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High-schooler says LAUSD, USDA violated her 1st Amendment right to share info on non-dairy milk

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles high school student is suing the school district and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allegedly violating her First Amendment right to share information at school about alternatives to cow’s milk and health concerns about dairy consumption, according to court papers obtained today.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit medical ethics and public health advocacy organization, filed the lawsuit alleging free speech violations on behalf of Eagle Rock High School senior Marielle Williamson.

The suit, filed last week in Los Angeles federal court, contends that Williamson, 17, was told by her school that she could not share information about plant-based milk or critical of the dairy industry in the school cafeteria unless she provided pro-dairy content as well.

“Our school is riddled with pro-dairy posters and promotions,” Williamson said in a statement.

“The fact that a differing perspective from a student was shut down goes to show that the USDA is more focused on milk sales than the well-being of students. This lawsuit was the only way to make people aware of how wrong this is.”

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School District said the district does not comment on pending legal matters, adding that healthy alternatives are provided based on student needs.

“Los Angeles Unified takes pride in empowering students to amplify their voice on issues they find important,” according to the statement.

“While we are unable to address ongoing litigation or student matters, our Food Services Program follows USDA guidelines. We continue to support our students with nutritious meals and healthy alternatives for those who have specific dietary requests and requirements.”

In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the school district unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of viewpoint by prohibiting Williamson from distributing information highlighting dairy’s negative impacts, while school sanctioned dairy promotions — such as “Got Milk?” ads in the morning announcements — are ubiquitous at school.

The government may not prohibit student speech simply based on its viewpoint, according to the Physicians Committee.

The plaintiffs said “fluid milk,” or cow’s milk, must be offered at every school lunch and breakfast served under the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

Williamson said she is also concerned about her many classmates who can’t drink cow’s milk. Many people cannot digest lactose, including about 95% of Asian Americans, 60% to 80% of Black people, 80% to 100% of American Indians, and 50% to 80% of Latinos, according to the suit.

About 75% of the LAUSD student population is Latino. Not providing appropriate beverages for these students sends the message that their school’s food programs are not meant for them, the suit contends.

“Students don’t need to consume dairy milk since there are so many other foods and beverages that can provide the calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals that are needed for growth and energy,” Los Angeles cardiologist Dr. Heather Shenkman, a member of Physicians Committee, said in a statement.

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