Confusion over USDA non-discrimination policy persists, school lunch funding potentially on the line

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Gov. Ron DeSantis claims the federal government is threatening to withhold school lunches over the state’s ban on transgender women from competing in women’s-only sports.

The governor’s comments come after a spat between the Department of Education and Department of Agriculture broke out last Friday over the interpretation of a new USDA non-discrimination policy.


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The Florida Department of Education accused Florida’s commissioner of agriculture of threatening to withhold federal school lunch funding if districts didn’t comply with the USDA’s updated non-discrimination policy.

The policy extends protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

The governor piled on during a press conference Wednesday, as he highlighted the state’s decision to prohibit transwomen from competing on high school and college women’s sports teams. While the Department of Education directed the bulk of its ire to Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat, DeSantis pinned the blame on the federal government.

“Biden is now threatening to penalize states that have taken basic common-sense actions like just recognizing the importance of women’s sports. They’re threatening to take away lunch money from poor kids as punishment for us protecting women’s sports. Think about how deranged that is,” said DeSantis.

Read: Florida governor sends message statewide with suspension of Hillsborough State Attorney

But Fried told us DeSantis and the Department of Education are intentionally twisting the scope of the rule.

She asserts it simply prohibits students from being denied a school lunch for being gay or trans.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with sports or having to do with bathrooms,” said Fried.

She said it’s the DeSantis administration putting school lunch funding at risk, by encouraging school districts not to comply with the updated federal non-discrimination policy.

“That is absolutely disgusting. He should be ashamed of himself and these are culture wars that should not be inside of our lunchrooms,” said Fried.

Because the two sides have two very different interpretations of the rule, Action News Jax went directly to the enforcer – the USDA.

We emailed the department last Friday asking specifically if schools abide by Florida’s transgender sports policy, would they risk a loss of lunch funding?

Nearly a full week later, we’ve yet to hear back.

We’ll keep pressing the USDA for clarity on the scope of its rule and update you as soon as we get a response.

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