The actions of a member of the Ontario School District Board of Directors could lead to a legal battle against district administration, as a message sent to the board last week is demanding change.
On Oct. 26, Nathan Riemann of Salem-based Rietmann Law, representing Ontario High School Principal Jodi Elizondo, sent multiple letters to the Ontario School District Board of Directors warning that legal action may be incoming if the actions of board member Derrick Draper are not addressed.
“The behavior at issue consists of Mr. Draper’s attempts to utilize his position on the Ontario School Board to intimidate Dr. Elizondo and damage her professional reputation at Board meetings, knowing full well she does not have the same power or platform that he does at Board meetings,” reads a letter from Rietmann.
The board met in executive session Oct. 26. When returning to open session, the board voted unanimously (a 4-0 vote, with Draper recusing himself) to have Chairwoman Renae Corn respond to the complaint.
The letter states that Elizondo has a case for legal action against the district, claiming discrimination based on gender and also intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“This is not new behavior,” the letter reads. “Mr. Draper has made it clear through all of his actions the last 2 years that he has a very specific negative agenda regarding Dr. Elizondo and has only negative opinions regarding the high school. His actions are well-documented in monthly board meeting recordings, emails, and verbal interactions. In fact, it should be noted that other than a lunch delivery scheduling question, Mr. Draper has remarkably not once asked about the health and welfare of students, staff, parents or the community during the entire COVID crisis at a board meeting, an event that is causing unprecedented stress on all groups. He has been focused on disparaging and intimidating the high school, Dr. Elizondo and the superintendent. His abusive behavior as a board member has been consistent and overwhelming. It is affecting Dr. Elizondo’s emotional and physical health.”
The letter, which was obtained by The Argus Observer through a public records request, cites three incidents against Draper.
• A Sept. 28 board meeting in which Draper claimed that Elizondo held a staff meeting “and for one hour ‘bashed on me, my kids, and my family’ and he wanted everyone to know that he has spoken to ‘his attorneys’ and will be filing a complaint.”
Rietmann says the assertion by Draper was untrue, but in discussing the subject during an open work session, Draper “knows that between himself and Dr. Elizondo, he is the only one who can speak out and he inappropriately utilized that dynamic… Mr. Draper’s clear intent in this instance was to intimidate Dr. Elizondo and damage her publicly, using his position and power as a board member as the means of doing it.”
The letter also addressed a discussion from later in that same meeting, where members of the Ontario School District Administration presented data to the board about teacher turnover rate, enrollment and dual credit classed provided at the high school.
During the meeting, the data showed teacher turnover and enrollment for the whole district, spanning the last 14 years. Draper was upset in the meeting because he specifically asked for data only from the high school and only from Elizondo’s tenure as principal.
Rietmann claims that the data from the high school “clearly shows it is the best it has been as compared to the last 10 years.” During that meeting, Draper asked that the presentation be given again, with only data from the high school and only during Elizondo’s tenure. The board did not vote to request that information.
“Mr. Draper’s repeated illogical insistence on only seeing the data from Dr. Elizondo’s tenure at OHS and denying the factual comparative data that disproved his repeated negative claims about the high school is another clear indication of using his position of power on the board for his personal agenda to publicly and professionally disparage and intimidate Dr. Elizondo, knowing she again had no public platform to correct his misinformation or defend herself,” Rietmann wrote.
• An Oct. 1 letter from Draper’s attorney, requesting information regarding the alleged Sept. 28 staff meeting at the high school.
According to Rietmann, the letter was “completely and intentionally uninformed and inappropriate, evidence of Mr. Draper’s ongoing efforts to intimidate Dr. Elizondo and cause her emotional distress.”
• An Oct. 5 hearing where the board was called to review a parent complaint against Elizondo. On that complaint, Superintendent Nicole Albisu said Elizondo did not harass, intimidate or bully the family.
During the testimony, Draper repeatedly brought up that he is “very, very familiar” with the policy regarding harassment. Rietmann claims that Draper’s comments “were clearly directed at Dr. Elizondo and his comment served no other purpose in the hearing. Mr. Draper also knows because of his public announcement of his intentions on 9/28 at the board meeting that everyone else present would understand what he was referencing.”
‘Finally move forward’
Despite claiming that she has the basis to, Rietmann said Elizondo’s desire is not to engage in litigation with the district. Rietmann said that Elizondo would like “the behavior to cease” so she can continue working without emotional distress.
“My sincere hope is we can finally move forward with a focus on what is best for students, families, and the community and demonstrate respect for teachers and administrators,” Elizondo said in a separate email to the Argus. “We should all be professionally working toward the same goal in a safe, supportive manner: serving the students and families of Ontario. I am hopeful the board will do what is necessary to turn this ship quickly toward that end. Until then, myself and all other administrators and staff in the district will continue the hard work of helping our kids and families through the uncharted waters of this stressful pandemic.”
Ontario School District’s “superintendent/Board Operating Procedure” outlines that board members are not able to direct staff other than the superintendent. It also states that board members are required to direct their concerns or criticisms to the Superintendent, not to district employees directly in open session.
Absent from the meeting
Eagle-eyed attendees to the Oct. 26 board meeting, which was held physically but could be attended via Zoom, would notice that multiple members of Ontario High School’s administration were absent from the meeting.
In another letter sent to the board that day, Rietmann explained that Elizondo, as well as associate principals Nathan Sandberg and Melissa Judson, and Athletic Director Josh Mink would not be attending board meetings “until measures have been implemented to ensure they are treated with common decency and respect.”
“Although our clients are uniformly committed to serving the District, they are no longer able to subject themselves to the regular, sustained, and ongoing abuse they are receiving from certain members of the Board,” the letter continues.
Ontario School District's contracts do not require employees or administrators to attend School Board meetings, but they may be asked to attend per the superintendent's discretion. There is no school district policy requiring employees to attend board meetings.