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Tempe Union investigating viral TikTok video of teacher screaming at student

The school district says the instructor at Marcos de Niza High School was placed on administrative leave after a TikTok video showed them yelling at a student.

TEMPE, Ariz. — A video has been attracting lots of attention on TikTok for capturing a Tempe Union High School District teacher loudly yelling in the face of a student.

The video shows the male teacher leaning over a student's desk and screaming, "Phones away!"

"Yes, I did just spit on you; that's how I talk," the teacher's heard saying in the video. "Do you understand? Phones away."

The TikTok video was posted on Oct. 11 and has already been viewed more than five million times. 

"In the end, authority will win...So just follow the rules," the teacher is heard saying in the video. 

A spokesperson for the school district said the teacher in the video works at Marcos de Niza High School and was placed on administrative leave the morning of October 14 after the district became aware of the incident on the evening of October 13. 

"He did too much, he took it too far" one student who said he was in the class at the time the video was taken, says. “They just got the part where he was yelling, and not the part where he was being disrespectful.”

12News has learned James Gustafson is the teacher in the video. The spokesperson for the district said he started at Marcos de Niza High School in August. 


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In a statement to 12News, TUHSD said it could not provide specific details of the investigation but emphasized that the district is taking the matter "very seriously."

"Like all organizations, we have processes in place for allegations against employees," the spokesperson said. "This begins with removing the employee from campus and opening an internal investigation."

The student who told 12News he was in the classroom at the time of the incident, said Gustafson had yelled before. 

“He’s yelled before, but he’s never yelled like that you know," the student said. 

TUHSD added that it does not condone or tolerate the type of behavior displayed in the video. 

"This situation is extremely unfortunate, and it is not indicative of the wonderful community of teachers and staff that we have here at Tempe Union," a district spokesperson wrote in a statement.

12News has been unable to reach Gustafson.

Another student told 12News that he had talked to Gustafson himself about what happened in the video. 

"There was a lot of people on their phones and that was kinda his breaking point," the student said.

State records show the Arizona State Board of Education found Gustafson had been arrested for DUI in 2017, and in 2018 'became frustrated' with students he was substitute teaching in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. 

The Associated Press reported Gustafson was arrested and accused of shoving students' faces into their desks.

According to the State Board of Education's records, Gustafson 'grabbed four students by the backs of their necks to keep them in their seats.' Gustafson did not face any criminal charges. 

In 2019, the State Board of Education approved a settlement agreement stating that Gustafson had to complete a classroom management course, consent to a letter of censure and could be certified to teach physics. 

The State Board of Education would not say whether they are opening any further investigations into Gustafson given this most recent incident. 

The spokesperson for TUHSD said they were aware of the previous investigation by the board, however, said that his teaching certificate had remained in good standing. 

"We further vetted him through our standard HR process (interviews, recommendations, etc)," the spokesperson said. 

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