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Sarasota school board calls on Bridget Ziegler to resign. She does not.


SARASOTA — The Sarasota County School Board on Tuesday called on fellow board member Bridget Ziegler to resign, citing her role in a sex scandal with statewide implications and calling her continued presence a distraction to the school district’s business.

Ziegler’s husband, who leads the Florida Republican Party, has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman with whom the couple was previously involved in a three-way encounter.

Ziegler has not been accused of committing any crime, but has faced criticism for being involved in a sexual relationship with another woman while using her post on the board to push policies unfriendly to the LGBTQ+ community. A co-founder of the high-profile Moms for Liberty group, she also has been credited with helping to draft the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, often referred to as Don’t Say Gay.

The resulting attention that the Zieglers have received after the woman made her accusations has grabbed headlines across the nation, with interest growing as more details have emerged. Through a lawyer, Ziegler’s husband, Christian Ziegler, has denied any criminal wrongdoing.

School Board chairperson Karen Rose, who had been an ally of Bridget Ziegler in the past, brought the non-binding resolution to the table for consideration.

“It is not about the left. It is not about the right,” Rose said. “It’s about students.”

Tsi Day Smyth speaks during a rally at Sarasota County school district headquarters on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, to protest against board member Bridget Ziegler.
Tsi Day Smyth speaks during a rally at Sarasota County school district headquarters on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, to protest against board member Bridget Ziegler. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Joining her were not only Tom Edwards, a longtime foe of Ziegler’s, but also Tim Enos and Robyn Marinelli — the two members who ran with Ziegler in 2022 as a slate to flip the nonpartisan board to a conservative Republican majority supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Their resolution stated that by remaining on the board, where she has served since being appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, Bridget Ziegler “would cause an irreparably harmful distraction to the School Board’s ability to fulfill its critical Constitutional mission of operating, controlling, and supervising the various Sarasota County public schools.”

Ziegler had been the board’s chairperson until late November. After listening expressionless to board lawyer Patrick Duggan read the resolution, she voted against the measure, and in brief comments noted that the other public board she serves on did not take a similar step.

DeSantis has not called for her removal from the school board or the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the Disney taxing authority to which he appointed her.

Ziegler noted that the school board’s action “does not have any teeth,” which Duggan confirmed.

While the board has no authority to remove its members, the governor can do so for reasons that include the commission of a felony, neglect of duty, malfeasance, incompetence and habitual drunkenness.

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DeSantis has called for the resignation of Christian Ziegler from his Republican Party post. The party leadership has called a special meeting for later this week to discuss next steps.

Edwards suggested sending a letter to DeSantis conveying its resolution. Others said they have no interest in doing so, and it’s up to Bridget Ziegler to decide what to do.

“We have all failed in our lives at a variety of different things,” Enos said, explaining his unwillingness to take the step.

John Wilson, left, and Lisa Schurr of Support Our Schools, get into a disagreement during a protest rally against Sarasota County School Board member Bridge Ziegler on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Sarasota.
John Wilson, left, and Lisa Schurr of Support Our Schools, get into a disagreement during a protest rally against Sarasota County School Board member Bridge Ziegler on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Sarasota. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Usually, the board has a student representative sitting at the table and opens its meetings with student performances. Due to the sensitive nature of Tuesday’s discussion about Ziegler, the board canceled those and encouraged students to stay away.

Before the meeting began, a crowd gathered outside to protest against Bridget Ziegler remaining on the board.

Speakers from more than a dozen community groups supported the calls for Ziegler’s resignation, saying she had helped create the culture wars nationally and placed Sarasota County at the epicenter.

“Our community is tired of the culture wars and we want it to go away,” said Carol Lerner, a director of the Support Our Schools movement.

The protesters carried signs reading “Bridget Must Go” and “Don’t Say 3-Way.” They handed out T-shirts with the words “Real Women Aren’t Transphobic Bigots,” an apparent reference to a Ziegler social media post that shows her wearing a T-shirt with the words “Real women — aren’t men.”

The audience listens to speakers give comments during a Sarasota County School Board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, where board members called on their colleague Bridget Ziegler to resign.
The audience listens to speakers give comments during a Sarasota County School Board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, where board members called on their colleague Bridget Ziegler to resign. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

One counter-protester carried a bullhorn to shout that if Ziegler must go, so too must board member Edwards.

Many from the group then filled the board meeting room, where they expected to speak further about the issue after the resolution vote, which was the first item on Tuesday’s agenda. Seventy of them signed up to speak.

Among them was Lee Rubin, a substitute teacher, who asked Ziegler, “What else are you hiding?”

• • •

Spotlight on education

The public is invited to a community conversation about the future of Florida public schools on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Tampa Theatre, hosted by the Tampa Bay Times. In the second installment of the Spotlight Tampa Bay series, Times journalists will moderate a discussion by experts, followed by a panel featuring students. Tickets are $20; $10 for students. Proceeds benefit the Times’ Journalism Fund. To purchase tickets, click here.



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