School lunch legislation & litigation

March 8, 2013

I was reading a local blogger’s post recently discussing subsidized school lunches. The post referenced legislation proposing to expand the subsidized school lunch program in Minnesota. The Star Tribune notes that currently, some families qualify for free lunch, and others qualify for lunch at a reduced price, but the legislation would allow for those qualified for reduced price lunches to now get it for free. 2013 MN S.F. 146 (NS)

The National School Lunch Act helped to establish federal programs providing for free or reduced lunches for students at participating schools. Because I frankly don’t know a lot about how free or reduced lunch programs work, or their history, I decide to run a plain language global search and see what might be available to provide as an introduction on the issue.

 SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM

I look first to secondary sources, as those tend to be the best place to look for an introduction to a topic.  One of my very first results is an ALR, which can be a wonderful resource that provides a comprehensive review of major points of law on a topic.

Construction and application of National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 1751 et seq.) and Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1771 et seq.) 14 A.L.R. Fed. 634 (Originally published in 1973)

The article outline shows that it covers a variety of federal statutes and regulations, including the National School Lunch Act, and The Child Nutrition Act of 1966. It also has sections on definitions, constitutional challenges, standards and requirements, and a section discussing applicability of state laws to the federal programs. The introduction to the article mentions that the National School Lunch Act and Child Nutrition Act of 1966 provide programs of “grants-in-aid to the states” to provide “breakfasts and lunches for all children in the participating schools and institutions at a cost lower than could normally be expected…and by providing breakfasts and lunches for needy children in such schools at either greatly reduced cost or at no cost to the pupils or their families.”

Another result was 67B Am. Jur. 2d Schools § 360, a general overview of the topic of School Lunch Programs.
I clicked on the link to the Table of Contents from the AMJUR article, because I know AMJUR can be really good for providing a quick overview of topics. From the table of contents, I see the next section is about participation in the programs 67B Am. Jur. 2d Schools § 361. There are subsequent sections for program requirements, and AMJUR also covers other nutrition programs, such as school breakfast programs.

Back on the Result List, I also see several articles from the title “Children and the Law: Rights and Obligations.”

Federal school lunch program – Adoption of National School Lunch Act (NSLA)
2 Children & the Law: Rights and Obligations § 9:33

Federal school lunch program – Litigation concerning amendments 2 Children & the Law: Rights and Obligations § 9:37

I click into the “Litigation concerning amendments” article and browse. The article discusses a 1972 class action case out of Rhode Island where it was argued that “there were needy children who resided in participating school districts who had a statutory right to receive a free or reduced price school lunch.” 2 Children & the Law: Rights and Obligations § 9:37. The accompanying footnote takes me to Davis v. Robinson, 346 F. Supp. 847 (D.R.I. 1972), which was a class action involving students whose schools were not included in the Rhode Island School Lunch Program, despite need. The court ruled that the intent of legislature was to provide school lunches to the neediest children first, and so:

“…the refusal by defendants to establish School Lunch Programs in the neediest schools first, of the participating school districts, and to provide free lunches to the neediest children first, in participating school districts, is violative of the National School Lunch Act and the regulations promulgated thereunder.” Davis v. Robinson, 346 F. Supp. 847, 858 (D.R.I. 1972)

The article mentions a few other cases; one out of Ohio (Jones v. Bd. of Ed., Cleveland City Sch. Dist., 348 F. Supp. 1269) which ruled similarly to the Rhode Island case. And another from New York (Justice v. Bd. of Ed., 351 F. Supp. 1252), which held that participating school districts should provide lunches to all schools that have children eligible under the income poverty guidelines. Then, the articles notes that the Ninth Circuit, in Richmond Welfare Rights Org. v. Snodgrass, 525 F.2d 197, interpreted the legislation very differently, finding:

“The National School Lunch Act does not require that free or reduced price lunches be provided every eligible child within a district. The Act requires only that every eligible child attending a school participating under the Act be *208 provided a free or reduced price lunch.” Richmond Welfare Rights Org. v. Snodgrass, 525 F.2d 197, 207-08 (9th Cir. 1975)

The article goes on to argue that the Ninth Circuit ignored important legislative history, and the obvious goals of the legislation.

I decide to go back to my result list and check out the case law results. Within the first five results, I see three cases mentioned earlier in the Children & the Law article: Davis v. Robinson, 346 F. Supp. 847; Justice v. Bd. of Ed., 351 F. Supp. 1252; and Richmond Welfare Rights Org. v. Snodgrass, 525 F.2d 197. The Ohio case (Jones v. Bd. of Ed., Cleveland City Sch. Dist., 348 F. Supp. 1269), is 7th in the result list. This tells me that our plain language search has probably done a good job of pulling back some of the more important cases out there on this topic.