional eligibility
information, such as approval or denial, is sent. Many schools identify a LEP
individual’s primary language during the school enrollment process, and store
this information in an online database to ensure that communications sent to
families throughout the school year are sent in the appropriate language. Using
a central database also reduces duplication of efforts, and may reduce
paperwork and administrative costs for the school food service staff.
7. How do schools determine which languages to
include in household communications?
Most schools have a system in place to identify a parent or
guardian’s primary language. Options include:
• Conducting a Home Language Survey during student
• Sharing USDA’s “I Speak” document with parents and
guardians to determine which language they are most comfortable speaking. The
“I Speak” document can be downloaded from the USDA Translated Applications Web
• Checking with organizations that work with local
families, such as migrant or refugee assistance agencies, to determine which
translations are needed.
Schools are responsible for ensuring LEP individuals
receive the language services they need to complete the application,
certification, and verification process. Simply offering the most common
non-English language is not sufficient. Schools may use the Department of
Justice’s (DOJ) Language Access Assessment and Planning Tool for Federally
Conducted and Federally Assisted Programs to evaluate their LEP activities.
This resource is available at: http://www.lep.gov/resources/2011_Language_Access_Assessment_and_Planning_Tool.pdf.
After assessing language needs, schools should determine
where translation services in those languages may be obtained. According to FNS
Instruction 113-1, this may include training bilingual staff to act as interpreters
and translators, sharing language assistance materials with advocacy groups, or
using telephonic and video conferencing interpretation services.
8. What is required in a written translation?
Information about school meals is often communicated in
writing, so it is of particular importance that LEP individuals have access to
accurate translations. As described in the Eligibility Manual for School
Meals, applications and other related written materials must provide LEP
individuals access to the same information that is provided to non-LEP persons.
The permanent nature of written translations imposes
additional responsibility on LEAs and schools to ensure that the quality and
accuracy permit meaningful access by LEP individuals. As stated in Guidance
to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding the Title VI Prohibition
Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Persons With Limited English
Proficiency (USDA LEP Guidance), LEAs and schools opting to provide their
own translations should ensure that translators understand the expected reading
level of their audiences and, where appropriate, have fundamental knowledge
about the target language group’s vocabulary and phraseology. Community
organizations may be able to determine whether a document is written at the
appropriate level for the audience.
9. What are the minimum requirements for State
agencies and LEAs when providing written translations?
According to the USDA LEP Guidance, when determining
which materials should be translated, LEAs and schools should consider which
materials are “vital” to an individual’s participation. This may include,
“applications to participate in a recipient’s program or activity or to receive
recipient benefits or services,” such as school meal applications.
Consistent with previously issued LEP guidance, at a
minimum, State agencies must make USDA’s translations of prototype materials
available to LEAs through a link on their website, and provide printed copies
of application materials as needed. Alternatively, State agencies and LEAs may
choose to develop written translations of their own application materials. FNS
also expects LEAs to take appropriate measures to ensure that language and
communication are not barriers to program participation.
10. Where can schools find written
The USDA Translated Applications website includes two
written translation resources available for use by State agencies, LEAs, and
• Translations for applications intended to be used
directly by families: http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/family-friendly-application-translations.
• Translations for applications and verification form
prototypes for State agency consideration: http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/translated-applications.
The translated Free and Reduced Price School Meals
Application package includes the letter to households, the application, the
notification of selection for verification of eligibility, and the letter of
verification results. The translated application package also includes optional
materials that may be provided to households, such as the form to share
information with Medicaid/SCHIP and other programs.
LEAs may accept the USDA prototype of the translation,
reach out to State or local organizations to inquire about the availability of
translations in languages common in their community, or choose to develop
translations of their own written materials. If a State or LEA makes changes to
the USDA prototype application, the State or LEA is responsible for ensuring
the translations are also changed accordingly.
11. What translations are available on USDA’s
Child Nutrition Programs website?
The languages currently available through USDA include:
Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified),
Croatian, English, Farsi, French, Greek, Gujarathi, Haitian-Creole, Hindi,
Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Laotian, Mien, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi,
Russian, Samoan, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Sudanese, Tagalog, Thai, Tigrinya,
Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
To assist LEAs and schools in their effort to ensure
meaningful access for individuals with LEP, USDA periodically updates the
translations available on the Child Nutrition Programs website. For SY
2016-2017, the following translations will be added: Albanian, Amharic,
Bengali, Burmese, Creole (French), Karen, Kru, Ibo, Ilokano, Italian, Jamaican
Creole, Nepali, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Yiddish, and Yoruba.
12. Are schools required to include written
translations for verification requests?
As noted in Q&A #9, when determining which materials
should be translated, LEAs and schools should consider which materials are
“vital” to an individual’s participation. According to the regulations, this
may include, “any documents that require a response from applicants,
beneficiaries, and other participants,” such as verification letters.
State agencies and LEAs are expected to have a system in
place to provide verification notices to each household in the parent or
guardian’s primary language, follow up with households that do not respond to the
initial verification request, and provide oral assistance if the parent or
guardian has difficulty understanding the written request. USDA translations of
prototype verification materials are available on the FNS website.
13. Are schools required to provide written
translations for their web-based materials?
As previously stated, schools are responsible for ensuring
that their application and other household materials (letter, instructions,
notices, and verification materials) are available in a language LEP
individuals can understand. However, schools are not required to make online
application tools available in all languages. Schools are encouraged to ensure
language barriers do not prevent LEP individuals from navigating the website to
find information about the school meal application process.
14. When must oral interpretations be provided?
According to Executive Order No. 13166, Improving Access
to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, 3 C.F.R.
50121-50125 (2000), each Federal agency is responsible for ensuring that
recipients of Federal financial assistance, including schools operating the
school meal programs, provide meaningful access to their LEP applicants and
beneficiaries. Further, Executive Order 13166 states that “…a
recipient’s obligation to provide meaningful opportunity is not limited to
written translations. Oral communication between recipients and beneficiaries
often is a necessary part of the exchange of information.” Executive Order
13166 is available at: https://www.justice.gov/crt/executive-order-13166.
In previous guidance, including the Eligibility Manual
for School Meals, USDA has said that State agencies and LEAs must, “provide
the necessary services so that parents or guardians, who are unable to read or
have limited literacy, are assisted with completing the application process.
This may entail providing oral interpretation services.” For example, if no
written translation is available in a parent or guardian’s primary language, or
if a parent or guardian has limited literacy or otherwise requires assistance
for completing the school meal application, schools must provide an oral
interpretation to ensure the LEP individual has a “meaningful opportunity” to
benefit from the school meal programs.
As outlined in Q&A #3, however, State agencies, LEAs,
and schools may consider the resources available and costs of providing
services when determining what steps are considered “reasonable” as related to
LEP. According to FNS Instruction 113-1, LEAs and schools “with more
limited budgets are not expected to provide the same level of language services
as larger recipients with larger budgets. In addition, ‘reasonable steps’ may
cease to be reasonable where the costs imposed substantially exceed the
LEP guidance from the Department of Education (ED) is
consistent with this guidance. According to U.S. Department of Education
Policy Directive to Ensure Meaningful Access to Federally Conducted Services,
Programs and Activities for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency, to
determine “accurate, meaningful, and effective” language services, Federal recipients
should, on a “case-by-case basis, determine which mix of services should be
provided.” ED’s LEP guidance is available at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/foia/acsocroco1102.pdf.
15. What steps can State agencies, LEAs, and schools
take to reduce the costs of providing oral interpretations, when oral
interpretations are necessary?
State agencies, LEAs, and schools should carefully explore
the most cost-effective means of delivering competent and accurate language
services before limiting services due to resource concerns. FNS Instruction
113-1 includes several recommendations for Federal recipients working to
provide oral interpretations to LEP individuals, including:
• Sharing language assistance materials and services among
and between recipients, advocacy groups, and Federal grant agencies,
• Training bilingual staff to act as interpreters and
• Using telephonic and video conferencing interpretation
• Centralizing interpreter and translator services to
achieve economies of scale, and
• Formally using qualified community volunteers as
16. Who should provide the oral interpretation?
As outlined in the USDA LEP Guidance, State agencies
and LEAs are strongly encouraged to identify oral interpretation services
available within the school or district that can be used to communicate with
LEP individuals about school meal benefits. When possible, State agencies and
LEAs are also encouraged to partner with local organizations, such as migrant
or refugee assistance agencies, to provide oral interpretations. Third-party
interpreters also may provide oral interpretations. Household members
(especially students) are not expected to provide interpretive services. In
many circumstances, household members are not competent to provide accurate
interpretations and the use of household members to provide interpretations may
create a conflict of interest. Oral interpreters should:
• Demonstrate proficiency in and ability to communicate
information accurately in both English and in the other language and identify
and employ the appropriate mode of interpreting,
• Have knowledge in both languages of any specialized terms
or concepts peculiar to the recipient’s program or activity (i.e. school meals
eligibility) and of any particularized vocabulary and phraseology used by the
LEP person who is being assisted,
• Understand and follow confidentiality and impartiality
rules to the same extent as the recipient (i.e. the school) for whom they are
• Understand and adhere to their role as an interpreter,
without deviating into a role as counselor, advisor, or other inappropriate
LEP guidance from ED is consistent with this recommendation.
According to U.S. Department of Education Policy Directive to Ensure
Meaningful Access to Federally Conducted Services, Programs and Activities for
Individuals with Limited English Proficiency, individuals providing services to
LEP persons should, “understand their ethical obligations, and must emphasize
confidentiality, impartiality, accuracy, (and) avoidance of a conflict of
17. Where can State agencies, LEAs, and schools
find certified translators and interpreters?
DOJ’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section includes
the following key interpretation assessment and certification bodies on their
• Federal Language Assessments Using the ILR Scale
• The American Translation Association (ATA)
• The Federal Court Interpreter Program (FCIP)
• The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign
• The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and
• Select State court programs
• Select university and college programs
For more information, see: http://www.lep.gov/resources/BEFORE%20YOU%20HIRE%20ASK%20YOURSELF%20_%203-19-14%20_%20508.pdf.
18. What can schools and LEAs do to improve
access to school meals for migrant children?
Migrant students are categorically eligible for free
schools meals and are therefore not required to complete an application.
Categorically eligible migrant students are those enrolled in the Migrant
Education Program (MEP) as determined by the State or local MEP coordinator. As
stated in the Eligibility Manual for School Meals, LEAs need to
establish procedures with the MEP coordinator to ensure prompt notification,
especially when a new migrant child is identified. LEAs are encouraged to work
directly with MEP officials or homeless liaison to identify migrant children
and to document their eligibility for free benefits.
19. How should schools communicate with
low-literacy LEP individuals?
As stated in the Eligibility Manual for School Meals,
it is important for State agencies, LEAs, and schools to ensure that LEP
individuals with limited literacy can complete the application, certification,
and verification process. Schools are encouraged to take the following steps to
reduce barriers for LEP individuals with limited literacy:
• Use and accept USDA prototype materials, including
translations, which are designed for a 6th grade reading level.
• Develop applications and instructions using plain
language. The Federal Government’s guidelines for plain writing are available
• Ensure application materials only include information
necessary to determine eligibility.
• Make clear that only a single application is needed for
all students in the household attending schools in the LEA.
• Designate a school official that can complete an
application for an individual student known to be eligible and for whom no
application was submitted.
20. Are translated application materials
available for USDA’s other Child Nutrition Programs?
The CACFP Meal Benefit Income Eligibility Form, which may
be used to determine individual income eligibility for the Child and Adult Care
Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), is available
in 33 languages. The translated CACFP Meal Benefit Income Eligibility Form
package includes the letter to Tier I and Family Day Care Home Providers, the
Child Day Care Meal Benefit Income Eligibility Form, and the Adult Day Care
Meal Benefit Income Eligibility Form with instructions. The package contains
the notification of selection for verification of eligibility and verification
results. The translated application package also includes optional materials
that may be provided to households, such as the form to share information with
Medicaid/SCHIP and other programs.
The CACFP Meal Benefit Income Eligibility Form translations
may be found here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cacfp/meal-benefit-income-eligibility.
21. How do State and local laws interact with
the requirement to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals?
Some State and local laws might identify language access
obligations or requirements. According to the USDA LEP Guidance, LEAs
and schools may apply State and local requirements, so long as they do not
conflict with or set a lower standard than is required under Title VI and Title
VI regulations. For example, some LEAs and schools may operate in a
jurisdiction where English has been declared the official language. These
recipients, however, continue to be subject to Federal nondiscrimination
requirements, and must continue to provide meaningful access to LEP