HEBER CITY — Hundreds of students from Wasatch High School walked out of class Monday and marched to the steps of the Wasatch County Courthouse to protest a child abuse charge filed against the head football coach.
Between 300 to 400 students walked out of the school just after 8 a.m. to protest how a situation between Steve North, a teacher and football coach, and a student has been handled.
North was placed on paid leave from the school following an incident on March 7 inside his classroom. Neither school officials nor prosecutors have made a statement on what transpired. Students who witnessed the incident, however, said North was fed up with a student who was known for back-talking and was being disruptive in class. North allegedly pushed the student against a wall and told him to behave or leave the classroom.
On March 21, North was charged with child abuse, a class A misdemeanor, in 4th District Court in Heber.
Monday, many students carried banners as they walked out of school, some with the words, "Discipline is not abuse," "Drop the charges," "Coach North doesn't deserve this" and "Coach North should not be charged."
"We're just here to support Coach North," said 18-year-old Christian Payan. "We want him to know we care about him."
Payan said he was in the classroom at the time of the alleged incident. He said the student in question "had it coming to him." He said what North did was grab him by his shirt and push him against a wall.
"I didn't think it was that big of a deal when I saw it," he said.
Nate Vought, 18 and a member of the football team, called North one of his best friends.
"He's always a great guy," he said. "It wasn't right (what happened in the classroom). The kid was out of line."
After rallying in front of the high school, the large group of students marched to the nearby courthouse to continue their rally. Several deputies from the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office and officers from the Heber Police Department who had also caught wind of the walkout, were already close by monitoring the situation.
At the courthouse, the chants of "In-no-cent" and "Drop the charges" continued.
Student Capri Maxwell, 18, said she has known North for a long time and has always helped students excel in the classroom.
"He's had our back, now we're showing him we stand up and have his back."
Some adults also joined the students in protest. Teri Welch is a friend of North's and her sons played football for him.
"I'm sure Coach North is absolutely in awe by your support," she said through a megaphone to the roaring crowd. "But I ask of you to (protest) respectfully and with the same dignity that Coach North would expect from all of his students."
Welch said North was a person who didn't "mess around with anything," and when he sees something wrong, "he makes it right. That's the way Coach North handles things."
The Wasatch School District issued a brief statement regarding the walkout.
"Wasatch County School District respects our students' rights to peacefully express how they feel," said superintendent Terry Shoemaker.
The district said students absent from the classroom would be handled in compliance with the established attendance policy.
Wasatch County Attorney Scott Sweat declined comment on the protest.