FDACS and FDOE trade blows over school lunches and transgender non-discrimination-policy

FDACS and FDOE trade blows over school lunches and transgender non-discrimination-policy

Florida’s commissioner of education is telling school districts to ignore the updated federal non-discrimination policy that includes protections for LGBTQ+ students.

His comments were prompted after Florida’s commissioner of agriculture informed schools they’ll need to comply or risk losing federal school lunch funding.

Part of coming into compliance involves displaying this new USDA non-discrimination poster.

The poster includes sexual orientation and gender identity as sex discrimination.

The change led Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz to send this letter to Florida school districts, informing them to ignore the federal guidance and that displaying the posters or change their policies to allow transgender women to use women’s locker rooms, restrooms or female rooms on school field trips could conflict with state law.

“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,” said Diaz in the letter.

“It just makes me very worried for students,” said Nikole Parker, a transgender woman, and director of transgender equality at Equality Florida.

Parker said the Department of Education’s position sends the message transgender students aren’t equal.

“Regardless of how you identify, all kids should be protected,” said Parker. “I don’t know why that concept is so difficult for some people to grasp.”

Commissioner Fried also fired back Friday, arguing the posters only deal with school lunch lines and that the DOE’s position puts schools at risk of losing school lunch dollars.

“I will not allow Gov. DeSantis or anyone to deny food to hungry kids for any reason, but especially not because they want to reserve the right to discriminate against them,” said Fried.

Anthony Verdugo, head of the Florida Christian Family Coalition, argued the federal non-discrimination policy is out of line with traditional interpretations of Title IX and undoubtedly in conflict with Florida law.

The coalition helped push a law banning transgender women from competing in women-only sports in addition to this year’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which restricts instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools.

“I think the department is taking it upon itself to create a new reality if you will. And it’s a reality that, in Florida, hits a roadblock because we’ve already spoken to these issues,” said Verdugo.

But the Florida Department of Agriculture maintains the only issue at hand is discrimination as it relates to school lunch programs.

“There is nothing about bathrooms, locker rooms, school trips, or sports teams in the guidance that FDACS sent out, and we have no oversight over any of those things. This guidance from the federal government was written to ensure no student should be forced to go hungry due to discrimination. It’s literally that simple. The only person who is trying to make this about bathrooms or locker rooms is Manny Diaz,” said FDACS Deputy Communications Director Caroline Stonecipher in an emailed statement.

The Florida Department of Education also sent a statement defending its position.

“Commissioner Fried threatened to remove Florida’s most vulnerable students from the National School Lunch Program if our schools do not accept the Biden Administration’s radical gender ideology. We will not allow our children to be used as bargaining chips for individuals who are motivated by self-interest rather than the health and safety of all students. Her claims to the contrary are a false and desperate attempt to draw attention to her political agenda,” said DOE Director of Communications Alex Lanfranconi.

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