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After Months-Long Investigation, West High Principal Says The District Fired Him

Jan 30, 2020, 11:48 PM | Updated: 11:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The principal of West High School says the Salt Lake City School District fired him, more than two months after his controversial decision to drive three students home from school.

“Do I think I made the right call? I got every kid home safe that day,” said Ford White, who began working as a principal at West High School in 2017.

White remembers the school day on November 14, 2019 as a busy one. He says it began with a SafeUT alert, notifying him and other staff that there was a student on campus who intended to inflict self-harm. That same morning White says they also found an anonymous note with an alarming message about harming others. And he says there were also two trespassers on campus who had caused problems for staff in the past.

It was in the midst of working to address these issues with his staff that White says he came across three female students, at least two of whom appeared to be sick. They informed him of their intention to go home. White says he was later informed by his assistant principal that teachers believed the girls were intoxicated.

The student who was preparing to drive the other two home denied drinking alcohol but White says he insisted she turn over her keys and he would drive them home. White says he was familiar with their families and knew they lived only blocks away from campus.

“Yes, I was in the vehicle with the young ladies but I felt like someone following me gave me a measure of protection,” White sais, speaking of his assistant principal who was instructed to follow behind him in another car.

White says it wasn’t until the following morning when he planned to debrief with his teachers and others about what happened the previous day that he received a call, informing him that he needed to visit the Salt Lake City School District office. The district placed White on paid administrative leave.

West High students made their position clear in a walk-out the following Tuesday, showing support for White and protesting the district’s decision to put him on leave.

In the days that followed November 14, Superintendent Dr. Lexi Cunningham sent a letter home to the West High School Community that said in part, “I feel it is important to make sure you know that our primary concern in any student-related incident will always be student safety and well-being. This is the lens through which the district’s investigation is being conducted,” she wrote. “This was never about seeking disciplinary or legal action against students. We are faced with investigating a situation where students were put at risk and their well-being was not looked after properly. Please rest assured that we are looking into every detail that has been brought to our attention, including the actions of all involved.”

To those who might question why White took matters into his own hands rather than calling police, White says, “because of the house bill 238 we don’t involve police with class c misdemeanors. It’s an administrative duty and we take care of it ourselves.”

At least one Salt Lake City School Board member came to White’s defense after the incident. Michael Nemelka also accused other school board members of “targeting” White.

District spokesperson Yandary Chatwin said she couldn’t comment on personnel matters. But she confirmed that the district’s investigation into White’s actions concluded this week and that “Mr. White was made aware of that conclusion earlier today. His current employment status continues to be out on administrative leave.”

That contradicts what White and his attorney say happened on Thursday. White says the district met with him and handed him a letter notifying him of his termination.

In a statement from White’s attorney Michael Teter, he said in part, “The picture of the events of November 14, however, are much more complicated than the District has led the public to believe. They involve real crises and emergent concerns that the District, in its letter terminating Principal White, nonchalantly labeled ‘fairly routine and typical.’ When the public learns more of the day’s context, they will be surprised, if not disturbed, by the District’s view that it considers the events ‘fairly routine and typical’ within its schools.”

Teter also addressed the resignations this week from District Superintendent Cunningham and business administrator Janet Roberts, saying they “show that the District is in disarray. In fact, internal reports from the Salt Lake City School Board suggest that board members have been targeting various principals for firing long before White.”

White said he and his attorney want to fight the district’s decision. They plan to have a third party review the district’s investigation and conclusion.

Speaking of his students at West High School, White said, “They stood up for me and I can’t just walk away. I got to keep trying. They also need to know that as much as I’ve attempted to serve them, they’ve served me in a real crisis I suppose you can say. It’s been very meaningful. The work I’ve done there has been very meaningful to them and to me. I’m not ready to stop.”

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After Months-Long Investigation, West High Principal Says The District Fired Him