Broward School Board member under fire for taking kindergartners to gay bar

Scott Travis

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Broward School Board member’s post about an elementary school field trip to a bar and grill popular with Wilton Manor’s LGBTQ community has led to a firestorm on social media, reports of death threats, and now a state investigation.

A group of kindergarten students from Wilton Manors Elementary visited nearby Rosie’s Bar & Grill on Wednesday morning as part of a field trip to learn about restaurants and businesses in their community. The restaurant, a staple in the largely gay city for 19 years, uses campy adult humor in its decor and menu that many parents say is inappropriate for children.

Now the state Department of Education, which has already been feuding with the Broward School District over its mandatory mask policy, is investigating.

“We have an investigator going down there tomorrow to determine if there is a legally sufficient complaint,” said Jared Ochs, a spokesman for the department. “The health, safety, and welfare of Florida’s 2.9 million students is of utmost importance.”

The field trip went viral after School Board member Sarah Leonardi posted photos on Facebook, with commenters suggesting she should be removed from office, arrested or even killed.

“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,” Leonardi told The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

“Sadly, I’ve recently been attacked with bigoted comments and death threats,” she said. “My friends and family have also been targeted. These attacks have no place in our society.”

Rosie’s has also received threats, said John Zieba, co-owner of the restaurant. Leonardi and Zieba said they’ve been reported to Wilton Manors police.

Zieba said the field trip has happened most years in the past decade, with last year being an exception because of COVID-19.

The point of the trip is to teach children about how a restaurant operates, Zieba said, adding that students walked from school as a group and arrived about 11 a.m., before most in the general public were present.

“They get introduced to the chef and the general manager who explains what the servers do,” he said. “Some of these students have never been inside a restaurant before.”

It’s never gotten any attention before, he said.

But this year, Leonardi, who was sworn in in November, posted on Facebook photos of the lunch and of students standing outside the Rosie’s sign. “I was SO honored to be invited to chaperone Wilton Manors Elementary’s field trip to the incredible Rosie’s! The students and I had a fun walk over and learned a lot about our community!”

The post soon went viral with many social media users, including Gov. Ron DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw, questioning why Leonardi was taking students to a “gay bar.”

Some questioned the adult menu, which includes entrees with names like “Rhoda Cowboy” and “Ivanna Hooker.” Children who attended were given a special menu listing entrees only as hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken fingers and grilled cheese sandwiches.

“What if the Broward school board member took little kids to this bar EXPECTING that some parents would protest, so she could call the FBI and go on MSNBC to discuss all the ‘threatening messages’ she’s received from “insurrectionist” parents?” Pushaw tweeted.

Leonardi told the Sun Sentinel she didn’t see anything inappropriate while she was there. However, some users posted photos of the wall decor, including a sign that makes a joke about oral sex.

Some messages suggested that Leonardi be removed from office or even arrested. Some threatened physical harm.

Leonardi, who is active with the Democratic Party, has been criticized by conservative parents in recent months for her stances in favor of transgender athletes and mandatory masks.

The office of Kathy Koch, chief communications officer for Broward schools, acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide one.

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