USDA Ties School Lunch Funding to Compliance with "Sexual Ideology."
by Josh Miller
TAMPA, FLORIDA – As students prepare for the start of a new school year, confusion around the National School Lunch Program builds.
Many Florida families will depend on reduced or free school lunches due to record inflation, rising rent, and high gas prices. In many low-income communities, the lunch provided by public schools is the best meal of the day – and sometimes the only meal.
On May 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service announced that schools must comply with a new interpretation of Title IX, a 1972 discrimination law, to participate in the National School Lunch Program.
The agency notified Food and Nutrition Services directors at state and regional levels about the policy change through a memorandum published that same day: “State and local agencies, program operators, and sponsors that receive funds from FNS must investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation” and “update their non-discrimination policies and signage to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”
RISK OF LOSING FUNDING
Schools that maintain bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other facilities separated by biological sex are affected. In addition, any school that regulates the access of individuals based on biological sex is also at risk of losing federal funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) Program and the National School Lunch Program.
In a letter sent on July 28 to Florida schools, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. stated that the Biden administration's Title IX guidance documents are "not binding law." Diaz said schools do not have to comply with the USDA or USDOE guidance to receive federal school lunch program funding – including allowing biological males into female bathrooms.
"The Department will not stand idly by as federal agencies attempt to impose a sexual ideology on Florida schools that risk the health, safety, and welfare of Florida students," Diaz said. "The purpose of this memorandum is to make you aware that the sub-regulatory 'guidance' documents issued by the U.S. Department of Education and USDA are not binding law, do not create any new legal obligations, and should not be treated as governing law,” Diaz elaborated.
FLORIDA PUSHES BACK
Nikki Fried, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture, suggested that Florida schools comply with the new USDA guidance. Fried criticized Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Diaz for encouraging school districts to ignore the federal mandates. "I will not allow Gov. DeSantis or anyone to deny food to hungry kids for any reason," said Fried.
But DeSantis, in a previous press conference on the recently-passed state budget, said: "We're prepared for what Biden throws our way. Part of it is intentionally destructive policies, like trying to deny school lunch programs for states that don't do transgender ideology in the schools."
More than 20 state attorneys general have filed lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The suit urged a federal judge to prohibit retaliation against schools that "do not require employees or students to use a transgender individual's preferred pronouns" or "continue to separate students by biological sex in appropriate circumstances."
Grant Park Christian Academy, a private school in Tampa, also filed a lawsuit against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, President Biden, and the Agriculture Department for threatening to withhold funds from schools that do not comply with the Biden administration's "sexual ideology."
The school contacted Fried's office, which advised that participating schools must comply with "all federal program regulations," according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court.
In the complaint, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said that Fried's office provided only one option when they objected to the new mandates, which violated its religious beliefs. "Your school is not required to participate in the National School Lunch Program,” said a representative at Fried’s office. ADF legal counsel Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo countered that “The Biden Administration is threatening to take away lunch money from low-income children simply because they attend Christian schools.”
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provides low-cost and free lunches to over 29 million children at nearly 100,000 public and private schools in the U.S.