An owner of a local news outlet is accusing Fairview High School (FHS) principal Chris Gambrill of threatening to ban the organization from school athletic competitions and other public events after it refused to remove comments from one of its Facebook posts.

The post by Cullman Daily refers to FHS head basketball coach Justin Balik, who the school initially placed on administrative leave during an investigation. Balik officially resigned later on April 19.

Cullman Daily is a conservative Christian news organization based in Cullman. It maintains a website but mainly updates its audience on Facebook.

According to Cullman Daily owner Samuel Roberts, Balik was involved in “an incident that happened with a female student,” which triggered the initial investigation.

The comment section of the Cullman Daily post quickly filled up with speculative claims about Balik, the school and even Gambrill.

Roberts said Gambrill and Cullman County Schools superintendent Shane Barnette cooperated with the Cullman Daily before he made the initial post. 

However, Gambrill took issue with some of the comments made by Cullman Daily followers and asked Roberts to remove them. But Roberts refused.

“There were times when we removed some things people said, and it always came around to bite us,” Roberts explained. “... We just don’t do that.”

Roberts said that when he told Gambrill he would not remove the comments from the Facebook post, Gambrill told him the Cullman Daily would be banned from attending school events, including athletic events.

“It’s not lawful to ban a media organization from publicly-owned property,” Roberts added. “That would be the equivalent of the governor banning a media outlet from reporting her press at the capital just because she doesn’t like what they report.” 

When asked about the ban, Barnette told 1819 News it is nothing official and that since Gambrill is attending a conference this week, he has not had a chance to speak to him. He also said a school in his district has never banned media before, to his knowledge.

“If it’s a public event, I don’t see us not allowing a media outlet to [attend],” Barnette explained.

Barnette said that nothing came of the investigation into Balik, and no charges were brought against him. He suggested that many of the Facebook comments were “inaccurate” and “derogatory about other teachers” and administrators.

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