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Former West High principal’s educator license suspended for 1 year

Hearing panel says Ford White ‘still has much to contribute as an educator’

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West High School Principal Ford White paints alongside volunteers from Fidelity Investments at the Salt Lake City school on April 27, 2019.

Then-West High School Principal Ford White paints alongside volunteers from Fidelity Investments at the Salt Lake City school in this April 27, 2019, file photo.

Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former West High School Principal Ford White’s educator’s license has been suspended for “no less than a year.”

The suspension was back-dated to June 30, 2020, the last day White was under contract with the Salt Lake City School District.

In November 2019, White was placed on administrative leave to investigate his alleged mishandling of an incident on Nov. 14, 2019, involving two female students who were intoxicated on school grounds.

The Utah State Board of Education voted Wednesday to uphold the recommendation of the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission, which conducted a hearing in October with respect to White’s teaching license.

The panel concluded that White’s conduct fell “on the lower end of the spectrum” of professional standards violations, according to a document provided to the Deseret News by White.

“The panel believes Mr. White still has much to contribute as an educator and a one-year suspension is an adequate remedy to induce Mr. White to correct his conduct,” the commission’s recommendations state.

Rather than contacting police, White drove the girls to a relative’s home six blocks from the school. An assistant principal followed and gave him a ride back to the school.

White said his goal “was to get every student home safely that day and unfortunately, my state of mind did not pair with leadership. I’ve moved on and I am grateful for the outpouring of support from family, friends and complete strangers across the state, and look forward to continue my service to Utah families in meaningful and impactful ways.”

About 500 West High School students walked out of school on Nov. 19 to protest White being placed on administrative leave. About 2,800 students attend the school.

White said he was saddened that his license was suspended but he was “grateful for the opportunity to address the difficult circumstances I faced that day.”

In addition to the intoxicated teens, the school was dealing with “a very ominous letter that was threatening suicide and murder and we had a couple of trespassers on campus that had previously injured one of our teachers quite severely,” he said.

As a combat veteran, White said he has worked closely with his therapist from the VA Hospital “to better understand the rationale and sequence of decisions I made last year as I’ve struggled with past military combat experiences, PTSD and how this impairment impacted my dream job.”

In an interview during White’s licensure hearing in October 2020, his attorney, Summer Osburn, said his defense centered on legislation intended to reform the juvenile justice system by employing school-based interventions or diversion practices.

Supporters said HB239, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2017, was one means to disrupt the “school to prison pipeline.”

“Restorative justice means you don’t call the cops for every problem at your school,” said Osburn. “Restorative justice means that you get down with your boots on the ground and you make community, family and student personal contacts that you can then use to address these kinds of problems.”

At the time of the hearing, White said aside from his own licensure, his greater fear was that other educators will not use restorative justice practice out of fear of retaliation.

Attorney Matt Schiffgen, who also represented White, said Friday that the one-year suspension was based on minor issues.

“It seems like the one-year suspension kind of gives a slap in the face to restorative justice, where we worry that it scares other administrators and educators from using those practices,” he said.

Schiffgen said White is “a good guy. It’s stupid to suspend somebody like that, who’s actually working hard and cares. I think the panel saw that for sure.”

White said he has been working as a ski instructor and has obtained a real estate license. He said he does not intend to appeal the panel’s decision.

The events occurred in what was White’s third year as principal of West. As a result of being placed on leave, he was unable to assist disenfranchised families he had worked closely with who have had a difficult time navigating remote learning during the statewide recess of in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school district remains in remote learning mode.

“I felt like in that position I could have said, ‘You’re not going to be forgotten. I’ve not forgotten you at any moment. You know that. I know that. So let’s get together and figure out plans that are going to work for all kids,” he said.

White said he received a lot of support but he was particularly heartened that some of the students who picketed at the school were those he had met with in his office “coming back from some sort of disciplinary action,” he said.

“They are the ones going, ‘Gosh, you know, he treated us like one of his own.’ That was a special opportunity.

“My wife and I have talked about the fact that I accomplished a lot of the goals. There’s hundreds if not thousands of kids who realize that there are good people in the system and we will do our best in our hearts, our time and our efforts to try to try to serve them as best we can.”

White said he entered a settlement agreement with the school district and was not fired.

The Salt Lake City School District had no comment, said spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin.

Contributing: Felicia Martinez