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State expects ‘serious consequences’ in transgender athlete controversy; students stage a walkout

Students from Monarch High School in Coconut Creek walk out of the school building on Tuesday, protesting the fallout related to the revelation that a transgender girl played volleyball on the girls' varsity team. In connection with the issue, Superintendent Peter Licata had reassigned or suspended five school officials: Principal James Cecil, an assistant principal, the athletic director and two volleyball coaches. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida ֱ)
Students from Monarch High School in Coconut Creek walk out of the school building on Tuesday, protesting the fallout related to the revelation that a transgender girl played volleyball on the girls’ varsity team. In connection with the issue, Superintendent Peter Licata had reassigned or suspended five school officials: Principal James Cecil, an assistant principal, the athletic director and two volleyball coaches. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida ֱ)
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The turmoil related to a transgender athlete at Monarch High continued Tuesday, with students at the school staging a walkout and the state demanding “serious consequences” for those who allowed the student to play girls’ volleyball.

A crowd of several hundred students from the Coconut Creek school left their classes or lunchrooms at noon Tuesday to protest the fallout related to the revelation that a transgender girl played volleyball on the girls’ varsity team. A state law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2021 bans students who were born male from playing on girls’ sports teams.

Superintendent Peter Licata told reporters Tuesday morning at the district headquarters in Fort Lauderdale that he first learned about the student Nov. 20 from someone who didn’t want to be identified.

Most employees were out last week for the Thanksgiving break, but by Monday, Licata had reassigned or suspended five school officials: Principal James Cecil, Assistant Principal Kenneth May, Athletic Director Dione Hester and two volleyball coaches.

“I received a call from the constituent that there could be some factors that were not appropriate for girls’ volleyball,” Licata said.

After discussing with two other administrators, “we made our plans for the actions to be taken early Monday morning.”

The same student and her parents sued the state in 2021 — and named the school district as a co-defendant — in an effort to overturn the law. A federal judge sided with the state this month. The ruling mentioned that the student was currently playing volleyball, although the court papers didn’t name the student or the school.

The lawsuit had no bearing on his decision to conduct an investigation, Licata said.

“When I received the call, I had no idea about a lawsuit or anything pending, so that connection was not made,” he said.

Students from Monarch High School in Coconut Creek walk out of the school building Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in support of a trans student who plays on the girls volleyball team. The school principal and other administrators were removed from their positions for allowing the student to participate in the activity. Florida passed a law prohibiting trans girls to play on female sports teams. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida ֱ)
Students from Monarch High School in Coconut Creek walk out of the school building Tuesday in support of a trans student who plays on the girls’ volleyball team. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida ֱ)

The State Department of Education weighed in on Tuesday, expressing outrage that the student was allowed to play on the girls’ team.

“Under Governor DeSantis, boys will never be allowed to play girls’ sports. It’s that simple,” said Cailey Myers, communications director for the education department.

“As soon as the Department was notified that a biological male was playing on a girls’ team in Broward County, we instructed the district to take immediate action since this is a direct violation of Florida law,” Myers said. “It is completely unacceptable for the male student to have been allowed to play on a girls’ team, and we expect there will be serious consequences for those responsible.”

During his comments, Licata said the district would conduct “a fair investigation,” and he wouldn’t predict the outcome.

“We want to make sure we do this right. Nobody’s guilty of anything at this point,” Licata said. “That’s what an investigation is for.”

Cecil and May will be represented in the investigation by the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association.

“We are confident that at the end of the investigation, [they] will be fully exonerated and will return to Monarch High,” said Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the association.

The shakeup at the school angered many students, who sided with the transgender athlete. They had announced plans Tuesday morning for a walkout into the parking lot at noon. Interim Principal Moira Sweeting-Miller got wind of the plans.

“When the time comes and they begin to walkout, do not stop them,” Sweeting-Miller said in an email to staff members. “We have a plan in place for when they reach outside.”

That plan apparently involved redirecting the students to the outside field so they would stay on campus. Students held up signs saying, “Trans rights are human rights,” and “Let her play.” They chanted similar messages. Some students could also be heard calling for the leaders removed from the school to return.

Students were kept far from the news media, who were ordered by security to stay on a sidewalk outside the school, separated from the students by a median, a parking lot and two fences.

The protest ended about 12:30 p.m. with students returning peacefully to the school building.

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