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Mom of transgender girl athlete says Florida's investigation has destroyed her daughter's life

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Mom of transgender girl athlete says Florida's investigation has destroyed her daughter's life
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Mom of transgender girl athlete says Florida's investigation has destroyed her daughter's life

2024-06-19 02:46 Last Updated At:02:51

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida public school employee who faces firing because she allowed her transgender daughter to play girls high school volleyball assailed those who outed her child, saying Tuesday that the ensuing investigation destroyed the girl's life.

Jessica Norton said her daughter was thriving at Monarch High School in suburban Fort Lauderdale before an anonymous tipster notified a Broward County school board member in November that the 16-year-old was playing on the girls varsity volleyball team in apparent violation of state law. The 2021 Fairness in Women’s Sports Act bars students who were born male from participating in girls sports.

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Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks with reporters outside of a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida public school employee who faces firing because she allowed her transgender daughter to play girls high school volleyball assailed those who outed her child, saying Tuesday that the ensuing investigation destroyed the girl's life.

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton attends a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton attends a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

That November tip launched a school district investigation that has led to Norton facing the possible loss of her job as a computer information specialist at Monarch because she allowed her daughter to play. Investigators also said she didn't, as part of her job, change the child's gender on school records back to “male” from “female,” as required by district policy.

Norton told the school board Tuesday that her daughter had been elected freshman and sophomore class president, was selected the student body's director of philanthropy and was a homecoming princess. That all ended when the investigation began and the girl left Monarch.

“They destroyed her high school career and her lifelong memories,” Norton said. “I saw the light in my daughter’s eyes gleam with future plans of organizing and attending prom, participating in 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 encouraging high school experience. And 203 days ago, I watched as that life was extinguished."

The girl now attends school online.

None of the board's nine members responded to Norton, a seven-year district employee who received stellar evaluations before November.

Treatment of transgender children has been a hot-button issue across the country over the last few years. Florida is among at least 25 states that adopted bans on gender-affirming care for minors and one of at least 24 states that’s adopted a law banning transgender women and girls from certain women’s and girls sports.

The board had been scheduled to vote Tuesday on Superintendent Howard Hepburn's recommendation that Norton be fired, but that decision has been delayed at least a month. A district committee recommended that Norton receive a 10-day suspension, but Hepburn overrode it. He has not said why. The board could fire Norton, suspend her or do nothing.

Monarch Principal James Cecil and three other administrators were temporarily reassigned when the investigation began, but were reinstated after student protests. The state's athletic commission fined the school $16,500.

Broward is one of Florida's most politically liberal counties, with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, and has a large LGBTQ+ community. The countywide school district is the nation's fifth largest, with almost 255,000 students at 327 schools.

According to the district investigative report, board member Daniel Foganholi contacted the district's police department after he received the tip. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Foganholi last year after the elected board member was found ineligible to serve.

Since 2021, DeSantis has signed the Fairness in Women's Sports Act and other measures targeting the transgender community. The Nortons are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit trying to block the act.

Foganholi did not respond to emails last week and on Monday seeking comment.

Norton’s child began taking puberty blockers at age 11 and takes estrogen but has not had gender-affirming surgery. Such procedures are rarely done on minors.

Her parents say she often sat on the bench for Monarch’s volleyball team and has no athletic advantages from being born male. When investigators asked Cecil to describe the child, he said, “She looks like a girl to me. ... she seems very small, very skinny.”

Responding to Foganholi's complaint, Broward schools assigned two officers to investigate. The state education department also appointed an investigator.

They pulled school records for Norton's daughter and locked them in a vault. They interviewed officials at Monarch and at the daughter's middle and elementary schools, seeking to find out who knew the girl was transgender and when and how her records were changed. They also interviewed Norton and three Monarch volleyball players.

Norton, who has two older children, told them she enrolled her youngest child in kindergarten as a boy in 2013, four years before she began working for the district. The child transitioned to a girl in first grade. She said other parents and children knew, so it has never been a complete secret.

She said when her child was in second grade, she asked a school employee to change the child's gender on her school records. She said then-Superintendent Robert Runcie told her that was the procedure. Runcie left the district in 2021 after an unrelated controversy and was not contacted.

But the district says such changes are only allowed if the parent first gets the child's birth certificate amended. The birth certificate wasn't amended until 2021 after Norton started working with the district. The district says after learning about its policy, Norton should have requested in 2017 that her child's gender be changed back to male on her records.

Norton told investigators she didn't because the amended records are accurate — her child is a girl.

Norton knew the new state law barred transgender girls from playing girls sports when her daughter entered high school in 2022. The detectives asked why she then let her daughter play volleyball and why she marked “female” on a permission form that asked the child's “sex at birth.”

“Because she’s my child and she wanted to play,” Norton told them. Norton coached the junior varsity volleyball team.

When investigators interviewed the Monarch volleyball players, they said the team did not change clothes or shower together, so they were never disrobed with Norton's daughter. All three said they knew or suspected Norton's daughter is transgender, but it didn't bother them that she was on the team. The Knights went 13-7 last season.

“I didn’t really have a problem with it because I didn’t think she was a threat or anything to anyone else,” one girl told investigators.

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks with reporters outside of a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks with reporters outside of a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton attends a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton attends a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Jessica Norton, with her husband, Gary, speaks during the public comment period at a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale held on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Norton, whose daughter played on the Monarch High School volleyball team, was one of five Monarch officials removed from the school Nov. 27 amid an inquiry into possible violations of the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," a 2021 law that bans transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Norton is the only one facing potential discipline. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Donald Trump's campaign chiefs designed the Republican convention opening this week to feature a softer and more optimistic message, focusing on themes that would help a divisive leader expand his appeal among moderate voters and people of color.

Then came the shooting that rattled the foundation of American politics.

Suddenly, the Democrats’ turmoil after the debate, the GOP’s potential governing agenda and even Trump’s criminal convictions became secondary to concerns about political violence and the country's stability. The presumptive Republican nominee and his allies will face the nation during their four-day convention in Milwaukee unquestionably united and ready to “fight,” as the bloodied Trump cried out Saturday while Secret Service agents at his Pennsylvania rally rushed him to safety.

Anger and anxiety are coursing through the party, even as many top Republicans call for calm and a lowering of tensions.

Vivek Ramaswamy, who ran in the GOP presidential primary, has distinguished himself as one of the more aggressive voices on the right, saying often that the country is already at war with itself. So it was notable that in remarks at an event run by the conservative Heritage Institute at the RNC on Monday he was toning down his rhetoric and urging the country to come together.

“The enemy is not the Democrats, it is an ideology,” Ramaswamy told the crowd at Heritage’s “Policy Fest” event.

GOP Sen. Steve Daines, the chair of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said at a Politico event at the RNC on Monday that the party needs to focus on policy and not divisive politics in the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting.

“This is a moment, as we say, that the temperature needs to be brought down,” the Montana lawmaker said. “What needs to be litigated for the American people in the next three and a half months should be more policy and not personalities.”

On Monday, hours before the first convention session, some well-timed good news for Trump got the day off to a positive start for him and his party. The federal judge presiding over Trump's classified documents case dismissed the prosecution because of concerns over the appointment of the prosecutor who brought the case, handing the former president a major court victory.

Trump posted on his Truth Social platform to call for the dismissal of his other legal cases.

“As we move forward in Uniting our Nation after the horrific events on Saturday, this dismissal of the Lawless Indictment in Florida should be just the first step, followed quickly by the dismissal of ALL the Witch Hunts,” he wrote, listing several cases.

Meanwhile, Trump is expected to announce his vice presidential pick on the first day of the Republican National Convention, he said in an interview.

It remains unclear whether the shooting Saturday at his Pennsylvania rally has changed the former president’s thinking about his potential second-in-command. But he told Fox News Channel host Bret Baier in a call that he planned to make his pick Monday.

In an interview Sunday, Republican Party chairman Michael Whatley said the convention’s programming wouldn't be changed after the shooting. The agenda, he said, will feature more than 100 speakers overwhelmingly focused on kitchen table issues and Trump’s plans to lift everyday working Americans.

“We have to be able to lay out a vision for where we want to take this country," he said.

Whatley said the central message would have little to do with President Joe Biden’s political struggles, Trump’s grievances about the 2020 election or the ex-president’s promises to exact retribution against political enemies.

“We are going to have the convention that we have been planning for the last 18 months," he said. "We are a combination of relieved and grateful that the president is going to be here and is going to accept the nomination.”

Beyond voting to formally give Trump the nomination, elected delegates from across the nation will update the GOP’s policy platform for the first time since 2016. The scaled-down platform proposal — just 16 pages with limited specifics on key issues, including abortion — reflects a desire by the Trump campaign to avoid giving Democrats more material on a key campaign issue.

The platform approved by a committee last week doesn't include an explicit call for a national abortion ban, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended a federally guaranteed right to abortion.

“More divisiveness would not be healthy,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

As Trump prepares to announce his choice for vice president, his top three contenders are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Ohio Sen. JD Vance and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, all expected to speak this week.

Despite a contentious primary season, any lingering tensions appear to have been set aside.

Former rivals Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, are expected to speak at the convention on Trump’s behalf.

There will be reminders of Trump’s record in a speaking program that includes a handful of Republicans charged with crimes related to other political violence — the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who's in jail on contempt of Congress charges, is expected to speak at the convention just hours after his release. He was found guilty in September after refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Capitol attack.

Nevada GOP Chair Michael McDonald, who was indicted of criminal charges related to his involvement in a scheme to present fake electors who would overturn Biden's victory over Trump, plans to present the former president with the party nomination at the convention. A judge dismissed the case against McDonald last month over a venue dispute.

Trump has repeatedly cast the people involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including his many supporters who stormed the Capitol, as political prisoners.

For now, Democrats have scaled back their plans to offer a competing message during the Republican convention.

The Biden campaign over the weekend pulled down its campaign ads. Vice President Kamala Harris postponed a Tuesday appearance in Florida set to focus on Trump’s opposition to abortion rights. And the pro-Democratic group American Bridge is delaying the scheduled Monday release of faux trading cards designed to highlight controversial policy positions of Trump and other leading Republicans.

The convention, coming less than four months before Election Day, is taking place in heavily Democratic Milwaukee, the largest city in a pivotal swing state Trump lost by less than 1 percentage point four years ago.

Even before the assassination attempt, major protests were expected, although movement will be severely restricted as part of enhanced security precautions established by the Secret Service.

Still, the risk of violent confrontation exists.

Security officials previously announced that people just outside the Secret Service perimeter would be allowed to carry guns openly or concealed as permitted by state law. Wisconsin statutes outlaw only machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and silencers.

Associated Press writer Christine Fernando reported from Chicago. AP writers Thomas Beaumont in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and Ali Swenson in Minneapolis contributed.

A worker carries a chair during perperations for the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

A worker carries a chair during perperations for the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Law enforcement officers stand in an aisle at the 2024 Republican National Convention inside the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Law enforcement officers stand in an aisle at the 2024 Republican National Convention inside the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

An exterior general view at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

An exterior general view at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala. is seen during the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala. is seen during the Republican National Convention Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A color guard comprised of veterans rehearses ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A color guard comprised of veterans rehearses ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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