WATERVILLE, Maine — A Temple Academy junior has been ejected from the school, even though he and the school agree it wasn’t his fault.
On Feb. 3 of this year, Michael White was in the midst of his junior year at Temple, a private Christian school in Waterville.
On Feb. 4, the White family received a letter from Temple, ordering White to clean out his belongings the next day and leave.
“As part of that separation, Michael and other members of his family may not attend school functions or be on the property without prior approval of the administrative team,” read the letter from Temple school board Chairwoman Bonnie Russell.
On Feb. 5, a Friday, Temple’s junior and senior classes gathered for an assembly during which Principal James McSpadden announced that Michael White would no longer be a student at the school. White, who was at the assembly, said the rest of the day was “quiet and awkward.” He cleaned out his belongings that afternoon and hasn’t returned to Temple since.
Now a student at Carrabec High School in North Anson, White is making new friends, but finds himself repeatedly facing the same question: “Why did you leave Temple?”
“When I say I was expelled, they say ‘What did you do?’” said White, 17, of Embden, who was voted “Most School Spirit” for the Temple Academy yearbook. “I can’t answer them because I didn’t do anything. That leaves them to speculate on what I did, which looks bad on me. I really didn’t do anything.”
Russell, along with Temple Administrator Denise Lafountain, agreed that Michael’s ejection from the school — it was not technically an “expulsion,” they said — had little or nothing to do with his own behavior. It came about because of a months-long dispute between the school and Michael White’s father, Tim White.
Tim White, in order to fulfill a Temple requirement that parents volunteer at the school for at least 30 hours a year, became the boys basketball coach in 2007. After two seasons, the 147-student, pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school decided to replace White with another coach.
“We are taking a different administrative approach to our athletic department this year and hope that you will be a supportive member of the new school year moving forward,” stated a Sept. 24, 2009, letter from Lafountain and McSpadden to White. “We look forward to serving along side of you in other capacities.”
Tim White said he was told the school chose to install another coach “who was more about x’s and o’s,” meaning someone who understood the game better than White did. That was despite the fact that the team went to the championship game in both years under Tim White as volunteer head coach.
White took exception to his ouster and began to argue the decision through various meetings and telephone calls with Temple Academy administrators.
“Coaching was a time I could spend with my son,” said Tim White. “I asked him, ‘Do you still want me to be coach?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ so I pursued it.”
White says he took his grievance “up the administrative ladder” in four meetings culminating with a Jan. 18 hearing with the school’s board of directors. What started as discussions about White’s coaching position evolved into the school accusing him of having “anger issues,” according to White.
Lafountain said no one at the school accused White of that, though she said White has exhibited anger repeatedly, especially since he lost his coaching position. White said his frustration with Temple has resulted at times in his using “bold and blunt” language, but he denies having anger management issues.
But Lafountain said White “called the school repeatedly” over the course of several weeks, usually using a “heated tone.” White also acted inappropriately on the basketball court at least twice, including an incident, according to Lafountain, that involved White “screaming at the school’s pastor” during a recent game when White was running the scoreboard. The incidents continued until the school filed for a criminal trespass warning against White, which was granted by the Waterville Police Department on Feb. 26. On March 5, Waterville attorney Alton Stevens wrote a letter to White on behalf of Temple Academy.
“The school feels that you have been unable to put this incident behind you and have been belligerent and aggressive,” wrote Stevens. “You have publicly posted defamatory remarks about the school, accusing the administrative team of ‘multiple lies’ concerning your character and of acting in a ‘cowardly fashion’ in the course of its business.”
Stevens warned White that if the phone calls and defamatory remarks didn’t stop, “the school will be forced to take legal action.”
Lafountain and Stevens said Thursday that White has not been in contact with the school since that letter and that no further legal action is planned by the school.
The reason for Michael White’s ejection from Temple, according to Russell, is that his family was “unwilling to submit to the school’s authority,” as is required in every Temple family’s contract with the school. During the school board hearing with Tim White on Jan. 18, the board asked the father whether the family would submit to the school’s authority.
Tim White said he responded to the request in a Jan. 24 letter he wrote to Temple Pastor Craig Riportella and to the school board. That letter, he said, was meant to put the issue to rest.
“You wanted to know if I could submit to the pastor and the board,” wrote White. “In the context of both sides bearing responsibility to the other, yes I can.”
That, along with White’s conduct during various incidents, didn’t convince the school board, according to Russell.
“School board members kept asking him can you submit yourself to the authority of our school,” said Russell. “He always waffled. He never gave us an answer.”
During a Feb. 1 meeting, the board voted 5-0 to remove Michael White from the school.
Tim White said he knows his family’s relationship with Temple Academy is over, but he maintains the school owes him and his son public apologies and a refund of about $5,000 of the more than $10,000 in tuition money they’ve paid to the school in the last 3½ years.
The family, however, is not now seeking legal action.
“They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain of educating my son,” he said. “If they did this to our family, who else will they treat like that? That’s why I’m trying to raise a voice about their character and conduct.”
Lafountain reiterated that Michael White’s ejection wasn’t because of his own actions, though his behavior in school was a factor. White has served “detention after detention” because of incidents ranging from hiding a teacher’s car keys to climbing on top of a soft drink machine, she said. They weren’t serious problems, said Lafountain, but the school needed “100 percent cooperation from the family” in order to correct Michael White’s behavior.
Michael White admits he isn’t a “model student” and called himself “kind of a joker.”
“I think honestly they were looking for an excuse to kick me out because I don’t have the best track record there,” he said. “If I had a choice, I’d much rather go to Temple. I liked the fact it was a Christian school and that’s where most of my friends go.”
Katie White, Michael’s mother, said she fears the situation will have a lasting impact on her son.
“I just don’t understand how they could remove my son from his school,” she said. “I don’t want him to be bitter in his spirit because of this.”