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Sarasota School Board votes to reject new Title IX rules, risks federal funding

Lisa Schurr, co-founder and director of Support Our Schools, addresses the board, including members Tim Enos and Chair Karen Rose (pictured).
Lisa Schurr, co-founder and director of Support Our Schools, addresses the board, including members Tim Enos and Chair Karen Rose (pictured).
Photo by Ian Swaby
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The Sarasota County School Board voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution by board member Bridget Ziegler to reject recently established changes to federal Title IX guidelines.

The resolution states that “sex: is defined as biological male or biological female (only two sexes); is an immutable characteristic that cannot be changed, fluid, or altered,” commits to “protecting female sports" and "acknowledges the importance of single-sex facilities,” and also "supports Governor DeSantis, on behalf of the State of Florida, legal challenge of the United States Secretary of Education and the United States Department of Education’s rule changes to Title IX."

The resolution also cites instructions by Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz that educational institutions in the state not implement any changes to the guidelines during ongoing litigation.

The guidelines, set to go into effect on Aug. 1, are currently being challenged by the state of Alabama. 

The vote drew extensive attention from the public. 

Ziegler and Rose stated the board had received over 1,000 emails, with protests held prior to the meeting and over 70 members of the public signing up to speak.

Board member Tom Edwards cast the lone dissenting vote.

According to those opposing the regulations, noncompliance with federal rules could cost the district $107 million in federal funding, a figure Ziegler said was closer to $50 million.

The new Title IX rules created under the Biden administration incorporate LGBTQ+ students into the classes protected from discrimination but do not address the topic of transgender athletes. They also instituted new safeguards for victims of sexual assault.

Board weighs resolution

Ziegler said as the board had sworn to uphold both the laws of the United States and of Florida, it found itself in a unique situation, which she said was a contradiction between state and federal law. 

“There was no congressional act taken that would have changed the law; there were regulations changed, and, as was mentioned, there's been a multitude of different changes over the years of different administrations in play, and then rescinded, and then back again, and they've all been challenged,” Ziegler said. 

She emphasized that safeguards against bullying were already in place in schools. 

“I want to be very clear, no matter what anyone identifies as, or in what subcategory we put them under, we have protocols in place, that I stand behind, that shall ensure that no student or staff member is bullied, or harassed or discriminated against. However, we also have a responsibility to take care and ensure the safety of our students, and the Title IX changes have a dramatic impact.”

Ziegler said despite a specific mention of girls' sports, the Title IX rules would have a “devastating” impact in that area, which would just be “the tip of the iceberg.”

Her motion to approve the resolution was seconded by Chair Karen Rose. 

Attorney Patrick Duggan called the motion a departure from the manner in which the board typically operates, noting it was placed in the “member comments” section of the meeting agenda, rather than as an agenda item. 

“I think it minimally complies with the law, if you all wish to vote on it today. I just wanted to point out that this is not how we normally do it from a transparency standpoint,” he said. 

Board member Tim Enos raised the idea of placing the item on the agenda of the next meeting, “only in reference to making sure the six different points that are on there are within the law.”

“We want to make sure that procedurally, we are in the guidelines,” he said. 

Rose said she did contact legal counsel regarding the resolution to ensure it aligned with the attorney general and other directives. 

Board member Tom Edwards said there were many angles from which he would like to criticize the resolution and its approach to transgender students, but also said he found its description on the meeting agenda to be extremely vague.

“The way I view this resolution is no more than what Ms. Ziegler said: ‘Game on.' And that's politics 100% of the time. So pass it, if you will," he said. 

He also said he was concerned about the financial well-being of the school district, stating the resolution had not been vetted properly and could make the district vulnerable to litigation.

“I'm hearing legal advice say, let it play out and then make your decision — I'm still going to lose that night, too — but I just doesn't make sense why we have to put ourselves and the school district in that jeopardy.”

Board member Robyn Marinelli called the decision of the government to withhold funding based on noncompliance with the guidelines "extremist."

“The most powerful office in the world would withhold money, for lunches and breakfasts for our most vulnerable kids. That is unacceptable, and it's it's just unbelievable to me, that that would be used as a threat to our children,” she said. 

Prior to the meeting, over 70 speakers signed up to comment, with a majority speaking against the resolution but some also speaking in favor. 

Richard Cannarelli said the rejection of the Title IX provisions constituted a failure of the board to follow its obligation to treat students equally. 

Anya Dennison of SEE Alliance criticized the resolution as not being actionable.

"Even if our school board members dislike the federal government's expansion of Title IX, the dispute between Florida and the U.S. has barely begun, and any actions that the board takes are at risk of being negated, overturned or contradicted in the coming days and weeks," Dennison said. "There is no academic reason to pass this resolution, and there is no way to legally enact it."

"I have that right to protect my children, I have that right to say who goes in that restroom with my grandchild or nieces, and who doesn't," said commenter Linda Wilson. "I want to protect the women's sports. We fought long and hard to get to where we are today, to have … us kicked out and replaced."



Ian Swaby

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.

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