ALEXANDRIA - Despite a growing petition and public support from some district residents, Juniata Valley High School teacher and football coach Mike Smith remains suspended three weeks after he allegedly pushed a 16-year-old against a wall for passing gas.
Smith, 45, hasn't yet pleaded on April 3 harassment and criminal mischief citations filed after the March 25 incident, according to online court documents. Court filings suggest he has requested a change of venue from the district magistrate's office that first received the citation.
As the courts await a plea and Juniata Valley officials conduct their own investigation, some in the district have publicly backed Smith, suggesting political maneuvering led to his suspension. An online petition in his defense had gathered more than 320 signatures by Monday evening.
Reached by phone Monday, Smith declined to comment on the case.
"He's still on leave," Superintendent David Christopher said. "It's a really difficult situation here. You've got a longtime teacher who's accused of something pretty serious."
According to a state police report, Smith - angered when a 16-year-old boy "farted" in his classroom - pushed the student against a wall, breaking a thermostat. The student reported shoulder pain after the incident, police said.
School administrators put Smith on leave after the incident and have not made a final decision on his employment, Christopher said. The school board hasn't publicly discussed his case, citing personnel exemptions in the state open-meetings law.
The district has carried out an internal investigation and cooperated with state police, Christopher said.
Smith's supporters have been vocal, with dozens attending a Thursday board meeting and others planting pro-Smith signs on their yards, the Huntingdon Daily News reported.
His hundreds of backers on the change.org petition have variously called for due process, suggested the accusation was exaggerated and blamed the student for behaving disrespectfully.
"I had Mike Smith as a football coach. He was tough but fair, just as he is in the classroom," a supporter identified as Dustin Dively of Alexandria said. "He's one teacher you're not going to walk over."
Writing on the petition, Bellwood-Antis softball coach Jim Payne hailed Smith as a man dedicated to his team and unfairly slandered in news reports.
"I support Mike Smith as he climbs the uphill battle against a lame duck school board, an over-empowered superintendent and [local media]," Payne wrote. "I guess the elephant in the room is, 'What would you do if a kid farted in your face?'"
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.