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Paul Rolly: Utah principal decries politicizing students, then does it herself

Published May 12, 2014 7:02 am

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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Wasatch Junior High School honors English teacher who was fired last month for insubordination after she refused to grade portions of a controversial standardized test was admonished by her principal for bringing her students into the fray.

That principal then brought her students into the fray.

Ann Florence had taken two sick days near the end of March after she was told she would face disciplinary action. She then went to her first-period class to tell her students she likely would not be back because she was going to be fired for refusing to grade portions of the Acuity test.

Florence and other teachers had complained that all of the standardized testing was hurting students because they were taking up valuable instruction time and did not accurately measure academic levels.

Principal Christine Judd rebuked Florence in an email, stating how disappointed she was in the teacher for involving the students in such a political way. Florence later received a letter from the district telling her she was not allowed on Granite District properties. She was fired during spring break.

On April 22, Judd appeared in Florence's classes. She reportedly told the students that Florence's dismissal was her own fault, that the teacher was going to retire anyway and purposely balked at grading the tests to make a point. She also told them that Florence had a history of problems with the district.

So, while it was egregious for the teacher to involve the students, it was OK for the principal to do it?

"Please know that my husband and I find this sort of behavior to be extremely unprofessional on your part, not to mention burdening to the students," parent Heidi Brett wrote in an email to Judd. "These students ought to be focusing on their studies, not Wasatch politics. And they need to see strength and integrity in their school leaders."

Brett told me that Florence was a gifted teacher who inspired her daughter to see the beauty of literature in a way that had not touched her before.

Judd responded to Brett's email, insisting she did not criticize Florence personally to the students and that she praised the teacher's attributes.

She said she had gone to the classes because she had been personally grading the students' papers since Florence left and wanted to answer questions about the grades and assignments. Then, she said, she responded to students' questions about the status of Florence and why she was dismissed.

Judd did not respond to a phone message for this column.

Ultimately, Brett told me, Florence may have taught her daughter the most valuable lesson of all: Stand up for what you believe regardless of consequences.

prolly@sltrib.com