Florida high school administrators, athletic director cleared in transgender athlete investigation

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Monarch High School’s principal, assistant principal and athletic director have been cleared after an investigation into possible violations of a 2021 state law by allowing a transgender girl to play on the girls’ varsity volleyball team.

Principal James Cecil, Assistant Principal Kenneth May and Athletic Director Dione Hester were cleared “of the allegations” after an investigation by the School District’s Special Investigate Unit, district spokesperson Keyla Concepción said in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday evening.

“The three employees will resume their responsibilities effective Wednesday, May 22, 2024,” she said. “The investigation concerning other aspects remains ongoing.”

Former Superintendent Peter Licata temporarily suspended or reassigned Cecil, May, Hester and the girl’s mother, Jessica Norton, a technology specialist at the school, to non-school sites in November 2023 as the investigative unit, made up of sworn law enforcement officers, reviewed whether they allowed the student to violate the 2021 “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” law.

Concepción did not answer a question from a reporter about what Norton’s status is as of Tuesday evening or the status of any others who may still remain under investigation.

Hester, Cecil and May did not immediately return voicemails seeking comment Tuesday evening.

The student and her parents filed a federal lawsuit in June 2021 challenging the law, which prohibits transgender girls from joining girls’ sports teams and allows for civil lawsuits if the law is violated. It allows transgender male students to compete on boys’ teams.

The girl’s attorneys wrote in a court filing in the lawsuit that despite the law, she was playing on the volleyball team. Her gender on her birth certificate had legally been changed from male to female, her attorneys wrote in the lawsuit complaint.

A federal judge in Miami, appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled against the student in early November 2023 but allowed for an amended complaint to be filed. The student and her family filed their amended complaint in January, continuing to challenge the law and adding the School District as one of the defendants.

The Florida High School Athletic Association fined Monarch High $16,500 and imposed other sanctions stemming from the student’s participation on the volleyball team. The athletic association also banned the student, who played during the 2022 and 2023 volleyball seasons, from participating in sports for a year.

She also played girls’ volleyball and soccer at Lyons Creek Middle School in the 2021-22 school year, which was after the state law took effect in July 2021, the Sun Sentinel previously reported.

District officials expanded the personnel investigation in February to include the student’s participation in middle school sports. District spokespersons have previously said that the investigation was expected to conclude in February and have been silent about who else may be under investigation.