VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A petition is circulating to save the job of a Virginia Beach middle school teacher after he was seen in a “disturbing’ viral video filmed in a classroom.
The petition on Change.org titled “Save Mr. Whitley” had nearly 2,500 signatures as of Monday night. Many of them are from current students, former students and fellow staff members.
“There is one other right we have. We still have the freedom of petition. He taught us that. He has taught us so much just for this to happen to him,” said one student.
Stickers dawning the message “#IStandWithMrWhitely” began to circulate just days after that petition was posted.
Students told WAVY News 10 Whitley is the 8th grade civics teacher involved in an incident captured on video Thursday at Kempsville Middle School.
10 On Your Side has obtained a video of what appears to be the incident.
It shows Whitley reaching toward a student’s head in an apparent attempt to retrieve air pod headphones while yelling at the child.
In response to the video, Virginia Beach City Public Schools released a statement saying they “removed” the teacher, pending an investigation.
“We will not tolerate behaviors that do not align with our division’s core values, and we regret that these children had to experience and witness this conduct from an educator,” said Sondra Woodward, a VBCPS spokeswoman.
Not long after, the petition signed by both students and teachers became a place where frustrations were voiced.
One coworker, who preferred to stay anonymous, wrote this in a statement to 10 On Your Side…
“I can tell you from first-hand knowledge, that for him to get that upset, it took ALOT! Regardless of where the student came from or what he did, I am positive that multiple chances were given and ignored….more than you see on the video.”
The message of “multiple chances” being given became a common message among those speaking out against Mr. Whitley’s removal.
Morgan Hurst and Jonathan Kidd, who were in Whitely’s classroom when the incident occurred, said the incident was very “strange,” but not completely unexpected.
The two said the student involved had a history of ignoring Whitley’s no-headphone rule. They say before a student began filming, Whitley had asked the student to remove the headphones.
“He was talking back,” Kidd said. “I don’t think he took his AirPods out he just left them in… he was being disrespectful.”
Hurst said typically Whitley is very lenient and gives warnings, but said in this case, “Mr. Whitley just snapped and then started yelling.”
At one point, Whitley yells, “You want to play games with me? I will run you into the ground.”
Kidd and Hurst said they can see how that can be taken the wrong way, but have heard other teachers make similar comments as a joke.
The pair said they haven’t seen Whitley since he left with the student for the administration office.
“He’s the perfect teacher you would ever need to get good grades … help with other classes. Sorry, I’m just, like, really annoyed,” Hurst said.
The students said Whitley would often listen to their personal problems and supports the open discussion of different ideas in his classes.
They say, in their view, Whitley was sticking up for students that are tired of disruptions in the classroom. Their hope is that school district sees this as a learning experience.
“I don’t think that’s fair, he’s usually always nice — and it’s just one mistake,” Kidd said. “I think both sides should be able to apologize and recognize the situation.”
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