On split vote Antioch School Board censures Trustee Householder for social media comments

Screenshots of Householder’s since deleted comments on her Twitter feed regarding Rocha posted on Aug. 14, 2020.

Householder claims her colleagues are punishing her over ideological differences

By Allen Payton

Drama and controversy continued for the Antioch School Board Wednesday night, as the board majority, on a 3-2 split, voted to censure one of their own. Trustee Mary Rocha requested the item be placed on  the agenda for Trustee Ellie Householder’s comments on Twitter praising those who participated in a protest and for pressuring Rocha regarding  her plan to ask the board to remove Householder from the City-School Subcommittee for her comments. (See related article)

Householder’s Twitter comments on Aug. 14 have since been deleted. The three comments read, “I want Antioch student demonstrators to know they had and continue to have a VISIBLE AFFECT (sic) on school board members. At last night Board meeting Trustee Rocha decided to table an item she submitted for discussion regarding the city-school subcommittee…which I just so happen to sit on (presumably she did this to try to boot me off following BLM demonstration at Joy Motts house). For the last week I’ve heard students chant ‘we will vote you out’ and ‘f*** Mary, Gary, and Diane.’ & folx lemme tell you…Rocha said plainly / sheepishly ‘I think we should wait after the election…I just don’t think this is good to talk about now…’ She is SHOOK YA’LL!! Just a happy reminder your voice has impact and to never stop fighting! #BLM #StandUpFightBack.”

However, the attempt to remove Householder from the subcommittee was debated at the next school board meeting on Aug. 26, and the vote to remove her failed on a 1-4 vote, with just Rocha voting yes. During that meeting Householder apologized for her Twitter comments, but said the other board members were misinterpreting them, which could perhaps be due to them not understanding how Twitter works.

Censure Resolution Resolution 20-21-07 Censure of Trustee E Householder

The resolution up for discussion was read by Board President Diane Gibson-Gray, which includes part of what Householder wrote:

“Trustee Householder, on her Twitter page, which identifies her as an Antioch Unified School District Board Member, tweeted support for the conduct of demonstrators whose stated goal (and actions thereafter) were designed to deliberately prevent the Antioch Unified School District Board from conducting its lawful business at a public meeting (which is a violation of Penal Code section 403). Householder went on to tweet that ‘For the last week I’ve heard students chant “we will vote you out” and “f*** Mary, Gary, and Diane” and further stated ‘She is SHOOK YA’LL!! Just a happy reminder your voice has impact to never stop fighting!’ To publicly voice approval and support of speech that denigrates her fellow Trustees violates the Board Policies cited above and exceed the bounds of common decency and professionalism that should be a part of all board members’ speech and conduct.”

The resolution refers to the district’s Board Bylaw 9005 which reads, “Board members are expected to govern responsibly and hold themselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct;” and “Each individual Board member shall… Act with dignity, and understand the implications of demeanor and behavior;” as well as “Board members also shall assume collective responsibility for building unity and creating a positive organizational culture” and “Govern in a dignified and professional manner, treating everyone with civility and respect.”

The resolution also refers to Bylaw 9010, “Public Statements” states that “… the Board encourages members who participate on social networking sites, blogs, or other discussion or informational sites to conduct themselves in a respectful, courteous, and professional manner and to model good behavior for district students and the community;” and 9012, “Board Member Electronic Communications” states that “Board members shall make every effort to ensure that their electronic communications conform to the same standards and protocols established for other forms of communication.”

The final clause giving the reason for censuring Householder reads, “the Governing Board determines that Trustee Householder’s conduct is unacceptable, unprofessional, and a violation of the Board Bylaws cited above.”

Public Comments

Householder spoke first saying, “I would just request that Ms. Cavallaro read the comments so it would be someone more neutral.”

Gibson-Gray said “we’ve already made arrangements to have Superintendent Stephanie Anello read the comments. She is neutral.”

“She’s the secretary, Madam Chair. That’s a conflict of interest,” said Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White.

“I don’t believe so. I used to read them,” Gibson-Gray said. “But I have asthma.”

Rocha then said, “I’d like to put that in motion.”

“No, let’s hear from the public, please if you don’t mind,” Gibson-Gray said. “OK,” responded Rocha.

“Just for clarification the reason I wanted someone more neutral is just given some of the comments on social media from those close to the superintendent,” Householder said. “Given that this is really sensitive that’s why I wanted to request someone more neutral read the comments. Even you.”

“I don’t have the public comments…they are in Superintendent’s hands, now,” Gibson-Gray responded.

Anello said that one of the district’s attorneys was on the line in case any of the trustees had any questions. She then read about 100 public comments on both sides of the issue, some supporting Householder, others criticizing her and supporting her censure, including form letters submitted by those on both sides.

Council Discussion and Vote

Following the public comments, Rocha immediately made the motion to approve the resolution.

“Madam Chair, we need a discussion,” Sawyer-White said, interrupting and talking over Rocha.

“You can discuss it after it’s put on the table,” Rocha shot back.

“I seconded it for discussion,” Gibson-Gray said.

“As a board trustee…I find a censure is a distraction for the board,” Sawyer-White said. “Trustee Householder’s tweet was taken out of context and were comments of students. Students are frustrated…with not having a voice. I am not in favor of having this censorship. I am disheartened by the comments…when new trustees aren’t mentored. Nobody has reached out to mentor us.”

“I think the resolution in the beginning before these 80 some comments were shared…I have no disagreement with it and have no problem with it,” Hack said.

Sawyer-White then said, “It’s infringing on her First Amendment right.”

Householder Responds

“I am truly disappointed in my colleagues for putting forward this resolution,” Householder said, reading prepared remarks. “Because we had an ideological disagreement about racial injustices in our district and how to address them, you have retaliated against me by claiming a technical violation. I would have welcomed a discussion about a way we could mediate this issue as a Board, such as workshops or trainings. Instead, my colleagues decided to take punitive action against me. And for that, I really am disappointed.

I’d like to make this crystal clear, the issue here is that I am bringing up racial injustices. That is what they don’t like. And that is what this resolution is about.

The reality is what is happening here is a part of a national awakening to issues of race and racism in our public institutions. For example, it is no secret that AUSD suspends Black boys at a rate seven times higher than their white counterparts. It’s no secret that our higher-level management lacks the same diversity that our larger population has. And it’s no secret that across the board our students of color perform worse academically.

The students of this district understand these facts. And they understand how our district perpetuates inequalities. That is why I will continue to stand in support of their efforts to change our community for the better.

While my colleagues are focused on silencing me, I am going to continue focusing on uplifting voices. I am going to continue talking about issues of race and inequity in our district, and I am going to continue fighting for the rights of our students to advocate for themselves and against injustices. Because we need to talk about these things if we are going to do the jobs the community trusted in us, and that is to educate our students.

Again, I really am disappointed that this is what we have come to. Ideological differences shouldn’t be met with punitive action.

Thank you.”

Gibson-Gray made no comments and the motion passed on a 3-2 with Sawyer-White and Householder voting against.

“Ellie you have blocked me on your Twitter feed. That is your own personal choice, but I would appreciate you unblocking me,” Gibson-Gray added.

The resolution adopted by the board concludes, “the Governing Board of the Antioch Unified School District hereby finds that the foregoing recitals are true and correct…that based on these recitals, the Governing Board of the Antioch Unified School District hereby formally censures Trustee Ellie Householder and proclaims publicly that this Board disapproves of the aforementioned conduct and finds it to be a violation of the Board Bylaws and unacceptable behavior that shall not be tolerated. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED AND ORDERED that Trustee Householder shall treat fellow Board members and District staff with dignity and respect at all times and in all forums.”

This is the second time in three years that the board has censured one of its members for something they’ve written, said or done. The last time was in 2017 when the board majority voted to censure Debra Vinson for allegations of bullying and intimidating staff members.

Other Social Media Posts by Householder About the Censure Vote

About the proposed censure vote, on her Twitter feed on Aug. 27 Householder wrote, “They want to silence me for calling out racial inequities. Yet there is a clear pattern of behavior where Black and brown folks are held to a different standard. They can censure me all they want I am not going to stop pointing out these injustices.”

Then on Sept. 4 Householder wrote, “Rocha requested an item for DISCUSSION regarding my tweets in support of student demonstrators (8/26). Now there is an ACTION item Resolution re: Censure of me for upcoming 9/9 BOE mtg. They’re trying to silence me for supporting the youth in their fight against racial injustice.”

Then on Sept. 5, Householder posted, “Rather than have a real conversation about race they’ve engaged in a pattern of tactics meant to silence me—meant to silence a movement & generation of folks who are saying enough is enough. Use the link in my bio to submit a comment letting them know theyre wrong side of history twitter.com/householder925…”

Finally, on Tuesday, Sept. 8 she wrote, “Please help me drown out the hatred by putting in a public comment. It’s agenda item 10B.”

In a post on her School Board Facebook page on Sept. 5, Householder wrote, “My colleagues disagree with my support of student and youth activist in their fight against racial injustices. Rather than have a real conversation about race, they’ve decided to engage in a pattern of tactics meant to silence me – meant to silence a movement and generation of folks who are saying enough is enough. Fill out this public comment card ahead of this Wednesday’s Board meeting to let them know how they’re on the wrong side of history.”

Householder’s post on her School Board Facebook page on Sept. 6, 2020.

Householder Censors Comments on School Board Facebook Page

As mentioned during public comments, Householder also posted on her School Board Facebook page on Sept. 6, “I welcome discussion on my page and posts. I will not, however, allow this forum to be used for personal threats, nasty language, or spamming. ‘An official speaking as a government actor cannot limit interactions based on viewpoint, but they can limit other kinds of interactions. Depending on the circumstances, a person can be blocked for posting personal threats or profane language, including in accordance with the social media platform’s terms of service. An official can also preclude all comments or in certain circumstances limit discussions to certain subjects – in other words, government officials may have no obligation to open the social media account up for public comment, but if they do, they cannot discriminate as to which views get to be expressed in those comments.’”

A censure is a non-binding action, carries no legal consequences and is merely a strong condemnation of an official’s actions or comments.

To watch the entire school board meeting click here and to hear all the public comments on this item, scroll to the 2:16:45 point.



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the attachments to this post:

Resolution 20-21-07 Censure of Trustee E Householder

Ellie’s Twitter comments 9-8 & 9-5-20

Ellie Householder FB post 09-06-20

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