The mayor’s decision to scrap substitute meals for students who do not eat pork has been decried as “anti-Muslim”.
Sanchez, the Front National mayor of Beaucaire, closed down his predecessor’s food scheme on the first day of the new school term.
It means that some 150 Muslim pupils have lost their “substitution meals” and will have to now eat the same food as their 600 French classmates.
Marlene Schiappa, France’s minister for sexual equality, complained to BFM TV Sanchez’s decision was a “typical example of someone brandishing secularism as an anti-Muslim political weapon, or anti-Jewish for that matter”.
Laure Cordelet, the opposition leader in Beaucaire, branded the move “an attack on the rights of children” which “stigmatises the north African community and can in no way be justified in the name of secularism”.
But Sanchez insisted that the introduction of pork-free meals was essentially “anti-Republican” and could be seen as a clear “provocation” since it introduced “religion into school”.
“We are not a four-star restaurant,” Sanchez said on Twitter. Critics said Sanchez was trying to “stigmatise” Muslims, and that the mayor should not hide behind the country’s secular laws.
The 34-year-old, who became mayor in 2014, designated Monday as a day schools had to offer pork as an option.
“I am not Islamophobic,” he told radio station France Info. “I am not afraid of anybody and I do not have the desire to exclude anyone. I’m just saying, what’s the problem with pork?
“If there was a medical problem I could understand it but there is no medical problem.”
School cafeterias will serve pork on Mondays to give parents the weekend to prepare an alternative meal, the mayor said.
In 2015, Gilles Platret, the mayor of the town Chalon-sur-Saône, south of Dijon, announced that local schools would no longer be serving substitute meals.
The move, however, was blocked by Dijon’s administrative court in August 2017, after judges ruled that it went “against the interests of children”.