Lynchburg, VA (WSET) -- Students at Dunbar Middle School fear that their teacher's job is on the line, after a controversial assembly Friday.
According to one of his former students, Mr. Jason Tyree had taught 7th grade English for a little over 10 years- and he was good at what he did.
"He would tell stories about stuff and make jokes," says 8th grade Dunbar student Delaney Taylor. "It made you enjoy the class even more because he liked teaching and he liked his students."
Delaney had him as a teacher last year, but now she fears Mr. Tyree may no longer be teaching at all.
According to a letter sent home to parents this week, an employee (who students say is Mr. Tyree) "interrupted" a Black History Month program at the school Friday. The letter states that the employee "expressed his offense" to the portion of the program, and "offered students an opportunity to leave the auditorium with him."
Many in the community spoke at the Lynchburg School Board Meeting this week, saying his interruption was an example of racism.
Former Lynchburg Mayor Carl Hutcherson Jr. asked the board to dismiss the teacher.
"To the community at large... we would ask that the Lynchburg city school board summarily dismiss this person who committed this grievance," said Mr. Hutcherson Jr.
But according to students like Delaney Taylor, community members like Mr. Hutcherson have it all wrong.
"It wasn't a racial thing," she says. "It was about separation of church and state. He felt like some students were getting uncomfortable when the program started talking about God and religion, since not everyone believes in that. He was speaking up for them."
When asked if he interrupted the program, she shakes her head no. "He walked on the stage and I think he was going to wait to talk until they were finished but then they stopped singing, so he just went with it."
When Delaney heard that her former teacher was accused of being a racist and might lose his job over it, she says she had enough.
"I Face-Timed my friend to tell her I'm starting a petition about it," says Delaney.
"I didn't even know she was doing it, I certainly didn't ask her to," says her mother Stacy Taylor. "She did this all on her own. She knows the value of a good teacher."
The petition has gained traction... less than two days after creating it, the petition has garnered nearly 500 signatures from current and former students alike (see below).
"It makes me mad to hear people accuse him of being racist when they don't have all the facts," Delaney says. "He was always so accepting of everyone in my classroom, no matter their race."
"I mean, he's a father, he has several kids, he's married," says mom Stacy. "He relies on his livelihood. I know he wouldn't do anything if he thought he was jeopardizing it."
Delaney she will be delivering letters to the school board Monday on behalf of several of her peers in defense of Mr. Tyree.
WSET reached out to Liberty University to speak with LU Praise, the gospel group who performed Friday, and haven't heard back. WSET also tried to reach out to Mr. Tyree but were unsuccessful. Lynchburg City Schools declined to comment, saying that this is a "personnel matter."
The school sent home another letter to parents on Friday.