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Foodbanks leader wants free school meal program expanded in Ohio

Rob Byron

The Ohio State School Board of Education is considering a Tuesday vote on two resolutions that deal with free meal programs for students. One would call for the expansion of free meal programs to all students in Ohio and the other would oppose the proposed federal anti-discrimination policies that protect sexual orientation and gender identity.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said those resolutions are in “direct conflict” with each other.

She said the resolution that would ask lawmakers to use federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to implement universal free student meals would go a long way towards improving student achievement.

“Nutritional intake is absolutely critical to a child's ability to learn and promote good health overall,” Hamler-Fugitt said.

She said this would be the same universal free meal program that was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic – the program expired at the end of the last school year. However, she said providing meals for students is proven to be successful.

“Not only is it ensuring that our kids are well-prepared and well-nourished to learn, but we also know that it enhances their learning environment. And kids who have access to free meals do better than their hungry peers,” Hamler-Fugitt said.

The Ohio State School Board of Education is also planning on voting on a different resolution. A “yes” vote would mark the board’s objections to new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The rules would ensure, through protections under Title IX, that school districts that receive federal dollars do not have policies that discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Board Member Brendan Shea proposed the resolution opposing those rules. The resolution states that sex is “an unchangeable fact” and that denying biological sex “destroys foundational truths upon which education rests and irreparably damages children."

The USDA rules have been proposed as Ohio lawmakers consider banning transgender student-athletes from participating on girls’ sports teams.

LGBTQ advocates in Ohio have called the recent anti-transgender proposals “cruel” and a form of “government overreach.”

Hamler-Fugitt expressed her concern that the board resolution could be a step toward threatening the vital federal programs for students.

“All kids, regardless of their ZIP code, regardless of their gender identity, have to eat,” said Hamler-Fugitt.

The board is set to hear public input on the resolutions on Tuesday.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.