Mom of transgender athlete says Broward schools ‘destroyed’ her child’s life

Orlando Sentinel | By Scott Travis | June 18, 2024

Broward school leaders “destroyed the life” of a transgender student, due to the way it handled an investigation into her participation in sports, the student’s mother told the School Board on Tuesday.

Jessica Norton, an information management specialist and a coach at Monarch High, spoke publicly for the first time since she was placed under investigation in November related to her daughter playing girls volleyball at Monarch High in Coconut Creek. She told the School Board she had been a loyal employee and volunteer but had been treated disrespectfully since the investigation started.

Superintendent Howard Hepburn is recommending Norton be fired, saying she knowingly allowed her daughter to violate a 2021 state law known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which bans students who are born male from playing in girls’ sports.

“District leadership tried to ruin my life, but instead destroyed the life of an innocent 16-year-old girl, then destroyed her high school career and her lifelong memories and experiences,” Norton told the School Board, with her husband, Gary, by her side. Her child did not attend the meeting.

Norton said the investigation dragged on for months, leaving her family in limbo.

The district failed to communicate with her, she said, forcing her to learn information about her case from the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Her firing was scheduled to be on Tuesday’s agenda, but she said no one in the district told her the matter had been postponed until next month’s meeting, so she came to speak anyway.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel has reached out to a district spokesperson for comment, but the only response it has received so far is that her discipline will be discussed at a future School Board meeting.

At least six other employees were investigated, including Monarch High Principal James Cecil, but they were all cleared. A committee of administrators recommended Norton be suspended for 10 days, but Hepburn and his predecessor, Peter Licata, changed the recommendation to termination.

Licata started the investigation in late November after School Board member Daniel Foganholi received an anonymous tip.

Norton told the board she did not attend Tuesday’s meeting “to beg for my job. The decision to make a political example of me was made long before the anonymous tip that launched the disastrous investigation.”

The family sued the state and the district in 2021 challenging the legality of the state law. A judge dismissed the case in November but allowed the family to refile, which it has done. The case is still pending.

“For 203 days, we have lived in a constant state of limbo and uncertainty,” she said. “It feels never-ending. This has added unimaginable stress to our family’s lives.”

She said she has complied with the investigation and has been truthful but has been “disregarded by the district” as a parent and employee.

She said the investigation was supposed to be concluded in 30 days, according to her collective bargaining agreement, but went on for months. While reassigned, she said she was required to “perform manual labor and janitorial services” rather than clerical work, which would be similar to her regular job.

Investigators referred to her daughter as her son, and used the pronouns of he and him, and even as “it,” she told the School Board.

“I have never seen a complete report of my investigation. In fact, I have discovered important information, not from the investigators, but from the press,” she said.

Norton said her daughter was flourishing at Monarch prior to the investigation. The student was freshman and sophomore class president and director philanthropy for student government. She was voted homecoming princess, the mom said.

“I saw the light in my daughter’s eyes gleam with future plans of organizing and attending prom, participating and leading senior class traditions, speaking at graduation and going off to college with the confidence and joy that any student like her would after a successful and enriching high school experience,” Norton said.

But on Nov. 27, as the investigation started and her mom was removed from the school, “she walked out of the front door of the school distraught, never to be heard from again. No one has shown our family that they care. Not one person in the district who was responsible for her checked in on her safety or well-being.”

Norton enrolled her child in virtual school. She told reporters afterward she doesn’t know whether she will return to Monarch or a traditional school.

“The senior leaders of the district should be embarrassed that they’re in charge of the lives of children, seeing as they had no problem destroying mine,” she said. “You know what? It’s OK if I’m the villain in their story, because I’m the hero in my daughter’s story.”

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