A Florida school made headlines earlier this week when its PTSA seemingly offered to let parents pay $100 so their children could jump to the front of the lunch line.
Now, the parent who spoke out about the offer forcefully to the media has been banned from the school over a perceived threat he made on social media while criticizing the decision.
Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, in Lakeland, Florida, sparked outrage on Aug. 9 when Chris Stephenson posted a page from the orientation package he and his son had received from the school on Facebook. On the page, parents were given the option of donating $100 in exchange for “Last name or company logo featured on website, as well as PTSA events AND front of the lunch line pass.”
“So, this is a thing... for the low low price of $100, your child can skip everyone else in the lunch line, every day,” Stephenson wrote on Facebook. “What the s---.”
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Stephenson also spoke with Fox 13 and Channel 8 about the form, saying it gave the impression of “‘I have money, I’m in the front of line now. All you poor kids get in the back of the line.’”
Soon after, the school’s principal, Brian Andrews, announced that the school would not actually be participating in the lunch line pass program, and the PTSA president said the offer had been previously considered but was never supposed to make it into the final packet sent home with parents.
“The Lawton Chiles Middle academy PTSA is a group of volunteers including Parents, Teachers, Students and Administrators. We strive to look for new and innovative fundraising ideas to enhance the school experience for our students. We offer a variety of fundraising options for our students and families to choose from each year. This Family and Business Sponsorship program was explored, but we decided to not implement,” Bevis’ statement reads. “Due to a clerical error, the form was inadvertently included in the Orientation packets. Our families have been notified this program is not being offered. The intent of our PTSA is to always do the best for our students and families.”
And that, it seemed was that.
But now, Stephenson has been banned from school property over an additional comment he made on Facebook, according to The Ledger. In a commeont on his original post, Stephenson wrote that “my kid hasn’t even had his first day there, and I’m already ready to burn the ----- down.”
He later commented, “Figuratively. Actually setting fire to that building would be an epic task, ---- thing is a giant brick.”
The school didn’t see it the same way.
In a video posted the school’s Facebook page, Andrews said that school officials and law enforcement had decided Stephenson’s comments constituted a “credible threat to burn down the school.”
"Our main priority here is to make sure all students, staff, volunteers, visitors are all safe," Andrews said. "We don't take anything lightly. We believe that anything posted in this day and age we need to take it seriously. We will address it firmly with full support of law enforcement and the district and that's how we handled it."
Stephenson has now been given a trespass order, meaning he is not allowed on school property except to pick up and drop off his son each day. Even then, he will not be allowed outside of the car, according to The Ledger.
According to WSTP, Stephenson says he believes he’s being targeted for bringing attention to the lunch line policy and that the school’s actions are a violation of his right to free speech.
"I have no record of any criminal activity. I volunteer (at) several schools around the area and volunteer elsewhere like the science fair. So the knee jerk reaction is very interesting. It feels retributive.”
The trespass notice bars Stephenson from going into any school in Polk County.
On Facebook, Stephenson has posted again, mocking the school’s administrators.
“I suppose burying the hatchet is off the table now,” Stephenson wrote. “Just for clarity — both ‘burying the hatchet’ and ‘off the table’ are idioms. I have no intent on digging holes and dropping camping tools into it, and I am not on a table.”