Senator Lankford Stands Up to Protect School Lunch Program Against “Woke” Ideology

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Cindy Long to oppose a recent move by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and FNS to redefine the Department’s definition of Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination to also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Lankford says the redefinition has no basis in statute and lacks evidence of congressional intent, saying it needlessly puts children at risk of losing access to lunch by excluding schools from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) if they cannot affirm progressive gender ideology.

Lankford writes in his letter, “Since the Department of Education issued a notice of interpretation and proposed a rule to greatly expand the definition of sex discrimination under Title IX programs and activities, children, parents and schools have experienced havoc as it relates to clear policies in athletics, locker rooms and bathrooms. This understanding of what constitutes sex discrimination has never been affirmed in law. Now, instead of focusing on ensuring kids in need can eat lunch at school, USDA has adopted an expansive and harmful understanding of the law in an attempt to scare schools into adopting progressive ideology.”

Lankford continues to fight to protect kids from being forced to participate in the left’s woke ideology, particularly at school, and against Biden’s attempted redefinition of Title IX. Lankford recently stood up against the National Education Association (NEA) for proposing the creation of an “enemies list” at their recent conference based on those who don’t want to teach part of the progressive agenda. Lankford joined Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and their colleagues to send a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona criticizing the Administration’s proposed changes to Title IX and urging an extension of the public comment period by 30 days. Lankford also introduced the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2021, which would make it a violation of Title IX for a school that receives federal education funds to permit a biological male to participate in a program designated for the competition of women and girls.

You can read the full letter HERE and below:

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Long,

I write today to express my ardent opposition to the memorandum entitled “Application of Bostock v. Clayton County to Program Discrimination Complaint Processing – Policy Update” issued by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on May 5, 2022 (CRD 01-2022). Further, I am seeking clarification on the implications of the document on schools.

This memorandum states that USDA will expand Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination to also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. This redefinition has no basis in statute and lacks evidence of congressional intent. Beyond this blatant overstep of authority, the document needlessly puts children at risk of losing access to lunch by excluding schools from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) if they cannot affirm progressive gender ideology. 

Since the Department of Education issued a notice of interpretation and proposed a rule to greatly expand the definition of sex discrimination under Title IX programs and activities, children, parents and schools have experienced havoc as it relates to clear policies in athletics, locker rooms and bathrooms. This understanding of what constitutes sex discrimination has never been affirmed in law. Now, instead of focusing on ensuring kids in need can eat lunch at school, USDA has adopted an expansive and harmful understanding of the law in an attempt to scare schools into adopting progressive ideology.

While I appreciate USDA’s clarification that they will honor Title IX’s exemption for religious schools, concerns remain about the scope of this guidance into school policies unrelated to the administration of the NSLP. Schools that honor safety and privacy for children in sex-segregated spaces, such as in athletics and bathrooms, are concerned that their policies will place their eligibility in the NSLP at risk.

It is for the above reasons that I ask for a prompt and thorough response to the following questions:

  1. Will FNS enforce the prohibitions on discrimination reflected in USDA’s memorandum entity-wide (as in Title IX’s prohibitions) or limit its enforcement to discrimination directly related to the administration and delivery of NSLP? Will FNS enforcement be similarly limited with respect to its other programs? For example, will a school be at risk of being prohibited from participating in the NSLP if they maintain sex-segregated bathrooms absent a religious exemption?
  1. How will USDA evaluate compliance with this new guidance? What metrics does USDA use to measure compliance and what efforts will USDA make to ensure all schools are made aware of these standards prior to any enforcement action?
  1. The USDA requirement for schools that participate in NSLP to post the “And Justice for All” poster derives from an internal departmental regulation (DR 4300-003). Does USDA view this requirement as legally enforceable? If so, would the requirement to hang the new poster including sexual orientation and gender identity language be subject to the Title IX religious exemption?
  1. What efforts is USDA making to communicate to state agencies and NSLP recipients the legal limitations of this memorandum? What further public guidance will USDA provide for this purpose?

I look forward to receiving your timely reply.

In God We Trust,

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