- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2022

A religious academy in Florida will continue to receive the federal funding it uses to provide free meals to 56 low-income students despite the school’s decision to reject the Biden administration’s new LGBTQ-friendly education policies — including government mandates on hiring, restrooms, dress codes and the use of pronouns.

According to court documents, Grant Park Christian Academy has been granted an exemption to the new rules by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The exemption comes days after the school sued federal and state officials over the rules, which the school said amounts to a violation of the religious rights of the academy and its staff.

The school receives federal funding under the National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes meals and snacks and is administered in Florida by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat seeking her party’s gubernatorial nomination in the state’s Aug. 23 primary. 

The school on July 31 sued Ms. Fried, President Biden, Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack and the USDA, along with two Florida agriculture officials, claiming the officials were “punishing low-income children” with a mandate the school could not follow.

Addressing a “virtual press conference” Monday, Ms. Fried called the school’s lawsuit a “political stunt,” and said Grant Park Academy’s “application was never denied, and with them in compliance, was never going to be.”

SEE ALSO: Biden administration hit with lawsuit over ‘sneak attack’ on charter schools

She said the school had promised not to “discriminate in the lunch line” against students.

In the press conference, Ms. Fried asserted Florida education commissioner Manny Diaz and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis had joined in fostering the lawsuit, a charge a spokesman for Mr. Diaz rejected.

“The Florida Department of Education and Governor DeSantis are not a part of the lawsuit,” Diaz spokesman Alex Lanfranconi told The Washington Times via email.

“Commissioner Fried continues to threaten to remove Florida students from the National School Lunch Program over unenforceable federal guidance.  As we’ve said repeatedly, Florida will not allow our students to be taken hostage by individuals attempting to implement a radical gender ideology on children,” he added.

In a filing at the Tampa Division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, attorneys representing the federal and state agencies said Friday the school’s application would be approved, and that the USDA “issued a written letter confirming the school’s religious exemption” to the Title IX rules.

The filing also stated Florida agriculture officials would “respect that religious exemption.”

“It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to get the government to respect religious freedom,” said Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, in a statement. “Grant Park Christian Academy treats every child with dignity and respect and never turns away a hungry child. … We will defend other public and private schools across the country who remain under the burden of this unlawful mandate that violates religious beliefs.”

The pastor whose ministry runs the school expressed appreciation for the decision.

“Our kids depend on our school’s lunch program to eat balanced, nutritious meals and we’re breathing a sigh of relief that we can continue this vital outreach to the Grant Park community,” said Pastor Alfred Johnson, president of Faith Action Ministry Alliance, the academy’s parent organization, in a statement.

The Times has reached out to the USDA for comment, as well as Mr. DeSantis’ office.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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