The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Food and Nutrition issued a memorandum on March 28, 2020 that further clarified the requirements of bill A-3840/S-2281, which became effective as P.L. 2020, c.6 on March 20, 2020. The law requires districts to provide students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals with school meals or meal vouchers during school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when such closure is ordered by the New Jersey Department of Health or a local health officer.

Specifically, the law applies to all students enrolled in the district who are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch and school breakfast programs. When there is a closure ordered by the Department of Health or a local health officer due to the COVID-19 crisis, a district must work with county and municipal government officials and identify appropriate school meal distribution sites that are within walking distance and easily accessible to district students.

For eligible students who are not within walking distance of a meal distribution site, the district must distribute meals to the student’s residence or, if the parent/guardian is present, to the student’s bus stop. The district may utilize buses that are owned and operated by the district to distribute meals. Where a delivery is made for a student not within walking distance of a distribution site, up to three school days’ worth of meals may be distributed per delivery.

Districts not owning and operating their own buses may contract for distribution of school meals, and such contracts are not subject to public bidding requirements under the Public School Contracts Law, N.J.S.A. 18A:18A-1 et seq.

If the district closes for a reason provided under P.L. 2020, c.6, but is unable to provide school meals to an eligible student, then the district must establish a food voucher system for such students so that they may “access nutritious food at food retail stores.” Districts may collaborate with local governments and other districts for efficiencies and cost savings.

The new law provides that the state will assume costs incurred by districts in distributing meals under the new law’s provisions, where such costs are not reimbursed by the federal government.

The March 28 New Jersey Department of Agriculture memorandum further clarified, however, that P.L. 2020, c.6 only applied in certain circumstances. The memorandum states:

In order to trigger this law, school closures must be initiated by “written directive by either the New Jersey Department of Health or the health officer of the jurisdiction to institute a public health-related closure due to the COVID-19 epidemic.” If schools do not close pursuant to a written directive by either of those parties, the law does not apply.

The memorandum goes on to note that New Jersey school districts were currently closed pursuant to executive orders issued by the governor and not due to orders by the Department of Health or local health officers. Therefore, it states, “[b]ecause P.L. 2020, c.6 is not triggered by school closures mandated by executive order, it has not been invoked and does not apply at this time.”

Pursuant to the memorandum, even though this new law may not be effective at this time, school districts must continue to implement school meal programs during closures resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, including closures under executive order, in compliance with federal and state guidelines. Such programs include, but may not be limited to, school meals provided through the waiver of Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option requirements allowing students to be provided with meals during school closures due to COVID-19.

School board members and administrators are encouraged to discuss P.L. 2020, c.6 and the March 28 Department of Agriculture memorandum, as well as school meal requirements with their board attorney. For additional information, please contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.