Neil Osbon is not scheduled to return to a Thomson High School classroom until Halloween, but a wave of support for the popular teacher and coach's hands-on faith healing and religious teaching is rippling through some members of the student body.
"I support him, because in general he is a good man," said Kelli Howard, a sophomore and member of Mr. Osbon's cross country team for the past two seasons. "All he was trying to do was to help kids. He did what he did for God. It was all about God."
Mr. Osbon is currently serving a 10-day suspension without pay for insubordination, said McDuffie County School Superintendent Mark Petersen. Prior to the 10-day punishment, Mr. Osbon was placed on administrative leave with pay for four days.
In the wake of the disciplinary action against Mr. Osbon, at least two girls reportedly wore T-shirts openly supportive of him at the school one day last week. Thomson High School Principal Rudy Falana said the girls were told to remove the shirts. Despite claims by some, there was no disciplinary action handed down against either girl, he said.
Meanwhile other students "including Kelli" have signed a letter of support being circulated among users of the popular internet site, MySpace.
Kelli said she witnessed Coach Osbon's healing efforts first hand: He helped her overcome lingering pain from a four-wheeler accident last year. She said the accident left her with one leg shorter than the other, and Mr. Osbon fixed her.
"I believe it was a miracle through Mr. Osbon from God," Kelli said, adding that she didn't agree with the disciplinary action against the coach and teacher.
Some students interviewed by The Mirror said Christianity was a regular part of the lessons in Mr. Osbon's classroom.
Mr. Osbon said as much in a series of internet blogs attributed to the teacher.
The blogs posted by Mr. Osbon addressed hands-on faith healing at the school and his political viewpoints.
One of those blogs, titled, "Jesus is the worker of miracles," told of dates and times of healings and used scriptures from the Bible and Mr. Osbon's interpretation of their application to certain religious beliefs.
"We give all credit, glory, thanks and praise to God for these outstanding demonstrations of His goodness," Mr. Osbon said in the blog. "People have been asking me how these miracles at Thomson High School happened. I am nobody special, nor do I have special gifts that enable only me to do these works."
Two different blogs attributed to Mr. Osbon, as well as a MySpace profile in his name, are now being investigated further by school officials, Dr. Petersen said. The two blogs, which had been open to the public, were shut down late last Thursday following The Mirror's original story. The MySpace profile was marked private earlier in the week.
Dr. Petersen would not comment on the specifics of the continued investigation.
Mr. Osbon, who is due to return from the disciplinary action on Oct. 31, has declined to make any comment. He did not return a phone message left at his residence Tuesday. Mr. Osbon's attorney, Andrew MaGruder - who serves as legal counsel for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, also declined to comment when contacted on Tuesday.
School officials said Mr. Osbon's suspension is the result of insubordination, and several of his students said the teacher had said he'd been asked to stop religious discussions in the classroom.
"He told us that they gave him a warning," said Daniel Pilgrim, another 11th grader at the school, noting that Mr. Osbon did not teach religion anymore in the classroom. "He said, 'No, I can't do in school anymore, so if you need anything from now on, you just come up and talk to me after class, and we'll set up at a time.'"