About 35 students rallied outside George W. Hewlett High School Tuesday in support of a teacher who they say was suspended after loudly arguing with a student during a gym class, an incident that was captured on video and posted online.
Students at the rally identified the teacher as Chris Passuello and said he was suspended shortly after the incident on May 10.
“The Hewlett-Woodmere School District is aware of the video currently circulating on the Internet and social media regarding an interaction between a teacher and a student,” Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr. said in a statement. “Appropriate and responsible action to address this matter is underway. We are precluded from providing further information at this time due to the applicable privacy interests of the respective parties.” District officials declined to answer questions regarding the incident.
Junior Brianna Azimov, 17, started an online petition Friday to reinstate “Coach Paz.” It has more than 5,200 signatures, according to change.org, where the petition is posted.
“Not only is he a great teacher, but he did the job that he was supposed to do and he was punished in a way that I don’t think was justified,” Azimov said at the rally.
She was joined by other supporters, who chanted and waved signs that read: “Support the teacher, suspend the student.”
But not everyone present stood in favor of the gym teacher.
“I don’t think it’s right. . . . He was wrong to do that,” said one student, who did not want to be named.
Passuello declined to comment in an email.
The three-minute video shows the gym teacher and a student shouting at each other.
“After five times of asking you to listen, you don’t listen,” the teacher is heard shouting at the student. “You are a phony tough guy. Phony. Phony. Phony.”
The student, holding the cellphone the teacher had asked him to put down, yelled back: “You can get loud, but you don’t need to touch your face to my face.”
Several times, the two had their faces inches apart. When the student used a racial slur, the teacher repeated the word several times incredulously and ordered him out of the room. The student refused.
The video was published May 12 by Barstool Sports, a popular sports and men’s lifestyle blog. One of the blog’s employees said the video was sent to them by a student.
Azimov said many students have rallied to Passuello’s side and she may schedule another rally if the teacher is not reinstated.
The junior called Passuello “a mentor” and said he spent his free time helping her on an assignment that she had trouble understanding, while her twin brother, Zachary, said the coach stayed by his side when he injured his knee running during a gym class.
“When I heard about this, it made me so upset,” said Hewlett alumnus Mike Hammer, 22, who returned to the school Tuesday for the demonstration. “He was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. He taught me important life lessons, which I still use to this day.”