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Bridget Ziegler center of attention again at Sarasota School Board meeting

Written by on Friday, January 19, 2024

But she is not on the agenda. Nor are dropping student numbers.

By Florence Fahringer

Original Air Date: Jan. 17, 2024

Host: Bridget Ziegler’s tenure was not on the agenda of the school board yesterday evening, but she certainly was on the mind of the public. At last night’s meeting, the conservative activist had to endure three hours of public comment, mostly asking her to resign. Florence Fahringer followed the proceedings and she also puts her finger on a big issue the school board is not talking about: shrinking student numbers.

Florence Fahringer: The School Board met for the first time this year on Tuesday. When the School Board last met, the agenda item of the day was a motion to formally request Bridget Ziegler’s resignation; the meeting was constructed to be about Ziegler. This time around, no such item was on the agenda, but attendees, board members, and onlookers alike probably couldn’t shake a certain sense of deja vu. 

Public comments made December’s meeting the longest in recent memory, drawing the meeting out to four hours in length — meetings which historically have been one-to-three hours long. Yesterday, the record was beaten again, drawing this month’s meeting out to five hours in length. Of those five hours, three of them were devoted to public comments. Some of these comments were outright attacks at LGBTQ people. 

Public Speaker #1: The leftist activists in this county continue to agitate for the control of the schools, through promotion of LGBTQ+ lifestyles, in the media, and in the school system, from the classroom to the schoolboard. Let’s stop beating around the bush: stop allowing this faction to steer the direction of the school system. It is absurd for the … this public institution to pretend that there is any truth in the proposition that there is anything normal about practicing an LGBTQ lifestyle. It is damaging to the development of school-aged children, to tolerate any discussion, mention, or acceptance, of such perverted lifestyle. LGBTQ practices are an abomination to normalcy, nature shows this emphatically. 

FF: Other comments cut to the bone of the public outcry. 

Public Speaker #2: Good evening. Carol Lerner, support our schools, and life-long, retired now, educator. When I evaluate a politician, be it a US president or a local schoolboard member, I look to see if their policies enhance the common good for all. John Adams, our nations second president, wrote: “Government is instituted for the common good, and not for profit or private interests of any one man, family, or class of men.” Ms. Ziegler, if we take Adams’ criteria, and apply it to you, you miserably fail his test. Not just because of all your recent hypocrisies, but because you have worked against public education’s common good, while enhancing your own private interests. You preached student achievement while practicing public education’s destruction.

A few examples, over your ten-year career in grifting: in 2015, you formed the Florida coalition of schoolboard members, created to push school privatization schemes that drastically weakened public education, but enhanced your visibility. That same year in Sarasota, you created divisions in the community over gender diverse guidelines, and bathrooms for transgender students. A harbinger of the anti-LGBTQ culture war to come, perfected and promoted by your husband, to stir up the GOP base for electoral victory.

FF: After the public had spoken, Edwards got a word in.

Tom Edwards: I want to point out, that for me as a school board member, public comments are an important part of how I make my decisions. I will also point out to you that as a very new school board member … a person who came in to ridicule me, and in fact still chases me on social media and calls me a clown, brought to my attention about third grade reading scores. So it’s really important to listen to people. To listen to what people have to say, whether you agree with them or not, and then also not to grunt or make noises when you disagree with somebody. I think you should focus, and pay attention, and listen. Having said that, I am going to remain firm in my position to ask for Mrs. Ziegler’s resignation once again. And the reason is exactly the same as when I spoke to the press weeks ago, before the last meeting. It’s evident that distraction is what we’re facing here. 

FF: After Edwards, Robyn Marinelli and Tim Enos spoke. While Marinelli spoke in broader terms, affirming her dedication to student excellence, Enos addressed the idea of removing Ziegler directly, saying he still would not support a letter to the governor asking for her removal. Next up was Ziegler herself.

Bridget Ziegler: Just kind of a mini fact-check of the superintendent, so I know that these words are used oftentimes, lots of words are used to trigger emotion, so I just want to get down to brass tax what’s fact or fiction. In this school district, are we banning any books, have we banned any books, can we get that on the record?

Superintendent: To my knowledge we have not banned any books. 

BZ: Okay. Thank you. As far as this past year, we recently adopted our social studies new curriculum, is that correct? In that, did we allow, are we allowing the teaching, I believe it’s actually a requirement, of slavery and civil rights?

SI: Per state standards yes, those topics are covered.

BZ: Okay. As far as our enrollment, and I know there’s a lot of discussion about privatization, again buzzword, but when it comes down to our expansion, the expansion, the state’s expansion of school choice, how has our enrollment been, since that has expanded in the last year?

SI: So, from last calculation we were down about 150 students from actuals, from last year. 

FF: That last fact-check from Ziegler touches on something notably absent from yesterday’s agenda, not to mention the agendas of the past few meetings. As Ziegler had clarified, the Sarasota County School board projected that they were going to have eight hundred more students than they got this spring semester. Year-to-date, Sarasota County Schools have one hundred and fifty less students. Considering that the County’s school-age population has grown in the past year, it’s bad news for the Board that enrollment is actually dropping. Despite this, the Board has yet to discuss the issue, with Edwards attempting to make a motion to discuss it last year, but failing to receive a second. 

The zero-dimensional anomaly of December’s school board meeting has turned into a one-dimensional line, charting a trajectory of board meetings to come: hours of public comments all about Ziegler, with little focus on policy. This trajectory ends at two possible junctures: Ziegler outlasting the outcry, or the outcry outlasting Ziegler. By the end of the year, whichever juncture is being approached may be more certain, if not already known; but for the moment, the trend is young and useful, charting a course for the meetings of the spring semester. One thing is certain: the public still has plenty to say about Bridget Ziegler. 

This is Florence Fahringer, reporting for WSLR.


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