Unsigned email alleges heat between Ontario School District, board of directors

This undated photo shows the exterior of the Ontario School District office in downtown Ontario.

ONTARIO — With an unsigned inflammatory email circulating through town, members of Ontario School District are still trying to figure out how to respond regarding friction with the Ontario School Board of Directors, administration and community members.

The original email was sent from Outlook user Hippie Millenial, claiming to represent 14 of the 18 administrators of Ontario School District 8C, seeking the resignation of Ontario School Board of Directors members Derrick Draper and Eric Evans. If not, the email also asked for the “censorship” of Evans and Draper, claiming that the two exhibit behavior that “exposes the district to liability and is hurting student achievement and success.”

The email sites Draper and Evans’ interactions with Ontario School District Superintendent Nicole Albisu and Ontario High School Principal Jodi Elizondo through email and in meetings as points of concern.

Evans was the Ontario School Board of Directors chairman for the last school year. On July 22, Mike Blackaby took over as chairman. According to Taryn Smith, Ontario Public Relations and Communication Coordinator, the board chairman is elected every year.

According to Evans, the email was sent to the board members by Ontario School District attorney Brian DiFonzo on July 5. According to Evans, DiFonzo subsequently recused himself, as his spouse is an administrator at the school district. The email was sent to the Argus Observer on Tuesday night.

On Thursday, Ontario School District released a statement regarding the email.

“Although we are unable to speak on the details of the current situation regarding the school board matter, we are actively engaged in plans to improve our internal and external lines of communication with staff, parents, and community as requested,” the statement reads. “Our students, employees, and stakeholders are extremely important to us, and it is a priority to maintain a trusting and positive relationship with them.

We understand that as a school district, a strong partnership between our community and our schools serve as a valuable asset that benefits our students significantly. We will continue to keep stakeholders informed as we move forward.”

According to Ontario School District Public Relations and Communications Director Taryn Smith, the Ontario School District administration is unaware of any members of the administration who would have sent out the email.

In a Friday email to the Argus Observer, Evans responded, saying “I am proud of my record and remain committed to representing the district patrons I was elected to serve.

“The board is working with the Oregon School Board Association to identify legal counsel to advise us on this matter,” Evans wrote. “It is my hope as a board member and as a subject of the complaint that a full and fair investigation will be conducted. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the substance of the complaint pending that, but I welcome the opportunity to defend my name and my service on the board. I have no agenda other than fulfilling my responsibility to the district’s patrons and making Ontario’s schools the best they can be, all within the confines of what is appropriate for a board member, even if that results in anonymous personal attacks that appear to be politically motivated.”

The email has the subject line “8C school board lawsuit” despite not referencing a lawsuit. Smith said Ontario School District is not currently involved in litigation or any form of legal action involving the school board.

Smith also said there is not currently a petition to recall any members of the Ontario School Board of Directors.

Smith said the full administrative staff of the school district should be all back to their offices on Monday. Every year, the administration meets to get the new school year started. Smith said the administration will also be discussing the current situation with the school board. The meetings have not yet been scheduled.

According to Smith, the school district is looking to further open up lines of communication, with both the School Board of Directors and members of the community.

According to Oregon School Boards Association Communications Director Alex Pulaski, the administrators of Ontario School District can request the resignation of school board members, insomuch that anyone can request the resignation of someone else.

Otherwise, Oregon statute 249.865 says a recall would need to be filed to ensure a board member leaves their seat.

According to Malheur County Clerk Gayle Trotter, there have been no petitions filed.

Nik Streng is a news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4806 or by emailing niklass@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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