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Florida fines high school for allowing transgender student to play girls volleyball

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Florida fines high school for allowing transgender student to play girls volleyball
AP
TERRY SPENCER
December 12, 2023

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's state athletic board fined a high school and put it on probation Tuesday after a transgender student played on the girls volleyball team, a violation of a controversial law enacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature.

The Florida High School Athletic Association fined Monarch High $16,500, ordered the principal and athletic director to attend rules seminars and placed the suburban Fort Lauderdale school on probation for 11 months, meaning further violations could lead to increased punishments. The association also barred the girl from participating in boys sports for 11 months.

The 2021 law, which supporters named “The Fairness in Women's Sports Act," bars transgender girls and women from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes identified as girls at birth.

The student, a 10th grader who played in 33 matches over the last two seasons, was removed from the team last month after the Broward County School District was notified by an anonymous tipster about her participation. Her removal led hundreds of Monarch students to walk out of class two weeks ago in protest.

The Associated Press is not naming the student to protect her privacy.

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida passed legislation to protect girls’ sports and we will not tolerate any school that violates this law," Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said in a statement. “We applaud the swift action taken by the Florida High School Athletic Association to ensure there are serious consequences for this illegal behavior.”

DeSantis' office declined comment. The governor was in Iowa on Tuesday, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. He has made his enactment of the law and others that are similar a campaign cornerstone.

Jessica Norton, the girl’s mother and a Monarch information technician, went public last week. She reissued a statement Tuesday calling the outing of her daughter a “direct attempt to endanger” the girl.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ rights organization that has been supporting the family, said in a statement that Tuesday's ruling “does not change the fact that the law preventing transgender girls from playing sports with their peers is unconstitutionally rooted in anti-transgender bias, and the Association’s claim to ensure equal opportunities for student athletes rings hollow. ”

“The reckless indifference to the well-being of our client and her family, and all transgender students across the State, will not be ignored,” wrote Jason Starr, the group's litigation strategist.

According to court documents filed with a 2021 federal suit challenging the law on the girl's behalf, she has identified as female since before elementary school and has been using a girl’s name since second grade.

At age 11 she began taking testosterone blockers and at 13 started taking estrogen to begin puberty as a girl. Her gender has also been changed on her birth certificate. A judge dismissed the lawsuit last month but gave the family until next month to amend it for reconsideration.

Broward County Public Schools in a short statement acknowledged receiving the association's ruling and said its own investigation is ongoing. The district has 10 days to appeal.

The association also ruled that Monarch Principal James Cecil and Athletic Director Dione Hester must attend rules compliance seminars the next two summers and the school must host an on-campus seminar for other staff before July.

The school district recently temporarily reassigned Cecil, Hester, Norton and the assistant athletic director and suspended the volleyball coach pending the outcome of its investigation.

After the group's reassignments, Norton thanked students and others who protested on their behalf.

“The outpouring of love and support from our community ... has been inspiring, selfless and brave," Norton said in last week's statement. “Watching our community’s resistance and display of love has been so joyous for our family — the light leading us through this darkness.”

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