LAND O'LAKES — Tonya Thompson realized something was bothering her eighth-grade daughter as she drove the girl to swimming practice after school on a recent Friday.
It took some prodding to get her shy, quiet child to offer any details. What Thompson heard shocked her.
Some boys had introduced her daughter to "slap ass Friday" during gym class at Pine View Middle School in central Pasco County. The name is self-explanatory.
"They did not touch my daughter," Thompson said. "Just the fact that they threatened to do so is horrible to me. And it happens to her friends."
The practice has cropped up in schools across the country since 2006, when it first appeared in the Urban Dictionary. School officials in Corpus Christi, Texas, were disciplining students for the same thing last month after parents there demanded action.
In 2011, a Houston middle school had to counsel and discipline students participating in "slap-butt Fridays," while a Greenville, Mich., middle school suspended some students for their actions in what they called "National Slap People's Butt Day" in 2007.
Thompson, who said she's as outspoken as her daughter is retiring, called Pine View Middle that afternoon to complain about what she considered sexual harassment. After a cooling-off weekend, she sent an email on Nov. 18 to Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning, urging him to stop the problem in its tracks.
"Sexual assault is a big deal and I do not see why this is not being dealt with swiftly and harshly," she wrote. "This should not be an ongoing problem. There should be harsh consequences taken immediately. It is not all fun and games, nor a joke. Girls this age have enough problems dealing with their changing selves and young boys as it is."
Browning turned to Pine View principal Jennifer Crosby, telling her to deal with the issue "if this is in fact occurring." Crosby acknowledged its presence on her campus and told the superintendent she was dealing with reports as they came to her. "It is not a situation that we take lightly and will continue to address until the negative behavior is extinct," she wrote.
The morning after Thompson's email, Crosby addressed students during school announcements, telling them to behave appropriately.
A check of other school districts in the Tampa Bay area found no other reported incidents of "slap ass Friday."
Schools need to be a safe environment where children can learn, explained Molly Blair, a Pasco school district psychologist who oversees prevention programs. Students learn from the earliest grades that they should keep their hands to themselves, she noted.
"At every developmental level, it's important to remind students about personal space and boundaries," Blair said. "You don't have to accept unwanted touching from others."
The message is critical in the middle school years, she said, when students are undergoing many social and physical changes and challenges.
Thompson, whose daughter got in trouble for hugging in school as a sixth-grader, said she was pleased that school officials had taken steps to punish any wrongdoers.
"It's not funny," she said.
The incidents have been isolated, Crosby said in an interview. Still, she added, the talk needed to happen so students would understand the gravity of unwanted touching.
At the same time, Crosby added, the message had to come with the proper approach. She said many students might never have heard of the activity, and the last thing the school wants is to highlight it.
"You have to be really careful," she said, noting the name alone could set students off. "They're middle-schoolers."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]