LYNCHBURG (WSLS 10)- A teacher's interruption during a black history month presentation at Dunbar Middle School is causing controversy in Lynchburg.
Students say the teacher's actions were meant to protect students from religious interference in schools, but city leaders are calling it an act of racism.
According to a letter sent home to parents, the incident happened during a Brotherhood Assembly at Dunbar Middle School on Friday, February 26.
The Assembly was part of the school's celebration of Black History month and featured Keith Lee's (of Keith Lee Dances) dancers, Colonel Graham, a Dunbar employee who spoke about his life experiences, and a performance of gospel songs by the LU Praise Group from Liberty University, an institution well known for it's Christian affiliation.
According to that letter, during the assembly, an employee interrupted the program by going to the microphone on stage during the singing performance to express his offense with that portion of the program. Students at Dunbar Middle who were at the performance say the employee is Jason Tyree, a 7th grade English teacher.
CLICK HERE TO SEE A TEACHER SPOTLIGHT VIDEO FEATURING TYREE FOR HIS WORK AT LCS.
The letter, and students account of the incident that were posted in an online petition say that while Tyree was at the microphone, he made an announcement giving students an opportunity to leave the auditorium with him if they were offended.
Superintendent Scott Brabrand and Dunbar Middle School Principal Kacey Crabbe of both signed the letter, stating they have received numerous comments and concerns about the incident.
"We are working with our students and faculty to address issues of mutual respect and understanding along with the appropriate ways of expressing disagreement," the letter stated.
Students say the performance had a religious message.
"There was a choir group who did skits about black history, but what they did not let any of the students or parents know is that they would be singing about God," an online student statement said. "Mr. Tyree is a good teacher for doing something about it and going on stage."
Lynchburg City Schools spokesperson Cindy Baab says they cannot comment on the situation due to it being a "personnel issue." Students, however, fear Tyree may lose his job.
In response, students have created an online petition to save Tyree's job.
"Now the school board is having a meeting about this see whether or not he will lose his job," the petition claims.
As of Friday, March 4, it has received more than 600 signatures and numerous comments in support of the teacher that students say is a good man and was only working to protect them.
Friday LCS sent a follow up email to parents at the school. Below is the statement:
"Dear Dunbar Families,
Lynchburg City Schools has received a great deal of attention in the traditional media and social media following a recent event at Dunbar. Privacy laws prohibit school officials from commenting on specific personnel matters. However, in light of the concerns expressed we do feel some comment is appropriate.
The Core Values of LCS are Integrity, Respect, Teamwork and Learning. It was in furtherance of the Respect and Learning goals that the middle school hosted a Black History Month event to celebrate the diversity of our culture and community, to show respect for those who have fought for civil rights and to learn more about their struggles.
While some members of our community have suggested the content of the program was religious in nature, that is incorrect. LCS remains neutral on matters of religion in keeping with its constitutional obligations. The inclusion of some gospel music as a minor component of the program was to reflect the importance of that musical genre to the African American community as it struggled for equal rights, and such use had a secular and educational purpose in the context of a larger program that was not intended to advance any religious agenda.
There have been allegations made in public forums that a staff member of the middle school disrupted that program because he objected to the inclusion of the gospel music. Those allegations are under investigation, and appropriate measures will be taken if warranted in accordance with school board policy. This situation affords all of us an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of mutual respect and dignity as we relate to one another as American citizens, and the importance of expressing our disagreements in a civil, respectful and non-disruptive manner. We ask our school community to reflect on these values, and to be patient with one another and the administration as we endeavor to lead our community through a sensitive and important matter.