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High school students in Murrieta, Calif., have rallied in support of a teacher who was allegedly fired for being gay.
Michael Henderson lead the cheer and stunt program at Murrieta Valley High School for three years, but is now suing the school for wrongful termination after he was dismissed on June 16.
Speaking to Patch.com, Henderson, 31, said that in June he received a “glowing” review of his efforts with the cheer program from Murrieta’s principal, Ryan Tukua, and the school’s athletic director, Darin Mott.
But on June 10 Henderson was told by Mott that an investigation had been launched against him following an anonymous letter of complaint.
On June 16, he was fired, with district officials telling Henderson that the program he had been lauded for leading — including a fourth-place finish in the 2021 High School Cheerleading Championship — was “taking a different direction.”
“I never saw the letter,” Henderson told Patch. “I wasn’t even given a chance to respond. I was never interviewed about any of it.”
Students responded to Henderson’s dismissal by rallying in support of their teacher, with around two dozen students gathering outside school on July 16 waving signs that read “Bring Back Coach Mike,” “Save Coach Mike,” and “We Love Coach Mike.”
Henderson’s attorney, Terry Davis, claimed that the dismissal was based on his sexuality, not on his job performance, calling the investigation into the letter “improper.”
Davis said it was “spearheaded by devout Mormon MVUSD Board Member Paul Diffley, who made calls to several unnamed sources impeding due process of the investigation.”
The investigation reportedly involved asking a question about Henderson’s sexuality, which Davis claimed led “many to believe that it was a substantial factor in the district’s decision to terminate Mr. Henderson’s employment.”
The letter that led to Henderson’s dismissal was allegedly sent by “a couple of disgruntled cheer parents who were angry with their child’s position or participation level in the team,” Davis said.
The letter accused Henderson of verbal and mental abuse, according to one cheer parent, Kim Altenhofel, who was contacted as part of the investigation.
However, she told Patch that Henderson had never shown signs of abuse and that the children who participated in cheer “loved him” and were “heartbroken” at his dismissal.
“He always wants the best for you,” cheer student Kendell Winters said. “I hope we’re able to get him back.”
Her father, Rick Winters, said that Henderson had “high expectations, but I want that for my kids. That is real life.”
Winters added that Henderson placed emphasis on the students’ academic abilities, requiring good grades in order to participate in the cheer squad.
Patch said it had reached out to multiple cheer students and their parents, but could not find anyone who had witnessed abusive behavior like the type alleged in the anonymous letter.
In addition to the July 16 rally, parents and students packed a June 17 meeting of the Murrieta Valley Unified School District’s Board of Trustees to speak in support of Henderson.
The district has refused to comment on Henderson’s firing, citing state and federal privacy laws.
Henderson continues to coach students off-campus at Prime Cheer & Stunt in Corona, Calif.
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