The High Island ISD school board on Tuesday authorized the district’s counsel to pursue talks aimed at removing Superintendent D’Ann Vonderau.

The board also Tuesday appointed Principal Amanda Jackson acting superintendent as the fallout continues following a student’s discovery of a loaded handgun in a district vehicle.

The gun belonged to Vonderau, whom the board on May 19 placed on administrative leave as a result of the May 1 incident.

“I move that we authorize legal counsel to speak with the superintendent’s attorney regarding the superintendent’s departure from the district,” Trustee Chris Barrow said.

The board unanimously approved the motion to loud applause from the 50 or so onlookers packed into the school board’s meeting room.

The district’s counsel, Melanie Charleston, of the Houston law firm of Walsh Gallegos, has offered the board a general timetable for beginning talks with Vonderau’s attorney regarding the suspended superintendent’s removal.

“She indicated to us she was wanting to start as soon as possible,” longtime school board President Bennie Barrow said Thursday. “She said it wouldn’t be more than a couple of weeks.”

Vonderau at a May 19 meeting took responsibility for leaving the .380-caliber pistol in the district-owned Chevrolet Suburban, which often also is used to take students to and from regional sporting events and other school-related activities.

“On May 1, 2017, I traveled to West Hardin ISD in Saratoga, Texas, on school district business in a district vehicle with other district employees,” she said, reading from a statement. “Once we arrived, I observed that the school district does not allow concealed handguns on its campuses. I then left the handgun in the locked district vehicle to attend the meeting.”

In an interview that night she acknowledged that the handgun was loaded when the student found it.

She said in her statement that when she returned to High Island ISD she forgot to retrieve the weapon.

“When the vehicle was next used, a High Island ISD student-athlete discovered the handgun in the vehicle while traveling for a sports competition,” she said.

Vonderau is authorized under a Texas statute known as the Guardian Plan, which allows licensed and certified school districts’ employees to carry concealed handguns on campus as a precautionary measure.

Before being placed on administrative leave, Vonderau had suspended a popular, longtime middle school English teacher, Eva Gail Riley, after the instructor informed parents and others about the initial board meeting called to discuss the gun incident.

Jackson reinstated Riley immediately after being appointed acting superintendent, to boisterous applause. A banner signed by students and reading “Welcome Back, Ms. Riley,” was immediately hung in the school’s main hallway.

Recruitment of a permanent replacement awaits Vonderau’s removal, Barrow said.

“We’ll begin a search for a full-time superintendent just as soon as that position is vacant.”

Jackson has been with the district two years, serving as student counselor and principal for the 155-student, pre-K-through-12th-grade district.

She declined to address the controversy other than to define her current focus.

“This is the best week of school,” she said Thursday of graduation week. “We get to focus on our real purpose, we get to focus on our students’ accomplishments.”

On Friday evening, 16 High Island High School seniors will cross the stage in the district’s “cafetorium” to receive their diplomas, Jackson said, noting that “half of them are graduating with college credits through Galveston College.”

Vonderau has been with the High Island ISD since being named superintendent in 2010. She holds a doctorate in education from Baylor University.

She was unavailable for comment.


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