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School Board addresses USDA decision leveraging federal funds for affordable school meals to adopt transgender, LGBT+ inclusive policies

File Photo | Webster Parish School Board Office

In the July Webster Parish School Board meeting, Vice President Charles Strong of District 3 brought attention to a recent USDA administrative action that would require schools receiving government funding to adhere to LGBTQIA+ policies or potentially lose the funds that allow them to serve affordable breakfasts and lunches to students of low-income families. 

A statement from the USDA about their decision reads, “It will interpret the prohibition on discrimination based on sex found in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and in the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program (7 USC § 2011 et seq.), to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA and FNS are issuing this interpretation to help ensure its programs are open, accessible and help promote food and nutrition security, regardless of demographics.”

Regarding the USDA’s decision, the school board referred to the legal counsel of Jon Guise on how to proceed addressing the matter. Guise explained to the school board, “Fairly recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that for purposes of Title 7 which is employment law — we’re not talking about the implications of kids, but for employment law — that you could not discriminate against people on the basis of whether they were transgender, or what different status they were, and that doing so would be tantamount to discriminating on the basis of their sex which is prohibited by Title 7. 

“Fast forward to the current administration. On May the 5th of this year, they issued a quote clarification or guidance where they threatened school districts across the nation with the loss of federal food funds in the event that they did not adopt policies against discriminaion in such areas as well as taking other pertinent steps.”

This is scheduled to go into effect August 3. Guise told the board that the Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has joined with 25 other state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit at the federal level to try and stop this. Guise stated that he had been in contact with Landry regarding the matter and provided a synopsis of Landry’s response to the Biden Administration on the matter. 

“First, we don’t agree with your interpretation that prior decision had nothing to do with food services and federal funding. Second, they said only Congress can make laws, and you cannot, through the stroke of your administrative pen, create new laws and impose those on the state,” said Guise.

“So the attorney general has set the way for us. Nothing is on the horizon as far as any enforcement action from the feds. The attorney generals of the various states have taken action and, knowing Mr. Landry as I do, I don’t think he will lay back and let that be put on us.”

Guise described this action taken by the USDA and the Biden administration as tantamount to legislating through administrative rules and regulations. He went on to say that his opinion is that there won’t be enforcement on the part of the feds regarding this matter anytime soon given that, ultimately, the outcome would mean taking food out the mouths of children who need it the most. 

“It is my opinion that is something that would not come to fruition because I cannot see the current administration or Congress doing anything to take food from any kids, knowing that, if they cut off funding, it would deprive all children of the meals at the state level,” said Guise.

In regards to specific action being taken by the school board to address the USDA’s recent decision, they voted to allow Guise to draft a resolution that could be easily amended and adopted in the future.

“I want to reiterate that no board member in Webster Parish, nor the administration from Mr. Rowland and Mr. Washington on down has ever given me any suggestion that there is anything even being considered that would change our current procedures as it comes to facility usage, restroom usage, locker room usage, so that is off the table.  It is not the subject of discussion,” said Guise.

“If a resolution is to be contemplated, I think it is something that we start now… and we can reach out to Attorney General Landry as to how that resolution can help you and what specific wording he would like to see in it. As far as taking any affirmative action tonight, I would counsel against that.”

The board then voted unanimously to allow Guise to start drafting said resolution.