Home Antioch Antioch School Board Votes to Censure Trustee Debra Vinson

Antioch School Board Votes to Censure Trustee Debra Vinson

by ECT

On Wednesday, the Antioch Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to censure Trustee Debra Vinson in a 3-2 vote.

During the tense meeting, Vinson blamed the lack of communication on her cell phone service and couldn’t hold an hour long conversation with the investigator. She accused the board of racism and overstepping their power while stating the report had no factual basis and was conclusionary.

Visnon also threatened to take this to the District Attorney’s Office based on the board actions.

Meanwhile, Chrystal Sawyer-White called being a trustee too stressful and she didn’t like coming to the board meetings and her enthusiasm has fizzled down nothing.

The move came after the Board received a report from an investigator who looked into allegations that Vinson engaged in bullying and intimidation related to transferring a student to Orchard Park School.

According to the Summary of Findings, Van Dermyden Maddux says they found that Vinson engaged in conduct, as alleged based on consistent interactions of the witnesses, there credibility and corroborating. They also found despite every opportunity to do so, Vinson did not provide any information to the contrary.

The investigation to date has cost the District $20,119 and according to the investigator, Trustee Vinson failed to participate after more than a dozen requests to be interviewed.

School Board Recap:

Item 10.B Trustee Vinson’s behavior exceeded her role and influence as a Board member and her coercive behavior and conduct toward District employees failed to meet the professional standards or minimum standards expected of a trustee. Additionally, Trustee Vinson’s behavior violated District Policy4119.21  and Board Bylaws 9000, 9005. To prevent such further occurrences and to protect the rights of District employees the Board directs President, Walter Ruehlig to send a formal letter to Ms. Vinson regarding future contact with District Administrators and directing her to communicate inquiries or requests for information or documents solely to the Superintendent and not to communicate with other District staff unless authorized to do so during the next six months.

During Public Comments, Willie Mims argued the letter was not full of facts and they did not have the legal right to silence a board member. He also accused the board of a Brown Act Violation.

“I am here to oppose this letter, “said Mims. “The letter silences a board member and I am not sure you have the legal right to do that. She was elected by the people not by the board…. This letter should be thrown out and thrown into the garbage can where it belongs.”

Board President Walter Ruehlig asked for legal advice on whether or not they committed a Brown Act Violation where legal explained the Board held a discussion over the investigators findings—which was included it being on the agenda and potential actions that could have been taken. In legal’s opinion, there was no violation of the Brown Act because general direction was provided at the last meeting and actions were before the Board Wednesday night during a public meeting.

Trustee Chrystal Sawyer-White asked legal if they were to vote on the findings which legal explained there was nothing to vote on because those were not the board’s findings, but rather the investigators. The only vote the board would take is if they wanted to take action based off the findings.

Sawyer-White suggested that the Board should have voted on whether or not to open an investigation which legal explained the Superintendent has the authority to open an investigation or have staff or contract with an investigator to fulfill obligations.

“So to spend $20,000 and not ask the board as a whole to vote, that is illegal,” said Sawyer-White. “You are spending $20,000 on an investigator. It is a waste of money, that is what I am saying. I contacted the California School Board Association and they said they have never heard of a six-month probation at all.”

Legal responded by saying all boards take different actions based on the situation and they do have options available.

Sawyer-White continued by saying an investigation should not have occurred unless the Board as a whole approved it and called it illegal.  Legal again replied that the Superintendent does have the authority, which the school board delegated that authority, to open an investigation and contract out.

Sawyer-White explained the issue was really that the investigator contacted Debra Vinson many times and she should have had the time to hire an attorney.

“I wouldn’t have talked to the investigator without an attorney,” said Sawyer-White. “I don’t understand this.”

Legal stated there were 13-attempts to contact Vinson between March and June of 2017 and an investigator will make attempts to interview. Ultimately it’s for the investigator to decide how many attempts will be made before they make a decision to move forward.

Sawyer-White then moved to remove this item from the agenda.

Trustee Debra Vinson disapproved of the letter.

“I think this letter is improper and I am objecting to letter,” said Vinson. “I am also challenging the findings because there is no factual evidence and the information listed in here is conclusionary and so I am objecting to everything stated in this letter. It is improper for a board to undertake this. I am an elected official elected by the community to serve the children and parents and people in the community. I see this as improper.”

Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray stated she wanted to clarify the letter where it says 6-months and to have it be the 2017-18 school year.

“Also, 25-days not to respond to an investigators call, another 15-to not respond. We go with what we have and to me, the conclusions are there,” said Gibson-Gray. “I would like to move forward with this.”

Sawyer-White argued Vinson did not break Policy4119.2 and Board Bylaws 9000, 9005 and stated these have been revised without a board vote and called it illegal, not ethical and being an ethical violation.

(Editor’s Note – Sawyer-White is basing the policy off the California School Board Association and not recognizing the AUSD Ed Code)

Sawyer-White then asked Ruehlig if he was aware of the policy changes that he was accusing Vinson of.

Ruehlig shot back.

“First of all, I didn’t accuse her of anything, these are the fact findings words citing board policy, they were not my citations,” said Ruehlig.

Vinson asked a question on the letter asking about how she engaged in intimidating conduct towards two employees.

“Where is the evidence and where is the information that this actually occurred?” asked Vinson. “Where is the evidence and facts that support this statement and it happened? What is the fact finding for this? Where are the facts?”

Ruehlig stated they were not here to re-state the case, the fact finding has already happened.

“The fact finding occurred over three months and you didn’t participate in it,” said Ruehlig. “We had discussion in the last board meeting which you had the opportunity to share your side of the story.”

Vinson said she was not trying to re-litigate the incident but blamed her cell phone.

“I would like to go on public record, I am in an area where I have a cell phone, the cell phone, I can’t communicate with people for long lengths of time. I thought I made that clear but I am not going to go over that because you are right, we are not here to re-litigate this, but I am asking a specific question.”

She wanted to know where the facts were and says she was never presented with the facts or are there facts anywhere.

Trustee Gary Hack stated that Vinson could have answered that question any of the 13-times the litigator tried to reach out to her. Gibson-Gray added this was an executive summary and suggests Vinson get another cell service if she couldn’t get phone messages for 25-days.

“You are missing the point, I work in a dead zone area,” said Vinson. “I do receive messages once I am out and I do communicate. I just can’t hold hour long conversations which is what this would have required.”

She again asked for the facts of where she allegedly did these violations.

Ruehlig then stated if Vinson was going to correct the record, he would have to do the same stating he disagreed with Willie Mims interpretation that it would prohibit the discharge of duties by Vinson because there was nothing in the letter that would prohibit her from doing her duties, but merely funneling them through the Superintendent.

“I also wanted to object to the press release, if you want to call it that, by Trustee Vinson put out at the last meeting in which she used the phrase possible cohesion of witnesses.  I find that rather deplorable suggesting that our administrator have been coheres by either the board or by the Superintend or by anybody to offer false testimony,” explained Ruehlig. “It seems like a rather outrageous grand conspiracy theory where everybody is out to get me kind of thing. I just cant understand it.”

He added that trustee Vinson had communications with the Superintendent and myself and she implied that we had condoned her actions with these employees.

“I have strong objects to that,” stated Ruehlig. “I had three conversations and the first two she expressed her dismay that the student wasn’t be allowed to transfer into Orchard Park, and second said her understanding was two students had been allowed in the middle of the year to transfer. I made a call or two myself and those were two students living within the boundaries of the school which is entirely  different than being outside the boundaries. So I told trustee Vinson that I think we had a different set of facts. Then I got a third phone call which things took a whole other set of disciples which she said she spoke to employee number 1 and vigorously told them that they had to change their mind and change their decision to allow this student in. When this employee said they can’t do that because it goes against board policy and can’t circumvent the board and cant circumvent the superintendent. Trustee Vinson then told me that she was going to employee number 2 to bring her case. I told her in no uncertain terms please do not do that, you are transgressing your grounds and suggested she wait for the superintendent to come back and I guess she didn’t.”

Vinson objected to Ruehligs comments and called him confused about the details of the events.

“I am objecting to the contents of the letter and I feel these restrictions are illegal, there is no policy, there is no ed code, there is no state law that allows a local school district to put sanctions on an elected official for any reason, so I am objecting to it,” said Vinson.

Ruehlig stated both he and Vinson will have to agree to disagree on the exchange.

“You talk about past behaviors sort of precedence, a fact finder, two credible witnesses who I think have impeccable reputations and you throw in the compete contempt for this investigative process, I just can’t understand it. If I was being investigated I would make every attempt over 9-weeks to find 1-week where I can find an hour to meet with someone,” said Ruehlig.

Vinson shot back.

“I am objecting to Trustee Ruehligs words of impeccable and integrity. I think he is entitled to his opinion, but I would caution him regarding the defamation of character and regarding the judgement conclusionary comments he is making in reference to employees,” stated Vinson. “I will also go on record to say that I had some information from the community and I have not placed that information from the community and I haven’t done anything with it because I don’t want to go back.  I just want to be clear I am objecting to this and it’s improper and should not be on the agenda.”

Sawyer-White stated all this research is becoming like a full time job to her and it saddens her because its creating a hostile work environment.

“I can’t even go to a governance conference but we can pay an attorney $20,000. I don’t even know what to say. I was excited to be a board member, but now I am not because I can’t even go get educated on the governance procedures, I had to go look this all up. No one has ever sat down with me, had a cup of coffee and said this is what the agenda items are, these are the consent items. I am learning this all on my own,” said Sawyer-White. “This is stressful, I have a fulltime job. I am not retired.”

She stated again she wants a motion because she thought it was illegal and a waste of time because it makes her feel uncomfortable going to school sites and talking to principals.

“This is too stressful. I don’t even like coming to these meetings, I really don’t,” said Sawyer-White. “I haven’t felt comfortable from the beginning that I was sworn in. I think you should really consider this action because the next step is the District Attorney being notified. My son is in the District, I am uncomfortable and I would take him out because I don’t feel comfortable volunteering in the classroom now, I thought I would have this support system when I was elected. I ran for a reason, to impact my community… my enthusiasm has fizzled down to nothing. I shouldn’t have to research until 1 or 2 am in the morning. I have a 10-year-old, I have to get babysitters, and this doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Sawyer-White made a motion to pull the item from the agenda due to an ethical violation based on policies that you are accusing her of.  Trustee Vinson seconded the motion.  The motion failed in a 3-2 vote.

Gibson-Gray made a motion to approve the letter with the date change to the 2017-2018 school year.

“We have to protect our employees, if the employees feel threatened by a board member, it’s our role to make sure they are not put in that situation again,” said Gibson-Gray.

Vinson objected to that motion and requested that all school board trustees be trained to understand what harassment and intimidation, bullying and threatening behavior really is.

“I am also concerned about the undertones of taking such a harsh stance by trustee Gibson-Gray. I think there are undertones of discrimination and undertones of racism because she stated we needed to protect our employee. I work during the day. I work every day, so I have no idea what the implication of that motion is except that it implies that some sort of discrimination and some sort of out of control behavior. I am a woman, I am a female, to go around threatening and bullying employees on site, I’d like to see the evidence and facts on that. I am objecting her motion and am concerned for the implication of her motion.”

Gibson-Gray stated she was basing it on the executive summary.

“I am basing it off the executive summary which is not in your favor because you did not participate,” stated Gibson-Gray.

Sawyer-White stated by approving this probation, how does it make it comfortable for her or any other board member going forward.

“Its 3-2 most of the time, so how is this helping our relationship as a board. It’s dysfunctional and other districts are seeing this. I went all the way to Anaheim and they wanted to laugh and Antioch Unified School District they said it was one of the most dysfunctional boards. They are reading this,” explained Sawyer-White. “So I don’t understand Diane, how is that helping by putting her on probation instead of us moving forward.”

Gibson-Gray stated because “employees felt threatened by her.”

Sawyer-White responded “did she try and kill them? Did she choke them?

Gibson-Gray responded by saying she wasn’t going to debate the merits but rather basing it off 25-days of not responding another15-days for the second, she didn’t participate in the process

Sawyer-White responded saying “she doesn’t have to, she needs a lawyer.”

Gibson-Gray stated again they have the executive summary and that is what I am making my motion on.

Vinson asked the Board to cite the laws and facts. The state laws, board policies that gives this board the authority to make these types of decisions regarding this letter.

“This is a gross misuse of authority, there is no law, state, education code, board policy that gives this board the authority to make the decision as it relates to restricting my access to school campus. I object to it and its very improper at this time,” said Vinson.

The motion passed 3-2 with Vinson and Sawyer-White dissenting.


Item 10.B Direct President, Walter Ruehlig, to send a formal letter to the complainants and other District administrators letting them know that they are not to respond to requests from Trustee Vinson and are to send all such requests to the Superintendent for handling during the next six months

A recent investigation of complaints filed by District employees found that Trustee Debra Vinson engaged in the following:

  • Trustee Vinson engaged in intimidating conduct towards two District employees;
  • Trustee Vinson improperly attempted to exercise administrative responsibility and command the services of two District employees;
  • Trustee Vinson used her position to pressure two District employees into making a decision that was contrary to Board Policy.

Trustee Vinson’s behavior exceeded her role and influence as a Board member and her coercive behavior and conduct toward District employees failed to meet the professional standards or minimum standards expected of a trustee. Additionally, Trustee Vinson’s behavior violated District Policy4119.21  and Board Bylaws 9000, 9005. To prevent such further occurrences and to protect the rights of District employees the Board directs President, Walter Ruehlig to send a formal letter to the complainants and other District administrators letting them know that they are not to respond to requests from Trustee Vinson and are to send all such requests to the Superintendent for handling during the next six months.

Vinson again objected to this letter calling it “improper” and said it felt like political harassment and political retaliation.

Gibson-Gray stated she again wished Vinson would have participated.

“I sound like a broken record; I wish you would have participated. It could have resolved a lot of things. I don’t understand where race comes into it there is nothing racist in the executive summary which address the behavior,” said Gibson-Gray.”

Vinson accused Gibson-Gray of “passing judgement” which was inappropriate due to lack of facts and evidence accusing the investigator of being very opinionated and judgmental.

Gibson-Gray said they do have a board attorney and absent Vinson’s participation she was going with the executive summary and made a motion to approve the letter with the date change to 2017-18 school year.

Sawyer-White asked Gibson-Gray how this was beneficial to the board.

Gibson-Gray stated it was “beneficial to our employees.”

Sawyer-White asked, “So she should have spoken to an investigator without an attorney?”

Gibson-Gray noted she was notified of an investigation and could have got an attorney at anytime.

Sawyer-White challenged Gibson-Gray on if she wanted this to go to the media, further to the media and to the District Attorney because Vinson was not a school employee, but rather an elected official.

Gibson-Gray responded, “I am willing to do what is best for employees at this point in time and making a motion.”

Vinson stated her objections remain.

The motion passed 3-2 with Vinson and Sawyer-White dissenting.

Note – Agenda Items begin at the 1-hour 38-minute mark.


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Jim Simmons Sep 15, 2017 - 7:31 am

Anyone else concerned about the amount of excuses Debra Vinson can come up with? She is taking no responsibility for her actions and blaming it on others. By not meeting with an investigator, she forfeits the ability to tell her side. What is the investigator supposed to do? Debra brought this on herself, there is nothing racist about that.

Rochelle Reed Sep 15, 2017 - 7:51 am

I do not believe that such an extensive period of time went by without her FINDING time to comply with the request for an interview. I had one incounter with Ms. Vision that confused me it was very trivial but I think it shows that there is a different set of rules for Ms. Vision. I was being interviewed for an award in the school district in 2015. The interview was at 9:30. Someone came out to apologize for the delay It was 9:50 she said they were waiting for Ms. Vision to arrive. At 9:55 Ms. Vision walked in the gal that had appologized for the delay said oh good you are here, Ms. Vision said ,I need a coffee,I am going to Starbucks, the gal said we have coffee and snack in the boardroom. Ms. Vision just looked at her and said, I am going to Starbucks, while we all waited another 20 minutes.I know, that this is very trivial but I feel it showed a blatent disrespect for all involved. It was her adgenda that mattered and no one else mattered.

Katie Thomas Sep 15, 2017 - 8:08 am

If I was an employee in the school district I would be looking for employment elsewhere given the circus called the school board. Why would anyone want to deal with Debra Vinson and whoever this Chrystal Sawyer-White person is appears to be confused and just as bad as Vinson. May be time to clean house in the next election as these people are an embarrassment.

Julio Sep 15, 2017 - 9:16 am

Time for Sawyer-White to find a job that doesn’t stress her. Vinson is the reason she is there anyway. Two people who should never have been elected. Time for some people to take responsibility for their own actions. Carrying around these “attitudes” all the time really is a problem and should personally exhaust them.

Melanie Sep 15, 2017 - 10:00 am

Two people who should never have been elected is correct. This is a three ring circus. Time to clean house. Vinson has ghetto mentality, and you can’t operate in the real world with her mindset. The truth hurts.

M.R. Sep 15, 2017 - 10:42 am

Good grief! We have one school board member who every few minutes is coming up with a difference excuse for her conduct and thinks the whole school administration is in a big conspiracy to “get her” and who thinks she should have to be taught what bullying and intimidation is. Than another whining about how tough the job is, that she doesn’t even know what an agenda and consent calendar means, and how she doesn’t enjoy the stressful job (things she should have know before she even ran for the job), yet she doesn’t resign. Sounds like another swamp that needs to be drained!

Bill Goldsby Sep 15, 2017 - 11:29 am

Looks to me like Ms. Vinson and Ms. Sawyer-White are acting like they are entitled to get whatever they want because they are Trustees, forget the policies of the the District and Education Code.

Ms. Vinson had multiple opportunities to respond to the investigator, yet she didn’t. All she gives is a bunch of excuses. Ms. Sawyer-White keeps talking about the need for an attorney to respond, if she did no wrong then why wouldn’t Ms. Vinson just take a few moments respond, set up an appointment or some way get her side out. But she didn’t.

Common Cents Sep 15, 2017 - 1:52 pm

Not taking sides here, but according to the law…..what the majority of the school board did with their vote puts the district in the crosshairs of a huge lawsuit, which Ms. Vinson will win.
The law is crystal clear. Elected officials are only accountable to the Oters-Not the board or any other board member.

While I don’t agree at all with Ms Vinson on her conduct, the board taking illegal action is deplorable and moreover illegal. Any attorney that knows government law knows this. Legal staff has made the district vulnerable if Ms Vinson pursues her rights. Based on the record and minutes of the meeting it’s a slam dunk.

“I am objecting to the contents of the letter and I feel these restrictions are illegal, there is no policy, there is no ed code, there is no state law that allows a local school district to put sanctions on an elected official for any reason, so I am objecting to it,” said Vinson.”

Old Pittsburg/Antioch Hwy Border Sep 15, 2017 - 6:06 pm

Sawyer-White and Vinson both responded poorly during the board meeting. Neither are behaving in a manner that shows they want to be Antioch School Board members. Us voters will grant their wish in 2018 and 2020 elections.

Gary Gilbert Sep 15, 2017 - 7:48 pm

Wow, what a mess!!! And for Vinson to cry racism because she refused multiple opportunities to meet with the investigator for weeks is a pathetic excuse. This woman has no business being on the school board and Sawyer-White should have NEVER ran for elected office if she believed it was going to be stressful. Are you kidding me?

Vinson and SW should both resign because they are an embarrassment to themselves and Antioch.

luvinglife Sep 15, 2017 - 8:35 pm

I do not want to comment on the current situation, I would like to bring up the fact that the STUDENTS of AUSD need the Board of Education to work together in a positive manner for their education! It is not like AUSD schools are rated top schools and can afford this type of behavior and negative publicity. Each and every one of the BOE members chose to run for the BOE, spent several thousand dollars getting elected and should be devoted to the students and staff of the district. Our students need the BOE to give direction on instruction, books, policy, long term goals and all the important matters of running a school district to ensure that students are being given the BEST education they can receive. I’m not saying who is right or wrong here. I don’t know what happened or when it happened. I’m saying work towards an end to this mess and MOVE forward as a team. If you cannot be apart of a team, resign.

Julio Sep 16, 2017 - 4:42 pm

There is no team in the AUSD. Talk to any one of them and they will tell you “I am only one person” and can only do certain things. BS. I can not recall when we had a school board that worked as a team. Not only that they have never worked FOR our children only for themselves to be elected again.

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