Following the removal of a Broward County high school principal and four employees in response to “allegations of improper student participation in sports,” Florida education officials on Tuesday said they expect “serious consequences for those responsible” and accused them of violating state law.
The comments came hours after Broward County Public School officials confirmed the reassignments of the Monarch High School employees occurred because a transgender female athlete played volleyball at the high school during the fall season and after hundreds of students staged a peaceful walkout during school hours to protest the decision.
The students, who gathered on the football field and walked to the parking lot on the north end of the school, shouted, “Let her play,” “Trans rights are human rights” and “Free Cecil now,” referring to Monarch principal James Cecil, who was among the employees reassigned.
Kenneth May, the assistant principal; Dione Hester, the athletic director; Jessica Norton, the girls’ volleyball coach; and Alex Burgess, a temporary athletic coach, were also reassigned.
The reassignment of the five staff members is “ridiculous,” said Alexandra Almeida, a senior at Monarch, who participated in the walkout to support her friends. She hoped the walkout, which she heard about through social media Monday, would “bring more awareness to the situation so that people see what’s happening in our Florida schools.”
Safe Schools South Florida in a statement said it is “appalled” by the district’s decision. The organization works with LGBTQ students to promote inclusivity and diversity within the education system
“The reassignment of faculty is a measure typically reserved for the gravest of infractions. In this case, it is not only an overreaction but also a glaring misjudgment,” the statement read. “Furthermore, the potential inadvertent outing of a minor, who may not have publicly disclosed their transgender status, is deeply troubling.”
But state officials, in response to a Miami Herald inquiry, said department officials “instructed the district to take immediate action” upon being notified of the issue “since this is a direct violation of Florida law.” During a brief news conference Tuesday, Broward County schools Superintendent Peter Licata said officials spoke to the Florida Department of Education on Monday.
“Under Governor DeSantis, boys will never be allowed to play girls’ sports. It’s that simple,” said Cailey Myers, communications director for the state Department of Education.
Law championed by DeSantis
The law in question is the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which prohibits an athlete from competing in school-sponsored girls’ and women’s sports if the athlete was not assigned the female gender at birth.
The law, which was championed in 2021 by Gov. Ron DeSantis and has become a key issue for his presidential campaign, says a statement of a student’s biological sex on their official birth certificate is considered to “correctly” state the student’s biological sex.
That year, a Broward County middle school student challenged the state law, arguing the student had no competitive advantage and had been on testosterone blockers since age 11. The lawsuit also argued the state law was part of a “larger national effort to scapegoat this protected group.”
But in November, a federal judge ruled against the student, arguing her civil rights were not violated and dismissed the case. The latest ruling, though, came Nov. 16, when the student and her parents could have more time to amend their pleadings. They have until Jan. 11, 2024. The student that brought the lawsuit is the student now playing for Monarch High School’s volleyball team.
While the lawsuit was ongoing, the Florida High School Athletic Association, a group that oversees interscholastic athletic programs across the state, started requiring student athletes to disclose their assigned gender at birth. The state board, which is now controlled by political appointees of the governor, in February quietly included the question in an athletics participation form, which is used for eligibility reasons.
A previous form asked athletes only to indicate their sex.
The addition of the question came after the board in January attempted to make it mandatory for students to disclose information about their menstrual history — a move critics said raised privacy concerns and would harm students. If approved, it would have required students to answer questions including if they’ve had a menstrual cycle, at what age they had their first menstrual period if so, their most recent menstrual period and “how many periods [the student has] had in the past 12 months.” In February, the board dropped the menstruation question but added the question about a student’s sex assigned at birth. On July 1, a new law approved by the Republican-led legislature, gave DeSantis direct control over the board.
During the news event Tuesday, district officials declined to discuss the case individually because it’s an ongoing investigation. Licata, however, acknowledged district procedure is to collect the form.
Moving forward, Licata said the district will implement new processes to “make sure everyone is eligible for the sport they’re playing on all aspects” and the district is in line with state law, but failed to say how the system would change.
The governor’s office did not respond when asked if the state should do more to ensure compliance with the state law.
Miami Herald reporters Jordan McPherson and Brittany Wallman contributed to this report.