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Sarasota School Board votes to reject recent changes to federal Title IX rules

Bridget Ziegler motions with her hands at the school board meeting
Sarasota County Schools
Bridget Ziegler put forth the resolution, which declares the Sarasota school board's support for Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose administration is suing the Biden administration over Title IX changes.

The board's resolution defines sex as male or female, acknowledges the importance of single-sex bathrooms and directs the superintendent to consider no policy changes while legal challenges play out.

The Sarasota County School Board voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reject changes to federal education rules intended to broaden protections against sex discrimination, a move that public school advocates say could at risk put tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.

The move comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis has said Florida would not comply with changes and the state filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration to block them.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal financial assistance. The new rules,announced last month by the U.S. Department of Education, expands protections to include gender identity and sexual orientation. They are slated to take effect in August.

The Sarasota resolution, which declares support for the governor's action, was put forth by board member Bridget Ziegler, a founder of the conservative political group Moms for Liberty who has taken a public stand against transgender rights.

At Tuesday's meeting, Ziegler implied the changes could allow boys to use girls' bathrooms.

"The Title IX changes have a dramatic impact and it is undeniable — a dramatic impact particularly on girls and women, and it is all about the facility usage," Ziegler said.

"Why would we pass a resolution to not be in compliance with Title IX? It just doesn't make sense why we have to put ourselves and the school district in that jeopardy?"
School board member Tom Edwards

Ziegler also disputed activists who said the resolution put $107 million in federal dollars at risk in Sarasota. She said it was closer to $50 million, which she nevertheless described as "not chump change."

During around three hours of public comment, some in attendance raised issues like safety in bathrooms. Michelle Pozzie spoke on the initial goal of Title IX.

"Of course, we don't want anybody bullied. We don't want anybody harmed. Title IX sports were created so that girls like me could get scholarships to play softball at Title I colleges because we couldn't compete against boys," Pozzie said.

The latest Title IX changes do not include rules on eligibility criteria for sports teams.

Tom Edwards, the sole moderate on the board, was the only vote against the resolution.

"Why would we pass a resolution to not be in compliance with Title IX? It just doesn't make sense why we have to put ourselves and the school district in that jeopardy?" Edwards said.

Edwards, who is gay, also pointed to the small number of transgender students in Florida — just 1.7% of more than 3 million students in the state, he said.

Among those urging the board to vote no was Alex Lieberman, a freshman at Pine View School.

"Voting against a law that protects students from bullying and expand human rights does not align with the motto of 'every student, every day,' " Lieberman said. "Trans students like myself cannot focus on academic work if they must also worry about harassment for their identity."

India Miller, a transgender woman, asked: "Why are we here doing this? Nobody cares about this. It is not a real issue. One in four of your girls are going to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Not by transgender people. By men."

Florida is one of several Southern states, along with Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, suing the Biden administration over changes to Title IX.

Ziegler is married to former Florida GOP chairman Christian Ziegler, who was forced out of his position during an police investigation into allegations of sexual assault and illegal videotaping. No charges were brought against him. However, the investigation revealed salacious details about the couple's sex life, including a consensual threesome relationship with a women who made the accusation.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.