Florida Department of Education officials said this week they expect “serious consequences for those responsible” for allowing a transgender female student to play in the girl’s volleyball team at a public school in Broward.
The one-page “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” Florida’s law prohibiting transgender girls from playing sports, doesn’t specify what “serious” or “consequences” means. In fact, it doesn’t outline any punishments for violators.
To understand what could happen to the five employees that were removed Monday — principal James Cecil; assistant principal Kenneth May; athletic director Dione Hester; girls’ volleyball coach and IT technician Jessica Norton; and temporary coach Alex Burgess — we have to look at Broward County Public Schools policy and other state law. The consequences, should they be found guilty of breaking the law, could range from a verbal reprimand to termination — and perhaps even involve the suspension or revocation of their educator certificates, if the state intervenes.
While it investigates “allegations of improper student participation in sports,” the school district “paused” Burgess’ services, as he worked as a temporary coach, and reassigned the other four staffers to another undisclosed location.
The Broward County Public Schools Special Investigative Unit will carry out the district investigation.
State officials, however, could also choose to conduct their own independent investigation, and may already be doing so, said Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association (BPAA). Both Cecil and May fall under the BPAA, which is not a union but advocates for principals and assistant principals.
State education officials could also be investigating
Asked Thursday if they would investigate, a spokesperson with the Florida Department of Education wouldn’t confirm or deny.
“We are closely monitoring the reports regarding Monarch High School in Broward County,” the spokesperson wrote. “However, per section 1012.796(4), Florida Statutes, we cannot confirm whether there is a potential or ongoing investigation regarding any Florida certified educator.”
If state officials investigate the Monarch High issue and find any of the parties guilty, they could suspend or revoke their educator certificates for five years, effectively taking away their ability to teach in the state of Florida. State law allows them to do that for a number of reasons, including breaking a law.
Usually, if the state does investigate, both the district and the state could convene to come up with a joint sanction if needed, said Maxwell.
“But every case is different, so there’s no way to speculate on how this one could go,” Maxwell said.
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said that based on the district’s history when it comes to teacher punishment, she expects them to mete out strong discipline, as demanded by state officials. One of the employees, Hester, is in the union Fusco leads.
“I definitely think they’re looking to do something harsh,” she said, citing Florida education officials’ comments about “severe consequences.”
“They’re going to cave,” she predicted.
What’s the school district investigation like?
The purpose of a school district investigation like the one at Monarch High is to determine if an employee misbehaved.
According to Broward County Public Schools policy, the school district’s Special Investigative Unit (SIU) handles investigations like Monarch High’s if they involve “allegations that have the potential to be criminal in nature, or of such a serious offense that the SIU deems it warranted.”
Maxwell said she doesn’t think Monarch High’s is criminal in nature.
If an act of misconduct is considered “so egregious, problematic or harmful” the district may remove the employee from the workplace until the district completes the investigation, the policy states. That’s what the district did at Monarch High.
The types of corrective action, as outlined by the policy, “may include, but are not limited to ”verbal and written reprimands, suspension without pay, demotion and termination of employment.” The district could also mandate coaching, counseling or additional training.
In the specific offense of “failure to comply with School Board policy, state law, or appropriate contractual agreements” the policy lists “reprimand/dismissal” as the outcome.
“I have every expectation that the district will be fair and thorough in its investigation,” Maxwell said, adding that such an investigation sometimes takes years.
Once the SIU completes the investigation, the superintendent may choose to convene the seven-member Professional Standards Committee, which he appoints, to help him decide on a punishment. Ultimately, the superintendent can choose to follow the committee’s recommendation or go with his own.
The superintendent then issues a recommendation to the School Board, and the board members votes to adopt it or create their own. Employees can appeal the board decisions if they want.
Employees are ‘good people,’ says union rep
Maxwell said both Cecil and May are seasoned educators. Cecil, she said, “has been making great strides as the newly appointed principal at the school, and the educational advancement has been substantial there because of him.”
In her eyes, May is “very knowledgeable and talented” too.
Carol Brady, a business representative with the Federation of Public Employees, declined to comment on the issue. Norton, the information management technician, falls under the federation’s clerical division’s bargaining unit.
“The employee is not a current union member, and I don’t have any information on this case,” Brady said.
Fusco described what’s happening at Monarch High as “heart-wrenching” and described the employees as “good people.”
The school district, she said, is disrupting lives and threatening jobs over a “ridiculous, bogus statute, and we’re talking about a student here who has impacted nobody, and now she’s been impacted.”
The student didn’t take anyone’s place on the junior varsity volleyball team, and the team itself didn’t do exceptionally well this season.
A lawsuit filed by the student’s parents two years ago — seeking to find the new law unconstitutional — says she didn’t go through puberty as a male, because she took testosterone blockers at age 11 and now in her mid-teens is on the female hormone estrogen.
As such, she “cannot safely play on the boys’ teams or be in the boys’ locker rooms,” her parents argued in their lawsuit, which was filed by the national Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.