A TikTok video by a Blacksburg High School teacher went viral Tuesday and generated debate and a school system statement prompted by his description of Virginia public schools’ chief model for student discipline as “white supremacy with a hug.”
The teacher has been identified on social media as Blacksburg High School English teacher Josh Thompson. Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman Brenda Drake confirmed that Thompson is employed at Blacksburg High.
Thompson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Thompson said in his short video that he described the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — or PBIS — as “white supremacy with a hug” in a comment he made on another video and was asked by many to elaborate. He did say in the video that the phrase was first coined by anti-racist activist Dena Simmons.
“So if PBIS concerns itself with positive behaviors, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Ok, well what are those positive behaviors?’” Thompson said. “And it’s things like making sure that you’re following directions, making sure that you’re sitting quietly and you are in your seat and all these things that come from white culture.”
Thompson continued: “The idea of just sitting quiet and being told stuff and taking things in a passive stance is not a thing that’s in with many cultures. So if we’re positively enforcing these behaviors, we are by extension positively enforcing elements of white culture, which therefore keeps whiteness at the center, which is the definition of white supremacy.”
Some news reports on the matter, including on the conservative Newsmax site, state the video’s upload to TikTok dates back to May, but that it now appears to have been pulled from that platform.
Thompson’s TikTok is set to private and a request from a Roanoke Times reporter to follow him had not been accepted as of Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, Blacksburg High School’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have been deactivated, which the school system described as temporary in a Wednesday statement.
“BHS was inundated with hundreds of posts, replies, phone calls and emails from people not associated with the school,” the school system statement reads. “These contacts are not directly related to education within the school. For the safety, mental health and protection of the BHS staff, we had to disable these accounts temporarily. BHS is committed to the safety of students and staff and creating a positive educational environment.”
Thompson’s viral video has been shared outside TikTok, including on Twitter by an account called Libs of Tik Tok. The Twitter account’s thread on Thompson includes two other clips from him, one in which he is wearing a sweater bearing Blacksburg High’s letter B logo.
In the other two videos, Thompson, who is white, specifically voices concerns about the role of white culture in America and argues that the issue of police’s poor treatment of minorities has a connection to the school system.
“If you don’t believe me, just take a look at all the instances of white people, especially white men, who oftentimes are brandishing weapons and who are taken into custody alive. Much of this wrapped up in implicit bias and we have incredible power to change people’s biases when they’re young,” Thompson said. “We have to be talking about these issues in schools because every bit of it impacts our work. Ways in which we teach, ways in which we interact with students, the practices and policies we have, the ways in which they’re implemented.”
Thompson’s clips, particularly the one in which he referred to PBIS as a practice of white supremacy, drew criticism from many who replied to Libs of Tik Tok’s thread on the teacher.
For example, one user who goes by Miss LeFlore wrote: “I’m a Black teacher. Any notion that behaving and following directions are inherently white traits disgusts me. It highlights the bigotry of low expectations that permeates the Education system. Black and Brown students are capable and should not be held to separate standards.”
Other accounts replying to the PBIS clip argued that other non-white cultures and school systems around the world employ similar or even more stringent systems of discipline.
Libs of Tik Tok, which tagged BHS’ recently deactivated Twitter account in its thread, is an account that appears to regularly poke fun at or criticize liberal viewpoints and figures.
The Virginia Department of Education on its website describes PBIS as a “nationally-recognized approach to support positive academic and behavioral outcomes for all students.”
Montgomery County Public Schools touted the model in a response to questions about Thompson's video, with a district statement on that specific matter saying that a teacher is entitled to their personal belief regarding any division program.
“The statements made by this teacher do not reflect our PBIS program or the behavioral expectations that we have of students in our schools,” reads the statement shared by Drake.
The county's statement says the division has used PBIS in its schools for eight years and that it a data-driven program that builds morale and encourages a peaceful school environment.
“We are proud of our PBIS work. This work helps create a standard for social-emotional learning and behavior expectations in the school building,” the district statement reads.
The recent case involving Thompson isn’t the only time controversy over faculty and staff has occurred at Blacksburg High School in recent years. Roughly two years ago, the abrupt departures of a former teacher and former principal at the school led to student protests and widespread scrutiny from parents.