March 22, 2011
Usually, when a child abuse case is brought against a teacher, the community it occurs in rallies around the affected student. In Utah the exact opposite is happening, with 300-400 Wasatch (Utah) High students walking out of class on Monday and marching to Wasatch County Court, where they protested a child abuse charge which was filed against the school's football coach, who is also a physical education teacher.
According to the Deseret News, the students organized the march to the courthouse on their own, spurred on by a child abuse charge many feel is a bridge far too far. While neither Wasatch coach Steve North nor the school district have commented about what precipitated the charge, students who witnessed the event claim that North pushed a student against a wall after the pupil arrived late to class and then continued to talk throughout North's lesson about hockey.
While the charges have now been filed, at least one student who watched the event said that the classmate who was pushed against the wall thought little about the punishment after it occurred.
"He took the kid up against the wall and told him he didn't need him in there," Wasatch coach Clancy Poulson told the News. "He always back talks to coach, so he got sick of it, I guess.
"[The student pushed against the wall] said he was fine with it."
While the student involved may have accepted his punishment, the school district didn't, putting North on paid leave shortly after the March 7 incident. With little indication that suspension would be lifted anytime soon, students took the matter into their own hands, taking a cue from recent protests in Wisconsin and elsewhere to get their message across.
"[North has] had our back, now we're showing him we stand up and have his back," Wasatch student Capri Maxwell told the News.
While there were only a few scattered adults present for the protest, Wasatch officials said they respected the students' decision to organize a protest, stipulating that those who took part would only face traditional school absence policies when they return, avoiding any punitive measures.
Whether the student protest will be more effective than the labor measures in Wisconsin remains to be seen. For the moment, Wasatch County attorney Scott Sweat, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment about the protest. Still, students who support the coach made it clear that they wouldn't stop ensuring that their voices are heard.
"He's always a great guy," Wasatch student Nate Vought, who called his former football coach one of his best friends, told the News. "[The incident in the classroom] wasn't right. The kid was out of line."