Tampa school says it will lose lunch funds due to anti-discrimination rules

Grant Park Christian Academy files suit, saying federal regulations regarding sexual orientation and gender identity don’t align with its religious teachings.
Outside Grant Park Christian Academy, a religious school in Tampa suing over federal policies on discrimination.
Outside Grant Park Christian Academy, a religious school in Tampa suing over federal policies on discrimination. [ Courtesy of Google Earth ]
Published Jul. 28, 2022

A religious school in East Tampa is suing President Joe Biden and Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried among others, claiming that new federal anti-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity are threatening its “ability to feed hungry children.”

Grant Park Christian Academy, a school with 56 students, is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group describing itself as “the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God’s design for marriage and family.” The group filed the complaint in Tampa federal court the same day 22 Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit against the same policies.

Related: Florida tells schools to ignore federal guidance on gender identity

Though the school is private, it participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program, which provides federal dollars for schools that provide free lunches to students from families below the poverty level. In May, the department announced it would require compliance with revised regulations under Title IX, a 50-year-old law intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex by education programs that receive federal funds.

“That’s no problem for Grant Park Christian Academy — the school never excludes or discriminates against any student because of sex,” the lawsuit states.

But it claims the revised regulations — which expand the definition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity — would block the school’s lunch funding this year. The lawsuit claims the new regulations would forbid sex-specific restrooms and dress codes and would require them to use “preferred pronouns.”

The changes would not forbid separate restrooms, but rather require schools to provide students access to the facilities that match their gender identity.

“The Biden administration is ignoring the law and forcing this wonderful school to make an untenable choice: violate its religious beliefs or stop providing lunches to children,” Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a press release.

The school was founded in 2015 and teaches students in pre-K to eighth grade. All come from families below the federal poverty level, receive scholarships to attend and qualify to receive free lunches.

The lawsuit states that the school instructs its students “on the biblical worldview about marriage, sexuality and the human person,” including defining marriage as between one man and one woman and that deviating from biological sex goes against God.

Title IX provides an exemption for any private school controlled by a religious organization where applying the law would be “inconsistent with the religious tenets.” However, representatives of the school say Fried’s office told them they must “comply with all federal program regulations” if they opted to participate in the lunch program.

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter

We’ll break down the local and state education developments you need to know every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Erin Moffet, director of communications for the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, said in an email that the issue was a federal one and the lawsuit appears to be a politically-motivated step by supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration. Fried, who leads the Florida department, is running for governor as a Democrat.