Investigation finds no harassment, but Ontario board members face criticism

Ontario School Board members, from left, Eric Evans, Bianca Rodriguez, Derrick Draper and Renae Corn. Outside the photo: Mike Blackaby. (The Enterprise/file)

ONTARIO – An independent investigator didn’t confirm allegations that two Ontario School Board members engaged in racial or sexual harassment of school administrators but found that one of the board members violated district policies in his conduct, according to a report released Monday night.

The report found that there was “not a preponderance of evidence” that Eric Evans, a board member and until recently chair of the board, discriminated against school leaders on the basis of their sex or race.

The report also said that it was “uncertain” whether board member Derrick Draper engaged in harassment in his dealings with certain school administrators. “There is insufficient evidence,” the report said.

But the report did conclude that Draper violated district policies that govern the conduct of school board members.

DOCUMENT: Attorney’s investigative report

The five-person school board voted unanimously Monday night to release the 11-page investigation report, prepared by Portland attorney Nancy Hungerford. She interviewed 23 people about allegations in a 26-page document produced in July that detailed the dealings of Evans and Draper with school officials and the public. The document claimed it represented the views of 14 of the district’s 18 administrators, but none identified themselves.

The board took no action on the report other than releasing it.

“Mediation may be a desirable next step,” Hungerford wrote in her summary.

Evans, the Malheur County planning director, said in a written statement he considered himself “formally vindicated” and said resolving conflicts with school administrators will be challenging.

“The attempted bullying of me to resign is but one of many examples of similar attacks on good people simply wanting the best for our students and community,” Evans wrote.

Draper didn’t address the report at the board meeting.

“It was a complete waste of time resources and money and the authors of the allegations should be held accountable for the defamation and harm that they have caused,” Draper said in a statement Tuesday.

But he came in for sharp criticism in the report.

The investigation recounted a June 3, 2019, meeting between Draper, Nikki Albisu, the district superintendent, and Jodi Elizondo, principal at Ontario High School. The accusing document said Draper was intimidating during the meeting, “screaming” and “slamming his hands on the table.”

Albisu and Elizondo confirmed the description of the meeting in interviews with Hungerford and other staff members recounted that they heard Draper through a closed office door “responding in loud and angry tones” and then storming out of the office.

“I knew it would be heated,” Draper told Hungerford, according to the report. “I’m a passionate guy…I’m sure I raised my voice.”

The report said that “the preponderance of the evidence indicates that Draper conducted himself inappropriately,” violating the board’s own Standards of Conduct. The report said Draper also violated the board’s policy outlining board member’s responsibilities by attempting to intervene in the assignment of a teacher.

“A board member does not exercise any authority as an individual, only as part of the board,” the report found.

The report said there was “insufficient evidence” to conclude Draper’s behavior in the June meeting amounted to harassment.

The report also criticized Draper for his behavior toward a choir teacher in spring 2019. The teacher subsequently quit the Ontario school system and moved to Colorado, but recalled a meeting with Draper and his wife. The teacher, not identified, said the Drapers’ concerns about the choir were legitimate but “not the manner in which those concerns were delivered,” the report said.

“The conversation made her cry, and she went to fellow teachers and the principal for support,” the report said.

Draper said he “may have said one sentence” during the meeting but that his wife did most of the talking. The report concluded that “Draper’s conduct in the teacher conference was unnecessarily abrasive and traumatizing to the first-year teacher.”

The investigation said Draper later described the choir teacher in an email as “absolutely horrible.” He also questioned school officials about the transfer of another teacher.

“Draper’s conduct in pressuring district administrators to hire certain individuals or assign certain individuals to classes of their choice crossed the line,” the report said, noting such conduct violated district policy governing board member conduct.

Evans, the former board chair, didn’t entirely escape criticism for his own behavior.

The report recounted a contentious board meeting on June 24, 2019, where a survey of district patrons was considered to measure the public mood about the Ontario school system. According to the report, audience members started commenting out of order and one administrator, Ontario Middle School principal Lisa Longoria, asked from the audience whether those commenting had talked to school staff.

As the audience discussion continued, Evans told the room, “I’m going to shut everyone down” and specifically addressed Longoria by name, according to the report. The report noted she is a female Hispanic administrator.

“Evans may be justly accused of lapses in leading a board meeting that was, at one point, contentious and out-of-control” and became a “free-for-all.” The report said Evans called out Longoria not because of her race or sex but because she was a school administrator.

“Evans did not apply similar attempts to rein in the community members in the audience,” the report found.

The report addressed allegations that Evans and Draper packed that board meeting that night with “like-minded citizens.” The complaint said the two directors talked with community members before the meeting convened while ignoring school administrators.

Draper acknowledged during the investigation that he knew people were coming to the board meeting and that “some were personal friends, people I hunt and fish with.” He said it was “my mistake” not to acknowledge both sides in the room that evening.

Evans said it was important to not single anyone out for special treatment.

“Draper and Evans should have been sensitive to the impression they created that they were only interested in the participation and attendance of a group of community members, and not interested in any contributions by the school staff in attendance,” the report concluded.

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.