Students and staff weren’t the only ones showing up at Wilton Manors Elementary School Oct. 29.
Parents came out to show support for the school that’s under a vicious attack by right-wing media and even the Republican administration in Tallahassee.
The school has been deluged with threats of violence and messages of hate since news of a routine, annual field trip was weaponized by right-wing media.
This week, over two days, kindergarteners and first graders walked down to Rosie’s Bar & Grill on Wilton Drive. They learned how a restaurant works by touring the kitchen, then how to order off a menu, pay the bill, and even tip. It’s part of the school’s Community Curriculum. After Broward School Board member Sarah Leonardi posted pictures of the kids at the restaurant, Fox News and its analogs wrote stories rife with innuendo that the students spent the day at a gay bar.
Then, news spread that Governor Ron DeSantis (R) was sending Florida Education Secretary Richard Corcoran to the school Friday to investigate the spurious accusations.
When parents realized how serious the situation was becoming, they showed up to let everyone know they are very happy with the school and the field trip.
“When I saw the press this morning I decided to take a long lunch,” Ted Quiroz, a parent of two students said. “This is my best opportunity to support the school that we love so much.”
He was one of about two dozen parents and former teachers who came out to let the governor know they’re not having it.
Another parent, Carrie Fricker, says she knows this isn’t about the restaurant having a bar. “My first response was if this field trip had happened at Houstons, would there be the same uproar? Because Houstons has a bar, Rosie’s has a bar. I do not think the same uproar would have happened, which tells me this is hate fueled and homophobic.”
“From my vantage point this is purely posturing on the part of the government and appealing to the worst possible hate mongering that we can possibly have and it’s a travesty, '' said Lisa Maxwell with the Broward Principals & Assistants’ Association (BPAA).
“The fact that there have been death threats, I am shocked. Some that have come in online violate Homeland Security level. Threats to the restaurant. Threats to individuals. Threats to the school. I’m not understanding why the governor isn’t sending law enforcement help instead. I don’t know how a Department of Education investigator is going to help the community be safe.”
She says the situation has escalated and says the governor and his allies are fueling the flames.
“School board members have death threats. Their families have death threats. The concern is that an unsafe situation has been created because, at the highest level of government in the state of Florida, they have managed to whip up hate instead of trying to calm things down. We are now faced with a safety and security issue. So my message to the governor is to please send help to get and restore the safety to the community. That’s what we need.”
The Kids Are Alright
While all this was going on, the school worked to make sure students were focused on the day. As reporters stood outside, announcements could be heard calling for students dressed as doctors and nurses to assemble. The Halloween costumes were themed around community helpers, including police and firefighters.
“It’s an extension of the field trip,” Maxwell said. “This community is about embracing everyone and being inclusive. That’s what the kids in this school are absorbing as part of the community itself. It’s a continuation of that philosophy of love and care and compassion in this community.”
Quiroz says the lessons the kids learn will plant a seed for future responsibility.
“The purpose of the trip is to teach them about businesses in the community, how they work. They have been having lessons on how you look at money, how you pay a bill. This is a missed opportunity in many schools. I appreciate them looking at a local business as well-known as Rosie’s is, and give them an opportunity to see how it is run.”
Students often go to places like arenas and Disney. Maxwell points out that alcohol is sold there.
“Field trips are often to places where alcohol is sold, but that doesn’t mean the kids are drinking alcohol.”
It should be noted that all students had a permission slip, and they were given a kids' menu that didn’t have any of the double entendre dishes listed on the main menu.
Investigator Sneaks In & Out
SFGN was told Corcoran didn’t show up but instead sent a representative from Standards & Professional Practices. That person snuck into Wilton Elementary, didn’t take questions from the media, and left after a very quick visit.
“It’s really about hatred, bias and prejudice. Things people in the community have to deal with every day,” Maxwell said. She points out that the Dept. of Education doesn’t have the authority to launch any investigation, especially without notifying people under scrutiny first.
“This is an intimidation attempt to bring further harm and damage to the individuals involved.” She emphasized that the principal and others would not discuss this without an attorney.
Extra security and police officers were at the school today after dozens, if not hundreds, of threats were received. SFGN’s been told the proper authorities have been notified, but declined to say which ones, or if federal authorities like the FBI or DHS would get involved.
Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton, who led one of the groups this week, was at the meeting. Afterwards he came out and said while he wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the meeting, bud did say he felt optimistic that the report will show the city and school board in a positive light.
He says the people spreading lies are doing more harm than they know.
“What it is turning into because of these vile people is disgraceful. This city did everything great. It’s to teach kids about life.”
Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s senior political director, says this is a blatant attempt to smear the good people of Wilton Manors Elementary and the generosity of Rosie’s.
“Characterizing a lunch field trip to this landmark neighborhood restaurant as if it was a trip to a nightclub is an ugly appeal to anti-LGBTQ fear and bigotry. We refuse to allow a disinformation campaign, fueled by lies and political cheap shots. This manufactured moral panic is the worst kind of political theater.”