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4/29/2014 11:03:00 AM
Williams School Board terminates construction teacher's contract after allegations of harassment

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Amid allegations of harassment, bullying and defamation of students, the Williams Unified School District (WUSD) Governing Board terminated high school construction teacher Sheldon White at its April 23 meeting.

White is now on paid administrative leave. He has 10 days from the date of the meeting to appeal the decision and request a hearing.

Prior to their decision, governing board members entered into executive session for about 30 minutes to seek legal advice about the issue.

When the regular meeting resumed, District Attorney Kellie Peterson said the board would only hear the statement of charges at the April 23 meeting, and not any comments from either side in the case.

"It would be like a judge talking to the defendants or the attorneys outside of the courtroom about a case," Peterson said.

She added that any witness testimony would be presented at the employee hearing if White appeals the decision within the 10-day window.

"What (the board's) decision tonight is, if this is true, is this enough to fire a teacher?" Peterson said.

Since White requested an open session, WUSD Superintendent Rachel Savage read the statement of charges in the regular meeting.

The statement of charges contends that White violated school policies that state teachers should treat students with dignity, respect and avoid embarrassing students unnecessarily.

The alleged incidents surround students coming in to work on a Skills USA project.

Based on written statements and interviews with students, the statement of charges made the following allegations:

White repeatedly asked the younger sister of a female student for that student's cell phone number and then repeatedly contacted her by calling, texting, and leaving a voicemail as well as calling her on classroom phones.

The allegations also state that White said a second female student was a liar, not a true friend and was "shafting him and stabbing him in the back" for not coming to work on the project. The statement also contends White said the student was "a loser, acting like her loser brother," and that her family "uses people until they get what they want."

In addition, the statement of charges alleges that White told the first student she shouldn't work on the project with a third female student because she had a fake injury or a male student "because he was probably out partying and smoking dope and he didn't want him in his class anyway."

The first student felt White's communication with her was "immature, intimidating and inappropriate and made her feel uncomfortable." The second student felt "harassed and intimidated" by White.

One student's parents called the situation stalking, felt insulted by White's remarks and said they didn't want their daughter anywhere near White.

Savage and high school Principal Tristan Heisley discussed the allegations in person with White on April 10. White denied harassing the student's sister for her phone number as well as the inappropriate comments about other students.

According to the statement of charges, "the most recent incident is indicative of a pattern of behavior exhibited by Mr. White, which has resulted in other disciplinary measures."

On Oct. 10, 2012 school board members voted to place White on unpaid suspension for 19 days after he locked three students in a closet for more than 30 minutes.

Then on May 22, 2013 administrators placed White on an improvement plan based on student allegations that he made racial slurs and other inappropriate comments in front of students and allowed students to use tobacco in his classroom.

"The plan clearly defined expectations of communicating appropriately with all students and consequences for breaking the improvement plan," Savage said reading from the statement of charges.

She recommended putting White on administrative leave pending the possible request for a hearing within the 10-day window.

"Mr. White repeatedly fails to behave and communicate adequately," Savage read from the statement. "Based on his pattern of behavior I do not believe that Mr. White will accord himself with the district policy should he be reinstated to his position."

Board members unanimously approved the statement of charges and determined if White makes an appeal, an outside hearing officer will conduct the hearing.

White has taught in the district for about 18 years. About 20 people attended the meeting, both in support of and in opposition to White. As of press time on Monday, White had not requested a hearing.

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