12/03/2012 05:01 pm ET

Westwood High School Students Organize Hand-Holding Rally To Support Principal

Hundreds of Westwood High School students in Mesa, Ariz., rallied Monday to support their principal, who has been facing scrutiny after handing down an unusual punishment.

When two students got in a fist fight during class last week, Principal Tim Richards decided to cut them a deal: The boys could avoid suspension if they agreed to sit together and hold hands in the school courtyard. The students agreed, holding hands for an hour as classmates watched and taunted them.

When an image of the punishment went viral online, Richards faced an influx of criticism. The accusations against the principal ranged from encouraging bullying to promoting a negative message about gay students. District officials have publicly denounced the move.

But the school's students gathered Monday, holding hands to show support for Richards. Westwood senior Elizabeth Engle organized the event. She told CBS 5 that the event was to "show that we have confidence in Dr. Richards' desire and passion to help guide Westwood High School through the coming years."

The rally lasted about 15 minutes, according to ABC 15, and some students made shirts that read, "Keep calm and hold hands."

While one of the students punished for the fight says he is still too humiliated to return to school, other students say the method was effective in preventing future physical violence and allows the offending students to avoid a suspension on their permanent records.

"Our principal has been ridiculed for his decision, yet most of the student body at Westwood, strongly support his position and stand behind him," student Francisco Reyes IV wrote in an email to KTVK. "They ALL learned a lesson on Wednesday. not just the two boys, but all 2000+ kids at Westwood. ... Imagine what a better world these kids will be equipped to lead from this one lesson."



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