West High Principal’s Leave

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West High Principal’s Leave

Gabriel Hammond, Staff Writer

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    “Show up, do the work, and get paid baby!” This is the encouraging catchphrase of West High principal Ford White. He seems to have found a way to circumvent the first two steps by getting placed on paid administrative leave.

    For those unfamiliar with the situation, White’s leave of absence is due to his decisions in handling three drunk students that were on the lawn of the school on November 14th. He initially told one of the students to drive the other two home, before another staff member pointed out that they too were very inebriated. White then drove the girls home in one of their cars while an assistant principal followed behind him. 

    Soon after, a teacher sent an email to the district complaining that White had not notified the police as is district policy. While a reason for his leave has not been officially stated, it is safe to say that it is due to this incident. In the days since, White has been defended by several hundred students who walked out on his behalf, as well as by a school board member. 

    This is a complex situation, without an immediately clear right and wrong. That being said, there are two decisions that Ford made. The first one was to not report the students to the police, and it was a great decision. The second one was to get into a car alone with inebriated teenagers, which was less great. 

    It is indeed district policy to report substance use to the police, however in 2017 the legislature overhauled the Utah juvenile justice system and in the process loosened many of the penalties for juvenile drug use. Ford White was not legally obligated to report the students, in fact the spirit of the law suggests a more lenient approach based on alternative interventions. Having a criminal record can impact the rest of a teenager’s life. Seeing as how the at least one of the students in this case was from a lower income family, any effort to keep them free from legal baggage is commendable. In doing so White demonstrated how much he really does care about his students.

    And then he went and did something really dumb. While he most likely had their best interests at heart, placing himself in alone in a car with the students was an immediate red flag. Obviously this raises questions about their safety, but White also should have realized what a bad situation he was putting himself in. On its face it already looks bad, but what if one of the girls had accused him of something? This isn’t to say that that any of the students have or will, but if one of them had some sort of vendetta then his leave could have become much more permanent.

    In addition to this, the students were reportedly on the verge of blacking out. While notifying the police was not the right answer, if they had been suffering from alcohol poisoning then just driving them home could have ended in serious injury or worse.

    It’s easy to criticize after the fact. I was able to leisurely deconstruct this scenario, reading up on the appropriate policies and laws. White did not have this luxury, he acted in the heat of the moment with the student’s futures in the forefront of his mind. He is a caring principal. This can be seen by the gratitude that one of the student’s mother has expressed, and in the actions of the West High students that thought he was worth protesting over. Did he act perfectly? No he decidedly did not. But he did demonstrate a caring attitude that should be standard in educators. Ideally he will be returned to his post, and he will have learned from this experience. I certainly don’t believe he will make the same mistakes again. 

 

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