Ontario School Board members, from left: Mike Blackaby, Eric Evans, Blanca Rodriguez, Derrick Draper and Renae Corn. (The Enterprise/File)
ONTARIO – An Ontario School Board member announced last week he may file a tort claim against the school district for libel linked to an anonymous letter from 14 district administrators released last summer.
Board member Eric Evans said he handed over a complaint to school board chair Mike Blackaby on Jan. 13.
In the complaint, Evans asked the school board to investigate a 26-page unsigned letter that claimed to represent 14 of the school district’s 18 administrators that called for the resignation of Evans and board member Derrick Draper.
Evans said he wants the school board to “take appropriate action,” including an apology.
Calls to Blackaby and to Nikki Albisu, school district superintendent, for a response to the complaint were not returned, but Taryn Smith, district public relations and communications representative said “the Ontario School District is focused on continuing to work in good faith with our board. We understand that when we all work together, our students benefit.”
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While no administrator attached their name to the document, much of it focused on claims involving Jodi Elizondo, the Ontario High School principal.
The document made serious allegations about harassment and civil rights violations and claimed that the “behavior of Eric Evans and Derrick Draper exposes the district to liability and hurting student achievement and success.”
The document also contained a long list of grievances and cited meetings and offered an analysis that portrayed Draper as hostile and Evans as indifferent.
The unsigned letter represented “libel, defamation, bullying, harassment and retaliation by fourteen unnamed administrators,” Evans wrote in his complaint.
Evans outlined 36 allegations in the letter that were “designed to harass, disparage and bully me into resigning and in retaliation for asking questions of administrators. These public allegations were made with actual malice and knowledge that the statements therein were false or with reckless disregard for the truth,” Evans wrote. Those allegations, Evans wrote, included statements that he exposed the district to liability, hurt student achievement, displayed bias against women and minorities and was incapable of serving on the school board.
Evans said that a social media user, posting under a pseudonym who he believed to be a district administrator, “published numerous vicious and unfounded disparaging comments about me.”
Evans, the Malheur County planning director, also asserted that a “coordinated effort to bully and retaliate against me extended to my professional life.”
“My employer was approached on behalf of unnamed 8C administrators concerning my fitness to serve and in an effort to negatively impact my employment. This is highly inappropriate and must be investigated and addressed,” wrote Evans.
Evans also wrote that Albisu tried to manipulate him.
“The superintendent attempted to use my child’s participation in a school program as leverage to manipulate my stance on a matter on which we disagreed,” wrote Evans.
Evans wrote there is an atmosphere of toxicity in the school district.
“During my time on the school board, I have witnessed multiple other instances of vicious and unfounded attacks against teachers, other districts, volunteers, coaches and members of this community who school leadership perceived to be a threat,” he wrote.
Evans wrote he “was ashamed that there were times I allowed myself to be complicit by looking the other way.”
Evans also cited unprofessional conduct by school administrators and claimed school board chair Mike Blackaby as exuding an “obvious bias” that is “negatively impacting the basic function of the board.”
Evans, who has served on the school board three and a half years, concluded that he has “grave concerns for the state and future of our school district.”
Evans said he was committed to serving district patrons and to ideals of “honesty, transparency and community involvement.”
“How to reconcile those principles with the current situation is proving a challenge as I try to understand a culture where anonymous administrators in our schools would feel empowered to bring egregious allegations against me and others in apparent retaliation for asking hard questions.”
Evans said last week in an interview with the Enterprise he wants the school board to investigate who wrote the 26-page letter.
“I feel like there needs to be accountability,” he said. “I don’t have a definition of what that accountability will mean. I think that will be up to the board.”
He said his name and reputation had been “thrown through the mud.”
Evans said it was unique for an Ontario school board member to warn the school board he may sue them.
“But it is also unique 14 school district administrators filed an anonymous letter,” he said. Evans said he is not seeking monetary damages from the school board and that he may not even file the tort.
“I definitely don’t have to file, let’s say,” he said.
The ball, he said, is in the school board’s court.
“Ultimately there should be some kind of an apology,” said Evans. “I want my name cleared.”
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