Shortly after 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Walton County Sheriff's Office made this post on Facebook:
"If you experience delays at Butler Elementary, the school resource deputy is currently negotiating with a small bear to leave the premises. Thank you for your patience while we make sure your students are safe for release."
A visit to the school by The Sun found a long line of cars and sheriff's deputies on site directing traffic. Meanwhile, school maintenance personnel were blocking entrance to the back of the school.
The maintenance personnel said the large black bear was roaming back and forth behind the school and not inside a fenced area. Florida Fish and Wildlife personnel responded and found the bear near school buses parked in back of the school. He eventually ambled away.
A representative at the school said students were kept inside the school while the bear was in sight, and parents were advised to stay in their car as a safety precaution.
"We are safely loading busses one by one," Kim Sincoskie, data control specialist, told The Sun at the time. "The Sheriff's Office and wildlife control are keeping an eye on the bear and we will get students out to the cars shortly."
School children began being released to the long line of waiting cars about 2:45 p.m. By that time traffic was backed up all the way to Highway 98.
After students were released, Assistant Principal Meredith Spence told The Sun that when the PE teacher took his last class outside about 1:40 p.m., the bear was spotted at the Dumpster where the day's lunches are trashed. When the bear saw people, it went back into the woods.
She said this is the first time she knows of a bear on school grounds, but school personnel have been on the lookout.
She said that the children were brought inside when the bear was spotted and all classes were alerted to close their blinds so that class would not be disrupted. The Sheriff's Office was then called, as well as FWC.
Plans were then put in motion to reroute dismissals so that all would exit from the front of the building where they would be safe.
Spence said dismissal usually takes place at 2:20 p.m. and she was pleased with how smoothly everything went. The pre-K classes, which normally dismiss at 2 p.m., were held in the cafeteria.
After evaluating the situation, on Thursday, FWC Spokesman Stan Kirkland told The Sun that someone had called FWC weeks ago warning that a bear and her cubs had been spotted on Don Bishop Road near the school and the caller was concerned about the bear going to the school. Kirkland said FWC called the school then and spoke to the plant manager, warning him of the possibility.
"The bear, just as predicted, went straight for the Dumpster at Butler, where all the school lunches are dumped," he said.
And, just as predictable, when all the hubbub of people cleared out from the property on Tuesday, the bear came back to the Dumpster that night.
"We sent staff out to the school yesterday (Wednesday) to talk with them about the situation and they have agreed to secure the Dumpster with hard lids and locking bars to deter the bear," said Kirkland. "Our biologists looked at the situation and the decision was made to not relocate the bear, but to get the school to correct the situation that is causing the issue."
Kirkland noted that this bear may be smarter than the average bear.
After officials installed locks on the top of the Dumpster Wednesday, the bear returned and still managed to open the sliding door.
Kirkland said that in autumn a bear's caloric intake goes “through the roof.”
"They will double or triple their food intake to get ready for winter, and they are moving around looking for sources," he said. "You just have to take precautions and be prepared."
Butler Elementary, located on County Road 30A, has an enrollment of 960 students.