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SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City school board member came to the defense of West High School Principal Ford White nearly a week after a teacher reported in an email that the principal drove intoxicated students home instead of calling the police.
There’s no simple formula when it comes to student discipline. And the incident that reportedly happened on Nov. 14 on the lawn of West High School was no exception.
In an email obtained by the Deseret News, a teacher wrote that White and other school officials and teachers came across three intoxicated students.
According to the email, White didn’t notify police but asked one of the girls to drive the other two home. When another school official pointed out all of them had been drinking, White decided to drive them home in their car with an assistant principal following in another car.
The district has not confirmed the reason, but the next day White was placed on paid administrative leave.
West High students made their position clear in a walk-out on Tuesday, showing support for White and protesting the district’s decision to put him on leave.
“All I can tell you is what I know about it,” said Salt Lake City School Board member Michael Nemelka Sr. He added his voice to the principal’s supporters, arguing that White made the right call.
“Instead of taking those three girls to jail and dumping them in the juvenile drunk tank, he took them home,” Nemelka said. “He’s a good principal. And so his judgment is what he went by and I stand behind him.”
Nemelka also accused other school board members of “targeting” White, including in the closed session of the school board meeting Tuesday night.
“For this last year totally they’ve been after him, a couple of board members have been after him and others,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of power. We’re not even supposed to be involved,” he said, speaking of the school board.
The president of the school board had no comment.
According to the school district’s administrative procedures online, “A school resource officer should only be involved in school discipline when necessary to prevent harm to students, faculty or staff.” But the policy also stated, “All drug and alcohol violations must be reported to a law enforcement officer.”
Still, Nemelka and others argued it isn’t so cut and dry — and a state law passed in 2017 may agree with them.
“He didn’t break any laws,” Nemelka said.
House Bill 239 “prohibits referrals to law enforcement or juvenile court for truancy and for the following kinds of offenses committed on school grounds: class C misdemeanors, infractions, and status offenses.”
For those and class B misdemeanors, state law said minors may be referred to “alternative school-based interventions.”