The religious school in Tampa will receive federal funds for the lunch after all

Posted August 8|Updated August 8

A private religious school in Tampa will not have to follow new federal laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in order to continue receiving federal school lunch dollars, attorneys for the school said Monday. ‘school.

Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative law firm representing Grant Park Christian Academy in a federal lawsuit, announced that state officials have informed the school that it can continue to participate in the luncheon program on the basis of a Religious Exemption in Federal Law.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tampa on July 27. against President Joe Biden and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, claiming the defendants did indeed take food from low-income children who attended school. The school has 56 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, all from families below the federal poverty level.

The filing came the same day that 22 Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit against requirements that schools receiving federal funds comply with policy changes under Title IX, the 50-year-old law aimed at to prevent discrimination through education programs on the basis of gender. .

The US Department of Agriculture, which administers the National School Lunch Program, previously said schools would have to comply with the changes to continue receiving money.

The lawsuit blamed the Biden administration, which expanded the definition of “sex” in Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He claims the changes would force Grant Park Christian Academy to choose between following its religious beliefs or nurturing its students.

A day after the lawsuit, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz issued a memo to school district leaders saying they could ignore new federal rules on gender identity and orientation sexual, and Governor Ron DeSantis chastised Biden for trying to “take lunch money away from poor kids.”

While Title IX provides a religious exemption, the school argued that Fried’s office had previously told them they had to follow the new rules if they attended the lunch program.

However, according to a new filing in the lawsuit, the school received confirmation Friday from federal officials saying it qualified for a religious exemption. Fried’s general counsel also told the school that the exemption would be honored and that Grant Park Christian would receive his federal lunch money at the start of the new school year.

During a virtual press conference on Monday, Fried said the school’s bid was never denied and lunch funds were never threatened. She called the lawsuit a “disgusting political stunt” designed to create a “fake culture war to divide Floridians.” She accused Diaz and DeSantis of teaming up with Alliance Defending Freedom to target her, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

“There was never a genuine concern for students and their access to meals,” she said.

The group representing the school, however, saw the declaration as a victory.

“It shouldn’t have taken a trial to get the government to respect religious freedom,” said Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom. “Grant Park Christian Academy treats every child with dignity and respect and never turns away a hungry child.”

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Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.

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