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New College students seek help from feds

Written by on Thursday, September 7, 2023

In federal complaints, they allege civil rights violations

By Emy McGuire

Original Air Date: Sept. 6, 2023


Official Transcript

Host: The struggles continue at New College of Florida, in the wake of the takeover by the state that began early this year. In the latest move, students have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice. WSLR reporter Emy McGuire is following that story.

Emy McGuire: Over the last couple of weeks, New College students have reportedly filed 10 complaints with the US Department of Education, alleging their civil rights have been violated. According to people  close to the situation, some of the complaints seek the feds tto look into what some call the “bathroom situation”.

Over the summer, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Safety and Private Spaces Act” went into effect. This law states, “The legislature finds that females and males should be provided restrooms and changing facilities for their exclusive use in order to maintain public safety, consistency and decorum.” This is not the first legislation has been passed in response to the bathroom controversies across the country, but it is the first to impose consequences in the form of first or secondary misdemeanors, trespassing, or professional discipline in the case of people employed at public institutions.

Carlos Guillermo Smith is a former Florida State Representative who was in office from 2016 to 2022. He made history by being the first LGBT Latin person elected to the legislature. Regarding the Safety and Private Spaces Act, Smith stated that, “these threats of bathroom investigations, first firing of personnel, and restrictions on dormitories of the Florida college system will only worsen the current culture of fear and intimidation against the transgender community.”

Of course, New College of Florida has been at the heart of this cultural battle. Back in January, DeSantis and the Board of Trustees took action to make New College provide a more traditional and classic liberal arts education, following the model of Hillsdale a conservative private college in Michigan. DeSantis has received backlash for this, spearheaded by a group formed by alumni and community supporters. NCF Freedom is a “pending not-for-profit organization created by Sarasota-based long-term supporters of New College of Florida to protect and promote the future of the college”. The group has raised more than $100,000 and it has funded a lawsuit filed two weeks ago by faculty members and students against the state of Florida and their college over Senate Bill 266. The plaintiffs allege that the law restricts their academic freedom.

I had the opportunity to speak with Jono Miller, a former environmental studies program director at New College who now chairs NCF Freedom. He gave me more insight as to their mission and goals.

Jono Miller: It’s a membership group that’s a non-profit corporation. We’re made up of current New College students, faculty and alums, as well as a number of members from the larger Sarasota community that believe in New College. And we try to improve New College in ways that are not unethical or illegal. That’s why we’re taking legal action, because the state and the New College administration are doing things that are either illegal or unethical.

EM: Jono Miller wanted to make sure people know that there are many organizations fighting legislation such as the Safety and Private Spaces Act and other civil rights violations that prompted New College members to file their complaints. He said that NCF Freedom is not directly involved in the federal complaints, but told me that it filed complaints with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the agency that accredits New College.

Miller: You know, what’s going on is there are a number of different entities that are pushing back and challenging the way things are unfolding. I think that the complaint with the DOE is important, but as I said, we’re not directly involved in that. Another thing that’s happening is that the Novo Collegian Alliance and our organization, NCF Freedom, have been submitting complaints to our accrediting agency. We’ve been looking at their principles of accreditation and explained to them that they’re not being followed. I think we’ve sent three different complaints dealing with three separate principles so far. We’ll keep turning them out, and I think we’re planning for a total of eight.  

EM: WSLR was unable to obtain comment from any of the persons involved in the complaints with the Department of Education and Department of Justice. If found in violation of federal laws, New College may lose federal funding.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Emy McGuire.

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