Trump and Melania takes aim at Michelle Obama’s efforts on child nutrition, girls’ education

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The Trump administration is looking to whittle away at the legacy of former first lady Michelle Obama, undercutting two key efforts associated with her: child nutrition and girls’ education worldwide.

On Monday, Sonny Perdue, President Trump’s new Agriculture secretary, announced he would loosen restrictions on federally funded school lunch programs — current rules require schools to serve more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables to millions of children while limiting salt and fat. The push is part of Mrs. Obama’s well-known initiative to help children eat more healthy meals.

Also on Monday, Peace Corps employees said they had been told to stop using the name of Mrs. Obama’s 2-year-old “Let Girls Learn” initiative, CNN reported. Peace Corps workers said they’d been told that as a program unto itself, “Let Girls Learn,” was ending.

Mrs. Obama’s office did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

In his first major act in Trump’s Cabinet, Perdue, a former Georgia governor, announced the nutrition rollback at an elementary school in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Leesburg, Va. Ahead of the announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said a new rule would provide “regulatory flexibility.”

The rules set fat, sugar and sodium limits on foods in the lunch line and beyond. Schools have long been required to follow government nutrition rules if they accept federal reimbursements for free and reduced-price meals for low-income students, but the Obama administration’s standards were stricter.

USDA officials said the rules announced Monday were designed to offer schools more flexibility in how they prepare meals, changes long sought by industry leaders and congressional Republicans. In a statement issued afterwards, USDA boasted, “Ag Secretary Perdue Moves to Make School Meals Great Again.”

The change will likely be seen as a rebuke to Mrs. Obama’s championing of tougher nutrition regulations.

“‘Let Girls Learn’ provided a platform to showcase Peace Corps’ strength in community development, shining a bright light on the work of our Volunteers all over the world,” Crowley wrote in an email obtained by CNN. “We are so proud of what ‘Let Girls Learn’ accomplished and we have all of you to thank for this success.”

USA TODAY could not verify the email and Peace Corps did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Asked to confirm the CNN report, Stephanie Grisham, communications director for first lady Melania Trump, told the Los Angeles Times that Mrs. Trump “looks forward to outlining her agenda in the near future.”

The Obamas started “Let Girls Learn” in March 2015, saying at the time that 62 million girls worldwide are not in school who should be. President Obama noted, “That’s not by accident. It’s the direct result of barriers, large and small, that stand in the way of girls who want to learn.”

Appearing at an international education conference in Qatar in November 2015, the former first lady said that while every developed region has achieved or is close to achieving gender parity in primary education, girls still lag far behind in secondary education.

“If we truly want to get girls into our classrooms, then we need to have an honest conversation about how we view and treat women in our societies,” she said at the time. “And this conversation needs to happen in every country on this planet, including my own.”

In response to reports of the program’s demise on Monday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she would introduce new legislation “to sustain focus on the unique barriers that adolescent girls around the world face in accessing a quality, equitable education.” She said the legislation would ensure that the USA “remains committed to adolescent girls as a critical demographic in the growth of every nation, with a specific focus on developing nations.”

Shaheen said she was “extremely disappointed” in the administration’s move.

“Far too often, adolescent girls are kept from school because of societal norms and family obligations. Parents who can only afford to send one child to school send their sons, girls are married off at an extremely young age and expected to stay home to do menial tasks, and girls who do attend school often face violence and threats along the way.”

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