WILTON MANORS, FLA. (WSVN) - A Wilton Manors Elementary School’s field trip, aimed at teaching students about the restaurant business, has stirred controversy online and has even led to death threats directed at a Broward County School Board member because it took place at a business associated with the LGBT community.
When asked about his trip to Rosie’s Bar & Grill in Wilton Manors a few years ago, 9-year-old Patrick White said he remembers having an enjoyable time.
“Basically, we went over there, we ate and had some fun. We all wore, like, matching shirts,” he said.
“They go there and eat. They just go have lunch. I think it just makes them feel like big kids,” said the boy’s mother.
But when Broward County School Board Member Sarah Leonardi, who chaperoned the group during this week’s trip, posted about it on Facebook, it led to an online story that called Rosie’s a “gay bar.”
That description ignited an online debate as to whether such a trip was appropriate for young children, even with parental permission.
“It’s a really nice event,” said Rosie’s co-owner John Zieba.
Zieba said the children learn a little about the restaurant business and order from a kid-friendly menu. They also learn how to pay the bill and tip the server.
“It’s really such a cool experience to see the kids’ faces light up, and how excited they are when their food comes, or when they get the bill,” said Zieba. “You can just see that they’re just enjoying themselves. They talk about what they’re eating and how to order and how they want their food — if they want something on the side, so it’s a great experience for them.”
On the most recent trip, children got the chance to color pumpkins.
But Zieba said the social media attention has led to a hate-filled reaction, he said, and he has since reached out to Wilton Manors Police.
“Many, many phone calls and emails today that we’ve been fielding from people that are not even from Florida, that have never been here,” said Zieba. “Some things have been referred to the police department, not necessarily direct threats but things that should happen to us.”
Area residents who spoke with 7News said this is a non-issue.
“Rosie’s is a wonderful place. It’s family-friendly, and we’ve gone there several times,” said a woman, “so I don’t think it’s an issue; I think it’s a great thing.”
Another woman said she routinely takes her young daughter to Rosie’s.
“We always take her there. It’s a wonderful place; everyone’s super, super nice,” said.
“And the food is great,” said her daughter.
“There’s no, ‘Oh, you’re gay, you can come in. You’re not gay, you cannot come in,'” said another woman. “No, it’s not anything like that at all.”
Zieba said Rosie’s is more of a restaurant than a bar, and he hopes the school visits will continue.
“It’s bright and fun and just meant to put people in a good mood,” he said. “It’s just a cheery place to be.”
7News reached out to Leonardi. She issued a statement that reads in part, “As a school board member, I am committed to staying engaged with my community. I’m always proud to join classes for field trips and events, especially when our schools are connecting with the vibrant small businesses in my district.”
Regarding the threats that have been made after the article was posted, Leonardi wrote, “Sadly, I’ve recently been attacked with bigoted comments and death threats. My friends and family have also been targeted.”
In the statement, Leonardi went on to say that there is no place for such behavior and that she has had to let the appropriate authorities know.
Thursday night, a spokesperson for Broward County Public Schools issued a statement that reads in part, “The bar and restaurant was not open to the general public while students were present inside. When the business opened, students transitioned to a separate, outside location to order and eat their meals.”
The field trips have been taking place for nearly a decade, but Zieba said, after the hostile reaction the most recent one has elicited, the business may have to reevaluate.
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