Principal behind hand-holding punishment will keep his job

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

MESA, Ariz. -- Students at Westwood High School in Mesa rallied in support of their principal on Monday.

Another student posted a song she wrote on YouTube. She started off by saying, "Hey, guys. I'm Rilee. I'm a warrior at Westwood High School."

The warrior, Rilee Webb, went to battle in support of Dr. Tim Richard. Her weapons of choice were her ukulele and her voice.

Part of her song said, "Take my hand."

Last week, Richard gave two students a choice of suspension or holding hands for an hour for fighting. Someone snapped a photo of the boys holding hands with their heads bowed. The photo went viral and the district got involved.

"The district did not support or condone the choice he (Richard) made," said Helen Hollands with Mesa Public Schools.

Some argued the punishment unfairly targeted gay students, as if two boys holding hands were bad.

Rilee's father, Roger Webb, who is openly gay, got involved and posted an online petition, supporting the principal.

"What the truth was, was that he did this with pure intentions to teach these kids an amazing lesson," Webb said.

On Monday morning a chain of students held hands around the school.

Some students wore orange shirts with the message, "Keep calm and hold hands," written on them.

The district took notice and the principal will keep his job.

"He's the kind of man that movies are made out of, in my opinion," Webb said. "Take a stand and do something different. We all saw ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus’ years ago. Here's a teacher that stepped out of the box and did something a little controversial but made a difference in thousands of children's lives."

Webb also said he's not taking his petition down until the district supports the principal's choice of punishment.

Hollands said she had no comment about that.

3TV tried reaching out to both students in the picture and the principal, as of air time we hadn't heard back from any of them.

Late Monday we were sent these two statement.

District Administration statement:
Westwood High School is an outstanding institution, motivated by student success. Dr. Timothy Richard has initiated many exciting changes in his first year as principal. The district recognizes the recent events at the school have brought out passionate reactions across a broad spectrum of beliefs. We look forward to refocusing the attention of the Westwood community on the critical mission of student learning and achievement under Dr. Richard's leadership.

Dr. Timothy Richard statement:
I believe in every one of our students and their ability to choose unity, peace and friendship in the pursuit of academic excellence. I am proud of the positive changes the students and staff of Westwood High School have made this year. My hope is that the recent events do not take our eye off the prize -- academic success for every Westwood Warrior.