Broward school district expands transgender athlete investigation
South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | February 8, 2024
A personnel investigation related to a transgender athlete at Monarch High has been expanded to now include that student’s participation in middle school sports.
But while the Broward School District released in late November the names of five employees at the Coconut Creek high school who were reassigned pending the outcome of an investigation, officials are now tight-lipped about who else is facing questions.
One of those is Vernicca Wynter, the principal at Lyons Creek Middle in Coconut Creek, according to Lisa Maxwell, who represents Wynter through the Broward Principals and Assistants Association. Maxwell said some assistant principals at the school also are being questioned, but she wouldn’t name them.
Wynter could not be reached for comment, despite attempts by phone and text on Wednesday and Thursday.
The investigation is related to how a transgender girl, now 16, was allowed to play on girls’ sports teams in violation of a state law that took effect in July 2021. The law bans any student who was born male from playing on girls’ sports teams.
The student played volleyball for Monarch High during the 2022 and 2023 fall seasons.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel has learned she also played girls’ volleyball and soccer at Lyons Creek, including the 2021-22 school year, which was after the state law was passed.
“The District is committed to conducting a thorough investigation of the alleged violations of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which includes various staff members throughout the District beyond the original scope,” district spokesman John Sullivan said. “Once the investigation is completed, we will release the findings.”
But while district officials temporarily reassigned Monarch Principal James Cecil, and suspended or reassigned four other Monarch officials, Wynter remains on the job at Lyons Creek. They would not explain why.
“At this time we cannot provide any more information as this is an ongoing investigation,” Sullivan said, adding it’s expected to be concluded this month.
Maxwell said she also didn’t know why Cecil was reassigned but Wynter was not.
“I can’t answer that,” she said. “Hopefully we wouldn’t have two major schools, a middle school and a high school, disrupted in the middle of the school year.”
Maxwell said she expects all the administrators she represents — including Cecil, Wynter and several assistant principals — to be cleared.
“There’s absolutely no evidence they had any knowledge of the law being violated,” Maxwell said.
It’s unclear who in the district knew the student was born male.
The parents of the Monarch student got the gender on her birth certificate legally changed from male to female, according to a federal lawsuit the family filed in June 2021.
The lawsuit challenged the state law, but did so using the student’s initials and without naming what school she played for. The district was dropped from the lawsuit in 2022 but added back again last month. A judge sided with the state in an initial opinion but allowed the family to refile their complaint, so the case is still pending.
The student’s mother, Jessica Norton, is an information management specialist at Monarch and was one of the five employees removed from the school, pending the outcome of the investigation.
In the amended complaint, the student’s family says the district’s investigation and identification of Norton as one of the subjects, violated the family’s privacy and created a threat to their safety.
The family’s lawsuit also now includes the Florida High School Athletic Association, which issued sanctions against the student and the school district in December.
The student is not allowed to play on a high school sports team until November. The association also fined Monarch $16,500, which the school must pay for from its own internal funds, district officials say.
Moira Sweeting-Miller, who is filling in as the school’s principal, asked the association to reduce the fine, which was declined. The school will not file a formal appeal, according to an email Sweeting-Miller sent Jan. 29 to Craig Damon, executive director of the athletic association.
“We have decided to not pursue due process on the decision to not reduce the fine through your appeals process. We do want to check to see if there is a possibility, we can be afforded a payment plan to pay the fine,” Sweeting-Miller wrote.
The school has not yet received a response from the association, a district spokeswoman said.