It was standing room only at the Murrieta Valley Unified School District board meeting Thursday evening.
Parents and students, some decked out in “Team Tahti” T-Shirts and some holding signs--who showed up to show and speak their support of teacher Tim Tahti--poured out of the board room and into the hallway.
Some headed up to the podium in twos and threes, others alone, but all stood at the podium in front of the board and packed room to espouse similar words: Mr. Tahti is an integral part of the Murrieta middle school.
“He is Shivela,” said Alex Nelson, a 13-year-old Shivela Middle School student. “He’s the heart and soul of Shivela.”
The controversy began on Friday, when students first learned that longtime physical education teacher Tahti was leaving the school, apparently not voluntarily. On Monday, Tahti delivered the school announcements over the loud speaker as usual, but by later in the week he was no longer teaching at the school he'd been at for at least 20 years.
After hearing about his impending, alleged transfer, parents and students immediately rallied around the educator.
On Monday morning, locals dropping off their children, were greeted by students and parents holding signs sporting slogans such as “Keep Mr. Tahti,” and “Honk for Mr. T.”
Students said Tahti, who also heads the school’s running club and the Associated Student Body, was allegedly being transferred to another middle school within the district. District officials said they are barred by state law from releasing any information relating to personnel issues.
Theresa Ohler said although she’s not sure what happened because of the confidentiality issue, she assumes it’s some sort of administrative conflict since they wouldn’t transfer him to a different school if he was guilty of something egregious that merited termination.
And that’s not a good lesson for children, she said.
“If the adults can’t work it out how can we tell the kids to?” she said.
Ohler, whose son attends Shivela, fought back tears as she explained to the board how big of a difference Tahti had made in her family’s lives.
“It’s so sad,” said the mother of four. “I respect our board…and I understand the confidentiality I just ask…please make your final decision based on what’s best for the kids.”
Miles Labrador, 10, headed up to the podium, unfolded a piece of paper containing his speech and conveyed his grievances to the trustees.
“I am very sad that Mr. Tahti is leaving because I really liked Mr. Tahti,” said the Shivela sixth-grader. “Mr. Tahti has always been nice to me and my family and doesn’t deserve to go to a different school.”
Miles ended his speech with a polite “thank you and have a good evening.”
For Victoria Cosio, 12, Mr. Tahti’s absence means an ASB class with no purpose. Victoria, whose eyes were red from crying, said they had a substitute in the class this week and they just sat around and chatted.
Tahti also made a difference in Bell Gallo’s life, but in another way. The 12-year-old said she hated P.E. before Tahti became her teacher.
“He inspired me to run and to do better and to actually try,” Bell said. “He’s like a dad to the whole school because he motivates you like a dad does.”
Trustees Kenneth Dickson and Margi Wray both said they “appreciated” all the support from the parents and students. But emphasized that they were not allowed to speak on the matter.