USDA Says Religious Schools Are Exempted from Title IX

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reversed itself in August 2022, announcing that religious schools can still receive federal meal funding and remain exempt from Title IX requirements. The USDA initially reported in May 2022 that schools needed to update their discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity to maintain eligibility for federal meal funding.

The new Title IX rule unveiled on June 23 added specific protections for gender identity and sexual orientation. The comment period on the rule runs through September after which the Title IX guidance could be codified. The U.S. Department of Education plans a separate rulemaking process for determining sports eligibility. The timeline for that is undetermined.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination in any education or program receiving federal funding. The law has been amended many times since its passage.

Eligibility for Federal Food and Nutrition Service

Religious schools immediately protected the USDA’s decision to tie eligibility for the federal Food and Nutrition Service to compliance with the latest changes to Title IX. The schools argued that such a requirement infringed on their right to freedom of religion.

The USDA relented, releasing a clarification that federal meal funding for religious schools was not predicated on compliance with Title IX’s new rules. These schools would be automatically exempt without making a formal written request.

Title IX Religious Exemptions

A Tampa, FL private school sued the Biden administration in late July. The school argued that the new federal mandate regarding LGBTQ+ students would cause harm to the school’s “educational mission, free speech, and religious exercise.” Not receiving federal meal funds would threaten the school’s “ability to feed hungry children.”

The school is pre-K through eighth grade, serving 56 students who come from families below the federal poverty level. In addition to this lawsuit, 22 state attorneys general also filed a lawsuit against the USDA requirement.

The Florida school learned on Aug. 5 that its Title IX exemption had been granted. The USDA quickly followed with the announcement that religious educational institutions will receive an automatic exemption and maintain the ability to participate in the National School Lunch Program.

Title IX does not apply to schools that receive no federal funding. However, many private schools receive some federal funding. These dollars are often used to provide upgrades to their facilities, reduced-price or free meals, or special education services. These private schools can formally request a Title IX exemption if their religious tenets conflict with the law. Despite the USDA announcement, certain Title IX exemption requests will still need to be made in writing.

School-Based Title IX Investigations Continue During the Transition

As schools and individuals navigate the shifting landscape, Title IX investigations continue in schools across the country. As more students head back to school in August and September, new accusations will be brought to Title IX offices on college campuses. We represent students, faculty, and staff who are respondents in Title IX cases.

We take cases from coast to coast. Our newest client meeting location in South Fargo, ND joins Cambridge, MA; San Jose, CA; Santa Monica, CA; New York, NY; Schenectady, NY; Austin, TX; Tempe, AZ; and Charlotte, NC.

If you or your child is a target in a Title IX case, contact us right away. Our attorneys at Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC exclusively practice Title IX defense. We can explain your rights and fight for due process. Schedule your initial consultation by calling (737) 200-2332.