The principal and three other staffers at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, Florida, have been reassigned while the district investigates allegations that a transgender girl competed on the girls’ volleyball team, the South Florida Sun Sentinel has learned.
Sources have confirmed that it relates to a student who was born male but now identifies as a girl playing on the varsity volleyball team. A state law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2021 bans transgender girls from playing female sports.
Broward school district spokesman John Sullivan would only confirm that the issue relates to “improper student participation in sports.”
The district has confirmed that the following employees have been moved to non-school sites while the district’s Special Investigative Unit, made of sworn law enforcement officers, reviews the case:
—James Cecil, principal
—Kenneth May, assistant principal
—Dione Hester, teacher and athletic director
—Jessica Norton, information management technician who has coached volleyball
The district also has notified a fifth person, Alex Burgess, a temporary volleyball coach, that “his services are paused while the investigation is ongoing,” Sullivan said.
Burgess declined to comment, and the other four couldn’t be reached by the Sun Sentinel.
Moira Sweeting-Miller, an assistant principal at Monarch, will serve as interim principal.
“The principal of Monarch High School and several staff members have been reassigned to non-school sites pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations of improper student participation in sports,” Sullivan said in a statement.
“We will continue to follow state law and will take appropriate action based on the outcome of the investigation,” he said. “We are committed to providing all our students with a safe and inclusive learning environment.”
Schools Superintendent Peter Licata made the reassignments last week and Monday after consulting with two of his administrators, Sullivan said.
The moves came a few weeks after a judge ruled Nov. 6 against the Monarch student and her parents in a challenge of the state law, known as “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which bans students who are born male from competing on girls’ sports teams.
Supporters of the law argue these athletes have an unfair competitive advantage. The law does not restrict transgender students who were born female from competing on boys’ teams. In the lawsuit, the student and her parents argued the state law violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Roy Altman, a Trump appointee, disagreed, saying “sex-based classifications are substantially related to the state’s important interest in promoting women’s athletics.”
He also denied an allegation that the law violates Title IX, a federal statute that prohibits sex-based discrimination on the part of educational institutions that receive federal aid.
Altman had temporarily placed the case on hold until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit decided a case in St. John’s County involving the state’s transgender bathroom law. The entire court decided that Title IX’s reference to “sex” does not include gender identity.
The district was named in the Monarch student’s lawsuit. But the investigation was unrelated to the lawsuit, Sullivan said.
“The investigation was launched solely on an allegation of a state law not being followed,” he said. “The lawsuit had no bearing on our decision to investigate or reassign.”
The judge described how sports are an important part of the student’s life.
“When she was younger, she played basketball and softball. Throughout middle school, she played on her school’s girls’ soccer team, as well as a ‘girls’ travel team and . . . a girls’ recreational league,” the judge wrote.
The judge wrote that the girl was primarily playing soccer when the complaint was filed, but “she now is playing volleyball as her primary sport.”
The student and her family were represented by the Human Rights Campaign, which fights for LGBTQ equality.
A spokeswoman for the group told the Sun Sentinel on Nov. 7 that the organization’s litigation team “is actively working with the plaintiffs on potential next steps.” Neither a spokesperson nor the group’s lead lawyer on the case could be reached Monday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was named as the lead defendant in the lawsuit, asserted when he signed the law in June 2021 that the “designation of separate sex-specific athletic teams or sports is necessary to promote equality of athletic opportunities, and the majority of Americans support this action.”
“Multiple polls have stated more than 60% of Americans believe that biological males should not be participating in women’s sports,” he said.
Sullivan said the state Department of Education has been notified about the investigation. A spokesman for the agency could not be reached Monday.