Parents and students at Mesa’s Westwood High School are standing behind their principal after the district criticized him for not following discipline policy when he punished two students for fighting by having them hold hands.
In a show of support Monday morning, a couple hundred students held hands around campus during an in-school release period.
The outcry was sparked after Mesa Unified School District said principal Tim Richard did not follow district policy when he gave two students caught fighting the option to hold hands for an hour or face suspension. A photo of the two students holding hands was put on Facebook where it received both criticism and support.
Students, worried Richard may face his own discipline, decided to rally Monday by holding hands during the school’s “celebration” period.
Some wore shirts that read, “keep calm and hold hands,” a play on a British motto that became popular during this summer’s London Olympics.
April Mahaffey, who has a daughter at the school, joined the students on campus after signing in at the office Monday morning.
“My daughter was really afraid she would lose her principal. I wanted to show support,” Mahaffey said afterward.
District spokeswoman Helen Hollands told the Tribune after the event, “Dr. Richard is the principal and will remain the principal.”
Hollands said Richard’s discipline of the two students, “was outside our guidelines,” but that the discipline is complete. She said she believes both students remain at the school.
Richard was not available for comment Monday.
Richard started as principal in August and created the 28-minute morning release period, dubbed “celebration,” as a way to reward students doing well in class, while providing an in-school time to give struggling students a chance to meet with teachers. He also has made other changes at the school that have been well received by students, as well as parents. During a district board meeting last week before the incident was made public, he was praised by district officials.
Westwood mom Becki Tingey, who lives near the school, said since Richard’s arrival he has been seen at dozens of athletic events. He also set up a weekly open meeting to chat with parents about anything going on at the school.
When her son, Mckay, 16, a quarterback for the football team, underwent surgery following an injury, Richard was one of the first to come by and check on him.
“Every message, every note, he says, ‘Westwood is on the rise,’” Becki Tingey said. “He really wants to bring back traditions that have been lost.”
Becki’s husband, Dennis, was a Westwood graduate and is now a leader for the school’s booster club.
“Westwood gives so many areas for kids to shine and star,” Becki said.
Mckay Tingey said that it seems the school has come together even more since Richard started at Westwood.
“I think he’s a lot more active in the school and he shows up at a lot of activities,” he said. “I think it makes a difference when the kids see the school leadership support what they’re doing.”
Fellow student Tyler Sharp, 17, agreed with Mckay.
“You see the principal a lot more. He participates in stuff. He brought the celebration period to reward good grades and help those who need it,” he said.
Later Monday, the Mesa district issued two prepared statements.
The "district administration statement" said: "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."
The "Dr. Timothy Richard statement" said: "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."
Hollands' email to the media ended with: "Please note: District administrators and Dr. Richard are unavailable for interviews."
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