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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Father who jokes he'd burn a school down is now banned from all Polk County school grounds

A Polk County father has been banned from all school properties after he made a comment on his Facebook page that he "wanted to burn the (school) down."

Chris Stephenson, of Lakeland, was venting about a letter he got from his son's middle school Parent-Teacher-Student Association that said children whose parents donated $100 could get a pass to the front of the lunch line.

He didn't think that was fair.

"The LAST thing middle schoolers need is establishing a food hierarchy. They have enough problems as it is," he wrote.

He followed up on his comment about the fire a few minutes later, writing, "Figuratively. ACTUALLY setting fire to that building would be an epic task ... lol."

But the school district didn't find any humor in Stephenson's comments and sent him a letter this week informing him he was banned from all school properties in the county.

Lawton Chiles Middle Academy principal Brian Andrews then took to his school's Facebook page to defend the district's actions against Stephenson. Andrews called Stephenson's comments "a threat." After the comment was reported, Polk County sheriff's deputies arrived on campus to speak with administrators about its content and what should be done.

"We found it to be a credible threat to burn down the school," Andrews said. "Our main priority here is to make sure all students, staff, volunteers, visitors are all safe."

Andrews added that he, the district and law enforcement don't take anything posted on social media lightly.

"We will address it firmly with full support of law enforcement and the district and that's how we handled it," he said.

The order prohibits Stephenson from going to any school-sponsored activities and the child pick-up area. The father told 10News WTSP that he has a history of volunteering with the school, like with its science fair.

Stephenson posted a brief response to the principal's Facebook video on Thursday, a day after he found out he was banned from school grounds. He said it seemed like "a very heavy handed method of suppressing free speech."

"I suppose burying the hatchet is off the table now," he 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."

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

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