Recommendation to fire Washburn teacher reversed

Threat of termination prompted an outpouring of support for Crystal Spring

TANGLETOWN — Word that a popular Washburn High School theater teacher was placed on administrative leave and facing termination after her May arrest in Minneapolis prompted an outpouring of support from students, parents and friends.

Many planned to rally in support of Crystal Spring at the June 14 Board of Education meeting. But the district abruptly changed course hours before the meeting, with Interim Superintendent Michael Thomas announcing Spring’s reinstatement and pledging to review the district’s termination procedures in a letter to the community.

“When this came to my attention, I found myself immediately questioning the process that resulted in the recommendation for termination of Ms. Spring,” Thomas wrote. “It is imperative to be thorough when considering the action of terminating an employee, and we regret that due diligence, as I would expect, was not followed in this case. This serves as a reminder for us that every situation is unique and we cannot rush to judgment without considering all of the facts.”

Spring’s attorney in the criminal case, Jordan Kushner, said she was facing a misdemeanor charge of obstructing the legal process stemming from a May 19 incident on the border of the Stevens Square and Whittier neighborhoods. Spring was driving through the area at about 10:20 p.m. when she observed officers attempting to arrest a man identified in police reports as 44-year-old Tony Walls.

Spring stopped near the Wendy’s fast food restaurant located at 325 E. Franklin Ave and began to film the arrest with her phone.

“She saw the commotion and she heard someone yelling that the police were abusing him, and so she felt obligated to stop and watch,” Kushner said. “I think that’s something you’d want a good citizen to do, period.”

In their report, police wrote Spring, 30, was “told numerous times to not follow officers and stop interrupting officers while officers were making an arrest.”

Kushner said police asked Spring to move her vehicle and she complied. Other accusations in the police report are “things she did not do,” he added.

“They accuse her of criticizing them, of yelling at them and trying to tell witnesses not to cooperate — which she denies — but even those allegations would be within her right to free speech,” he said. “There was nothing that she did that was illegal.”

Spring learned she had been recommended for discharge in a June 8 letter from Steve Barrett, executive director of Human Resource Operations for the district. It alleged “conduct unbecoming a teacher,” citing both her arrest and the failure to inform her superiors, according to accounts posted online, which Kushner verified.

Spring was on administrative leave up until the morning of the June 14 School Board meeting. Her reinstatement was announced about three hours before the meeting was scheduled to begin.

The interim superintendent’s letter described Spring as a “passionate advocate for social justice and equity,” echoing the words of her many supporters. Taking to Facebook, Washburn students and parents praised her for creating a safe, accepting space in her black box theater classes.

Spring, director of the Washburn acting program since 2008, did not return a phone call seeking comment. She still has a July 20 court date on her misdemeanor charge, Kushner said.