The scene at the school board meeting on Dec. 12 was more solemn than usual, with no color guard, no student performance and no student representative on the dais.
Instead, the meeting began with the first item on the agenda, a resolution calling for the resignation of board member Bridget Ziegler.
The resolution follows controversy surrounding a three-way relationship involving Ziegler's husband Christian Ziegler and another woman, amid an investigation of a sexual assault allegation against Christian Ziegler, who is chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
Despite a 4-1 vote by the school board to pass the resolution, with Ziegler in dissent, as well as extensive public comments, a majority of which called on Ziegler to resign, Ziegler gave no indication she would step down.
Members of the public accused Ziegler of hypocrisy for her admission of the three-way relationship involving another woman.
Ziegler is a co-founder of the Moms for Liberty, a conservative advocacy group which opposes certain school curricula, including those with LGBTQ+ content, and has been a proponent of the Parental Rights in Education Act, often referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The meeting was preceded by a rally organized by Support Our Schools, which drew upwards of 40 people.
The board requests resignation
Vice Chair Karen Rose, who put forward the resolution, said it was in the best interest of students and was intended to hold herself accountable to the community.
The resolution did not have the ability to remove Ziegler from her role, an action only the governor has the legal authority to undertake.
“It’s not about the left. It’s not about the right. It’s about students,” Rose said. “If there isn’t (a second to the motion) I fully understand. This is something I have chosen to do individually.”
“I'm disappointed,” Ziegler said. “As people may know, I serve on another public board, and this issue did not come up and we were able to forge ahead with the business of the board.”
Ziegler also serves on the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District created by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Ziegler also inquired of school board attorney Patrick Duggan, “This does not have any teeth. Is that correct?" stating she wanted to reiterate the non-binding nature of the resolution.
Following two suggestions by board member Tom Edwards, the board altered the resolution to exclude the personal details of the investigation, as well as for it to take place following public comment, with Ziegler in dissent on both items.
Edwards then distributed copies of a letter calling for Ziegler’s resignation across the dais, which he said he had drafted with legal counsel and intended for the board to send to DeSantis.
The board chose not to move forward with a vote on the letter after Duggan said he was given pause by its absence from the meeting agenda, although individual board members had the right to send a letter.
"We need to close the gap on education, we need to make sure we continue with the reading, we ultimately though, is that we have to add to the business and the mission of the district which is to make kids smarter, which is to make sure that we continue to do what we've ... dedicated ourselves," board member Timothy Enos said.
Ziegler did not offer a response to the public comments that followed.
The public speaks
More than two hours of public comments followed, with 70 individuals signed up to speak.
A majority of speakers pressured Ziegler to resign from the board, although a number of commenters spoke in support of Ziegler.
First to speak was Martin Hyde, a former Republican congressional candidate in the Sarasota area known for threatening a police officer during a traffic stop.
“I don't dispute your right to come here tonight and to call Bridget out for resignation. I don't dispute your right to come here and talk about hypocrisy. But I will ask you one thing: spare a thought for a young mother of three,” he said.
Timothy Wagner was another speaker who supported Ziegler.
"She has done nothing illegal. Let the investigations continue, and if any legal wrongdoing, then we can have a conversation," he said, calling on her to "stand tall."
“Please, all of you, after the Asplen debacle, the Vermillion debacle, the redistricting debacle and now the Ziegler sexcapades debacle, which my child now knows too much about, can you restore our trust and faith in your leadership and fiduciary responsibilities?” said Elizabeth Bornstein.
Some commenters called on Ziegler to resign because of her stances towards the LGBTQ+ issues rather than because of her personal life.
"I am so sick of coming to these board meetings, and fighting culture war issues, fighting against what you have tried to do to our LGBTQ community," said Lisa Schur, a co-founder of Support Our Schools.
"My question is, Why doesn't an elected official using our money to harm our students and our teachers for her game, seem to matter as much to us as her having a threesome does?" said activist Zander Moricz.
As the comments concluded, Edwards addressed the public, calling on the community to move forward, while expressing empathy for the pain Ziegler had endured.
"What I'm going to do, again, is be student-centric myself, in every one of my actions, and I'm going to ask you all to do the same, because it doesn't appear that Mrs. Ziegler is going to resign, so from my seat, like everything else, from the termination of a very good superintendent forward, I've had to work around, I've had to console teachers, console students, and do the work that I plan on doing, so I'm asking all of you to do the same."
Correction: This article has been updated to correct that the rally was organized by Support Our Schools.
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.