(CNN) — A Florida school district has temporarily removed a high school principal and other members of staff from their positions while it investigates allegations that a transgender student played on a girls’ volleyball team, education officials said.
Transgender girls are banned from playing female sports in Florida under the state’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which was signed into law in 2021.
Students at Monarch High School in Broward County on Tuesday walked out in support of the principal and the athlete, CNN affiliate WPLG reported. The decision to reassign the school staffers comes amid increasingly heated rhetoric over transgender rights in Florida and across the country.
The fact that the student was allowed to play on a girls’ team is “unacceptable,” Florida Department of Education communications director Cailey Myers told CNN.
“We expect there will be serious consequences for those responsible,” Myers said in a statement.
The name of the student has not been released.
While the district investigates the “allegations of improper student participation in sports,” Principal James Cecil, assistant Principal Kenneth May, athletic director Dione Hester and information management technician Jessica Norton have been reassigned to non-school sites, Broward County Public Schools said. The system has also paused the services of temporary athletic coach Alex Burgess.
CNN has reached out to the reassigned staffers for comment.
Hester, the athletic director, wasn’t directly involved with the players and didn’t know about the 2021 law, the president of the Broward Teachers Union told CNN on Wednesday.
Hester, who is represented by the union, is new to the school and was “just doing his job,” the union president, Anna Fusco, told CNN.
“He made sure the scheduling and paperwork is done and that they (the team) are winning,” Fusco said.
The decision to reassign the staff members is “not an indication of discipline,” Superintendent Peter Licata said at a Tuesday news conference. “We want to make sure we do this right. Nobody’s guilty of anything at this point. That’s what an investigation is for.”
The school’s volleyball season is over, Licata said, when asked whether the student would be allowed to continue playing. There will be “an extra level of investigation on making sure everyone is eligible” going forward, he added.
Schools will abide by the law, official says
Licata declined to comment on whether the employees were aware of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which states:
“Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex.”
“A statement of a student’s biological sex on the student’s official birth certificate is considered to have correctly stated the student’s biological sex at birth if the statement was filed at or near the time of the student’s birth,” it adds.
Student athletes in Florida are required to fill out a preparticipation physical evaluation form and complete a physical exam that is reviewed by school officials and submitted to the state. The five-page form asks students to state the sex they were assigned at birth.
“Although we cannot comment further, we will continue to follow state law and will take appropriate action based on the outcome of the investigation,” Broward County school district spokesperson John J. Sullivan said.
“We are committed to providing all our students with a safe and inclusive learning environment.”
Hester, the athletic director, would have reviewed the forms, Fusco said. It is not clear how the student at the center of the allegations answered the question of sex assignment at birth on the form.
LGBTQ advocates have vehemently opposed policies in Florida and other states that they argue are targeting young transgender people.
By April of this year, a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills had already been introduced in state legislatures across the United States, according to American Civil Liberties Union data.
The organization says it’s currently tracking 506 anti-LGBTQ bills.
Hundreds of those bills are focused on education. A Florida bill restricting in-school discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity with younger students, which opponents labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law, served as a model for other states.
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