Sarasota County School Board Member walks out after being verbally attacked

ABC7 News at 6pm
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 10:57 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - During public comment at a Sarasota County School Board Meeting, a speaker verbally attacked Board Member Tom Edwards on Tuesday night for being gay.

An attendee made a comment reemphasizing a comment made at another board meeting two weeks prior where a woman accused Edwards of being a “lawbreaker” and an “LGBT groomer.”

Edwards took exception when the woman was allowed to continue by Board Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler, and walked out of the meeting.

“I stopped that discussion myself by standing up and walking out because the board chair can’t figure out the difference between a personal attack, and when someone’s challenging good governance,” said Edwards.

Ziegler defended her actions and explained, “I think calling people ‘racist’, ‘groomers’, ‘bigots’, ‘nazis’-- we have to stop doing that. Again, if people are going to get upset about the word ‘groomer’, then they better stop utilizing or getting equally as upset as they are willy nilly using the word ‘nazis’, or whatever other ridiculous statement because they’re incapable of having a debate of some substance.”

These attacks happened after Governor Ron DeSantis put Edwards and 13 other school board members across the State of Florida on his target list at a strategy session in February.

Edwards explained the attacks on him due to his sexuality are hurtful to students who identify as LGBTQ+.

“The LGBTQ+ students hear that they are damaged, that they may be pedophiles. Surprisingly enough no one from the mental health community seems to be alarmed about this but me. And Bridget Ziegler allows it to happen,” he said.

Some questioned whether or not it was right for Edwards to remove himself from the meeting.

Eliah Thomas is the Executive Director of the Institute for Civility in Government. She travels across the nation instructing governing bodies on how to conduct themselves and their constituents in situations like these.

Thomas explained no member of any governing body should have to take abuse of that nature.

“When we’re standing up and we are personally attacking our public officials and our public representatives and our public leaders, that is not furthering what you’re there for and that is not what the meetings are for,” said Thomas.

She continued, “I don’t think anyone should be allowed to continue a personal attack and to force someone else to sit and be attacked.”

ABC7 reached out to Gov. DeSantis’ office for comment but has not received a response.

ABC7 also reached out to the Sarasota County School Board Office to inquire about any civility training they have undergone, or plan to receive and did not receive a response.