Florida private school granted exception to Biden LGBTQ+ policy changes, will receive federal meal funding

·3 min read

Story at a glance

  • A private religious school in Florida will not be expected to follow a new LGBTQ+ inclusive policy to receive federal funding for school lunches.

  • Grant Park Christian Academy sued the Biden administration and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) late last month, arguing that the rule threatened its “ability to feed hungry children.”

  • USDA in May said it was expanding its definition of sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and schools would need to update their nondiscrimination policies accordingly to receive funding from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

A private religious school in central Florida is exempt from adhering to new federal policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and will continue to receive funding for a free meal program for its students, attorneys for the school said this week.

Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Fla., a private school of 56 pre-K through eighth grade students from low-income families, was granted the exemption on Friday, according to the school’s lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

In a lawsuit filed late last month, the ADF had argued that, if the school were to comply with a new federal mandate intended to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, it would “suffer harms to its educational mission, free speech, and religious exercise.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in May announced that it was broadening its definition of sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and said schools and other qualifying organizations would need to adjust their nondiscrimination policies accordingly to receive funding from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), including for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

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The ADF complaint, which named President Biden, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried – a Democrat running to replace Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in November – as defendants, argued that the new rule was “threatening Grant Park Christian Academy’s ability to feed hungry children.”

The lawsuit alleged that the school in following the new mandate would be unable to maintain sex-separated facilities like restrooms for boys and girls “based on their biological differences,” enforce its uniform policy or “refrain from using pronouns that do not correspond to biological sex.”

Grant Park Christian Academy under the new rule would also no longer be able to draw its workforce from a pool of individuals who “share and live out its religious convictions,” according to the complaint.

The school was informed by members of the Biden administration and Fried’s office on Friday that its request for religious exemption would be granted and it would continue to receive funding to serve free meals to its students for the upcoming school year, ADF attorneys said Monday. An emergency hearing scheduled for August 11 will be postponed.

“It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to get the government to respect religious freedom,” ADF Legal Counsel Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo said in a statement. “Now, provided the government follows through and approves Grant Park Christian Academy’s application and confirms its exemption, this private school can continue feeding dozens of children healthy meals every day.”

Steinmiller-Perdomo added that the ADF will “defend other public and private schools across the country who remain under the burden of this unlawful mandate that violates religious beliefs.”

The administration’s rule has been the subject of controversy among mostly conservative officials since it was announced in May.

In July, the attorneys general of 22 states sued the Biden administration over the new mandate, which they said was unlawful, in part because it is “based on a misapplication of U.S. Supreme Court precedents.”

“We all know the Biden administration is dead-set on imposing an extreme left-wing agenda on Americans nationwide,” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R), who is leading the lawsuit, said last month. “But they’ve reached a new level of shamelessness with this ploy of holding up food assistance for low-income kids unless schools do the Left’s bidding.”

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