On Wednesday November 28th, two boys were fighting at Westwood High School. Dr. Richard, as their punishment, gave the boys a choice - be suspended for 9 days, or sit in the school courtyard at lunch holding hands. They chose the latter. The media got a hold of the story and spun it as Dr. Richard humiliating the boys, and creating an environment unsafe for gay kids - where holding hands was viewed as something wrong. It went viral, and there were soon news stories popping up everywhere. The Mesa Schools administrators came out publicly in strong opposition to the punishment.
Now for the rest of the story. My oldest daughter graduated from Westwood, and her sister is now a sophomore. I've been a Westwood parent for 6 years. Westwood kids are very proud of one thing... "Westwood High School is a place where everybody is somebody!" It is one of the most amazing things I've seen. Religion, race, sexual orientation, gender... none of it matters. These kids are taught respect for one another - unlike any school in our community. Dr. Richard started at Westwood at the beginning of this school year. He has, in his short time here, changed this school. He knows kids by their first name. They respect him. They even like him. He has significantly decreased truancy, in school fighting, and has created a very deep sense of pride in these kids. He's done this by doing what I have worked to teach my kids - to stand up for what they believe in. He is unconventional, yes... and he is the most effective school administrator I have ever seen.
I remember when I was a young parent, watching my cousin discipline her kids at a public basketball game, by making them sit for 30 minutes holding hands. They were embarrassed, and they learned. I've done it, and most parents I know have dome it too.
Suspending these kids would have been the traditional thing, but I guarantee it would not have had the lifelong impact this experience had. It had nothing to do with portraying homosexuality as wrong. It had everything to do with teaching two boys that there is a peaceful way to resolve things and learn a lesson that lasts.
Dr. Richard has been ridiculed for his decision, yet most of the students that I know at Westwood, strongly support his position and stand behind him. They ALL learned a lesson on Wednesday. not just the two boys, but all 2000+ kids at Westwood.
An educator that truly makes a difference in the kids in their care is rare in today's world. Now we have one who is - on a daily basis, and he is being punished for taking a stand and TEACHING his students. Imagine what a better world these kids will be equipped to lead from this one lesson.
I know many will jump on the "he's teaching intolerance" bandwagon, so let me say this. I'm gay. I'm a gay dad, and my kids, their friends, and everyone I have met at Westwood has embraced our family. The kids at Westwood "get it" - more than any other kids in this conservative community. They get that this event had nothing to do with that.
I invite everyone who agrees with his method of "punishment" to send a message to the Mesa School Board. If more educators cared like Dr. Richard cares, our future would be a much brighter place. You should be supporting him for the good he has done, rather than caving to the media pressure. You should be teaching our kids the lesson of a team who has each other's back, rather than throwing him under the bus. I say "Bravo Dr. Richard! Thank you for making a difference in my daughter's life. It matters. You matter."