Federal Court Rules in School Meal Flexibility Suit


On Monday, April 13, the federal district court in Maryland ruled in a lawsuit challenging USDA’s 2018 Final Rule Child Nutrition Programs: Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Requirements. The ruling effectively strikes down the Final Rule and sends it back to USDA for further action. SNA will provide USDA input as the Department determines next steps, and will keep members informed of ongoing developments.

The ruling sided with USDA on most points, and concluded that the Final Rule was “not inconsistent with federal law.” Notably, the Court found that “the Final Rule shows that USDA used its expertise to balance the nutrition science in the Dietary Guidelines with the practical considerations of implementation.” Furthermore, the ruling states “that USDA did not improperly consider student taste preferences, operational flexibilities, and the role of product innovation at the expense of student heath and nutritional science, but instead balanced these considerations against each other.”

However, the Court found that USDA did not follow proper regulatory procedure, stating “that the Final Rule is not a logical outgrowth of the Interim Final Rule, so it must be vacated and remanded to the administrative agency for further proceedings.”

SNA CEO Patricia Montague, CAE, responded to media inquiries about the ruling by highlighting the unflappable dedication of school nutrition professionals to the health and well-being of the students they serve and the challenges they face as they prepare nutritious, appealing meals for students.

"School nutrition programs continue to serve students nourishing meals - even amid COVID-19 school closures,” said Montague. “SNA will support frontline school nutrition professionals as implications of this ruling on menus next school year are determined. School menu planners are dedicated to meeting students' nutritional needs but will face unprecedented challenges from supply chain disruptions and crippling financial losses due to extended school closures."

In September 2019, SNA filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the school meal flexibilities and USDA’s position in the lawsuit.

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