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January 18th, 2018
by Conor Spahr, News Editor
Edited by Max Gordon, Editor-In-Chief
In early November 2017, Mr. Ryan White, a history teacher at Herriman High, left his job under mysterious circumstances. After investigating for several months, The Herriman Telegraph can confirm that he was terminated and committed serious employee conduct violations.
In interviews with school administrators, we were told that privacy laws protected any possible release of the reason for White’s firing. One vice principal cited FERPA laws, which apply only to student information, and have absolutely no validity in the release of teacher affairs.
Per multiple Student Body Officers, who we are keeping anonymous at their request: An experienced teacher at Herriman High School told student body officers that “Mr. White was fired for texting students inappropriate things." The source specifically mentioned that White was sending highly inappropriate messages to a female student. We interviewed this experienced teacher and they denied knowing or telling anyone about Mr. White’s termination. Joie Jarman, a student at Herriman, said that in Jr. High, White would often talk about “how he is always there for his students, and that they can talk to him about anything."
Contacting Jordan District
The Telegraph contacted Jordan School District for a GRAMA (Government Records Access Management Act) request for records pertaining to Mr. White and his termination. They are required to respond in ten days, and on the 10th day, their lawyers contacted us stating that they would be (legally) extending the request another week. We received a two-page response detailing specific law codes for reasons they were denying most of our request. They stated that the release of certain records, like the reason for White’s termination, could interfere with an ongoing disciplinary investigation or legal proceedings, and therefore were legally being withheld from public release. Several documents were, however, released. Among them was a document verifying the hiring and termination dates of Ryan White. He was officially terminated On November 27th, 2017, several weeks after actually leaving his teaching position. A verification document of his prior employer, Providence Hall, showed in scribbled handwriting that Jordan School District knew Mr. White was fired from Providence. See image below.
History at Providence Hall
We interviewed several Students at Herriman High who alleged that White may have been fired from Providence Hall, his previous employer, for similar misconduct reasons. An interview with a Senior School Official from Providence, who was not around at the time of White’s firing, indicated the same suspicion. The Telegraph could not totally confirm his reason for termination at Providence Hall. However, we made a GRAMA request to Providence Hall as well. The documents they released showed he was fired, and while not explicitly stating the reason, it included interesting highlights on pages PH-0014 to PH-0020 of his Agreements and Acknowledgements Disclosure, a document outlining employee conduct policies. The highlighted sections appeared to be terms he violated, essentially the reasons he was fired. One highlighted section states, “I understand that I must schedule one-on-one counseling sessions or meetings with minors at times and locations that promote accountability, in an open room setting without closed doors, and only if readily observable by others who may be in the room or hallway, and meet accepted standards of propriety.” Another said essentially the same thing, but instead of pertaining to minors, it pertained to“extra-curricular activities, school programs, or special instructions sessions." Providence Hall did not respond to a request for comment on the highlights.
Herriman High’s Hiring Failure
A Senior School Official from Providence Hall said Herriman High had never contacted the school for a reference on any of their teachers during his employment there. We asked Herriman Vice Principal Hudnall about the hiring process. He stated that obtaining a reference from prior employers is standard. Hudnall also said that a vice principal would normally be responsible to do that, and that they would ask questions like “Are they available for rehire at your district?” or “Did they have any disciplinary actions taken against them?” Coincidentally, the Senior School Official from Providence Hall said they would tell Herriman why a teacher was fired if asked. We asked Principal Birch if a reference was ever done on Mr. White. He didn’t give a definitive answer, but said that “We did our due diligence." When asked why White was fired, he said that there are privacy laws that prevent the school from releasing that information. He also said, “We just don’t talk about those things." Mr. Birch went on to say that “Out of the nine teachers we’ve let go [at herriman], I still like all of them."
We interviewed some teachers at Herriman to get their take on the situation. Many said that administration had stepped up the rules on teacher-student contact. The ways that teachers should contact students was also addressed at staff meetings, per multiple teacher sources. It was specifically mentioned at a staff meeting that texting students one-on-one was not allowed or appropriate. During the second quarter of the school year, after White was fired, administrators required all group chats and emails to also include a Vice Principal in the conversation. This was deemed unrealistic, however, and is no longer required. This incident has some parents and students wondering how safe or competent their teachers are, and how low schools will stoop during the ongoing teacher shortage in Utah.
Note to the reader: We have attempted to present all the facts in an unbiased way in an attempt for you to form your own opinion. You can read all the GRAMA released documents online at the case-sensitive link www.bit.ly/Telegram-Files.
Editor's note: Multiple local news networks, including KUTV, FOX 13, ABC 4, and KSL have all covered this story and discovered their own sources, including an ongoing police investigation and an ongoing investigation by the Utah State Board of Education. This article was not prematurely released and is the result of months of thorough investigation into the matter. It has been edited by multiple student journalists and was reviewed by several other independent attorneys. Legal counsel from the SPLC was also involved in the investigative process.
*Correction: A previous version of this story stated White left under mysterious circumstances on November 27, 2017. However, that is his official termination date. He actually stopped teaching several weeks before that.