Parents Optimistic as School District to End Lease of Park Following ‘Jesus Lunch’ Controversy

Lunch-compressedMIDDLETON, Wisc. — Organizers of what has been dubbed the weekly “Jesus Lunch” at a park adjacent to a Wisconsin high school are optimistic after the school district announced that it decided to end its lease of the land to settle controversy over the matter.

As previously reported, the “Jesus Lunch” began in 2014 as the parents of several students at Middleton High School decided to provide a free lunch in Fireman’s Park, which is adjacent to the school grounds. Students discuss a Bible topic during the lunch and attendance is voluntary.

According to reports, the weekly event began with 40 students attending and now has grown to 400 two years later.

But last month, Principal Steve Plank and District Administrator Don Johnson sent a letter to parents stating that the lunch violates district policies, as it is led by adults who also do not check into the school as guests. They told reporters that the rules are applicable because the city leased the park to the district years ago.

“The parents contend that it is their First Amendment right to provide free food and hold a religiously oriented event on this property during school hours,” the letter stated. “The district believes that we have jurisdiction of this leased property, which is part of our campus.”

But the parents asserted that the park is public property and is consequently not subject to district requirements.

“Although the school district contends that it is school grounds because they have a lease, the public still has a right to use the park during school hours,” lunch organizers said in a statement. “By law, the lease agreement between the city and the School District of Middleton does not privatize the park.”

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Following continued controversy over the matter, Johnson recommended that the district cancel the lease with the city to bring resolution to the issue. He cited the city’s desire to stay out of court as a main reason for the move.

“City attorney Matt Fleming has indicated that the city believes the District’s authority to enforce school rules in Fireman’s Park is questionable, and that the city has no interest in litigation to resolve the ambiguities in the language,” he wrote in an email. “Further, discussions have indicated that even enhanced language that clarifies the issues in question may still result in legal expenses that are not in the best interests of any of the parties involved.”

On Tuesday, the Middleton City Council voted to rescind the lease.

“Jesus Lunch” organizers state that they are optimistic about the development, noting that their desire in the first place was to offer the lunch on public property so that it would be separate from the school.

“On behalf of the Jesus Lunch moms, we hope that today’s email from Superintendent Don Johnson will resolve the use of Fireman’s Park by the Jesus Lunch,” they said in a statement. “Our goal this entire process has been to offer a positive and safe environment for any student to hear a biblical truth. We are thankful for the support we have been receiving and appreciate the willingness of local decision makers to work with us towards an effective solution.”

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  • Peter Leh

    the school had the lease? did we know that? I remember it was presented as non school event. if the school has a lease it is a school event.

    • Michael C

      The school leased the park from the city during school hours. The lease stipulated that the school was permitted to enforce school policies in the park during the hours of the school day.

      The contract was bad.

      The lease gave the school authority to enforce school rules in a park that was open to the public. That doesn’t work. People in a public park don’t have to follow school rules. They can only bound by local laws.

      • Peter Leh

        thank you

      • BarkingDawg

        The upshot of this is that now the kids will no longer be able to go to the park during the day.

        • Michael C

          If I understand the situation correctly, the school has an “open campus” policy during lunch hour. The students are free to go wherever they please, whether that be the public park next to the school or the Taco Bell on the other side of highway 12.

  • gizmo23

    Sounds like a solved problem. Now the parents can have liability for the students

    • Pererin

      Wouldn’t that be great, parents responsible for their own children and not the government. Sounds like a plan.

      • BarkingDawg

        The problem is that the schools are legally liable for the student’s during the school day.

        • Pererin

          That is a problem. One that needs to be remedied.

  • Rachelthemillenial

    In spite of all the crimes committed in the name of Christianity, it can’t hold a candle to atheism when it comes to bigotry and contempt for freedom and human life.

    • Michael C

      What does atheism have to do with this story?

    • gizmo23

      When it comes to religious dogma there is plenty of blood the go around

    • Joe

      May I mention that the horrendous “crimes committed in the name of Christianity” were mostly perpetrated by the Roman Catholic church. A church which neither believes exclusively in the finished cross work of Jesus Christ for salvation and in my mind should not be considered a Christian church. A two fold agenda is perpetrated by them, first masquerade as Christians and steal the souls of billions, and smear the name of Jesus Christ so badly that an unbeliever tends to distrust even a TRUE Christian message and church.

      • gogo0

        yes, we are all aware of the no true scottsman fallacy. i fact, only a few news posts ago there was a disagreement between two “christians” in how biblical scripture was interpreted. lots of fake christians hanging around here, hard to tell one from another when they all cite the same book as their proof of being authentic

        • Slidellman4life

          Only the “no true Scotsman” fallacy does not apply to Christianity, as it has no open definition. There are only people who wish to define Christianity for everyone else, and they will be wrong every. Single. Time.

          • TheKingOfRhye

            “Only the “no true Scotsman” fallacy does not apply to Christianity”

            Yes, it does, it could apply to anything, Christianity included.

            “There are only people who wish to define Christianity for everyone else, and they will be wrong every. Single. Time.”

            Like those people who say they are “true Christians” and every other denomination, or maybe one certain one in particular (like, let’s say, Roman Catholicism, like Joe was talking about) are not?

            Here’s my definition of Christian, (though no one particularly asked for it! lol): someone who calls themself a Christian. I’m not a mind reader and don’t pretend to be any kind of authority on Christianity, I honestly don’t really care, anyway.

  • Craig Martin

    If it is a public park… why should anyone have to lease it to start with?
    It is a _public_ park.

    • Rachelthemillenial

      Funny that you mentioned that: there’s a county park near my home where a couple of Muslim guys go through their prayer ritual on a regular basis, and instead of finding a quite and private corner of the park, they do it right by the main road into the park – which is just fine by me, I have no problem with that at all, it’s just that the usual religion-bashing types are NEVER going to make a fuss over Muslims in public spaces, they will always target Christians.

    • Gal5:22-23

      The lease was probably so the school could have jurisdictional control over students spending their lunch hours there, e.g. a student couldn’t break a rule there and be undisciplinable by the school, smoking being a likely reason. The alternative would be closing the campus even over lunch.

      The school probably thought this massive religious gathering on property they leased might be a legal problem, particularly if just releasing the lease will solve it in their eyes.

      of course kids will be able to smoke there after that though the city could make it a ‘smoke free’ zone for everyone.

      There will be changes by dropping the lease but it is the closest to a ‘win-win’ anyone could expect.

      • BarkingDawg

        As I pointed out above, now that the park is no longer school property, the kids won’t be able to just walk over there during lunch hour. The parents will have to personally show up at the school and take the kids out, and bring them back.

        • Gal5:22-23

          no the school doesn’t have a closed campus from previous articles.

          • BarkingDawg

            The problem is, the students are the school’s responsibility during the school day. If these kids were to go off to the park on their own, and something were to happen to one of them, the school would be liable.

          • Gal5:22-23

            No, if its an open campus the school isn’t responsible for them when they are off campus. I understand what you are trying to say but that’s not how it works. They just didn’t want kids doing things across the street that they couldn’t do on campus. When I was in high school the kids would walk across the street and smoke at the little store there – the school couldn’t do anything about it. Since this has been a lease for years, my guess is that they leased it to prevent that kind of thing.

          • BarkingDawg

            You are missing my point. The school just can’t allow the kids to leave.

          • Gal5:22-23

            And my point is of course they can – open campus means just that. In my home town kids of that age go off campus during school hours all the time, especially at lunch.

            Yes some campuses are not open, but some are. One of the articles specifically said that this was an open campus school.

            I understand your personal experience might be with closed campus places – they do exist – but not all of them are like that.

  • Craig Martin

    It is interesting that the school leased a public park and then limited how the public can use it.
    That would seem to be, I dunno, illegal?

    • Josey

      And am sure the lease was in part paid for by grants or even all of it paid for because the more students that attend a school brings in more money for that school

      • Michael C

        If I’m remembering correctly, they leased it for, like, a dollar.

  • acontraryview

    I hope a “Jesus lunch” isn’t the same as a “hot dog cookout”.

  • BarkingDawg

    I wonder if the district has a “Closed Campus” policy.

    If not, I wonder if the district’s insurance carrier knows this.