The High Island ISD school board Friday night placed Superintendent D’Ann Vonderau on administrative leave pending further investigation into her failure to secure a loaded handgun found by high school students in a district-owned vehicle.
“As the board knows, I am authorized to carry a concealed handgun in the scope of my duties as superintendent,” Vonderau said, reading from a written statement prior to the board announcing its unanimous decision.
She confirmed in an interview that the gun she left in a white Chevrolet Suburban was loaded. She is licensed to carry a concealed handgun under a Texas statute, known as the Guardian Plan, which allows certified school personnel to carry arms on campus.
District Athletic Director John Jackson said the handgun was a .380-caliber.
At least 40 parents attended the special board session, a number of whom called for Vonderau to be fired.
“One mistake and any kid in that van could have been killed,” said Bryan Beasley, whose son is a freshman at High Island High School. “I don’t want her to have a second chance with my child’s life put in danger.”
Others echoed his sentiment.
“I support Guardian, but I don’t support anyone who doesn’t remember where her gun is,” Jo Ball said, referring to the state law. “She put our kids’ health and welfare in jeopardy.”
Vonderau, in her statement, said she left the gun in the SUV after arriving on a West Hardin ISD campus for a meeting.
“Once we arrived, I observed that the school district does not allow concealed handguns on its campuses,” Vonderau said in her statement. “I then left the handgun in the locked district vehicle to attend the meeting. Upon returning from the event to school district offices, I neglected to retrieve the handgun and it was left in the district vehicle.”
In a brief interview after reading her statement and leaving the board meeting, she confirmed the gun had been loaded, but declined to answer further questions.
“Of course it was loaded,” she said. “It would be stupid to carry a handgun that wasn’t loaded.”
Vonderau joined High Island ISD, which has 155 students from pre-K through 12th grade, as superintendent in 2010. Vonderau, who earned a doctorate in education from Baylor University, previously served as Hardin ISD’s assistant superintendent.
“I’ve done everything I could do for this school district,” she said in the interview.
In her statement, she cast aspersions on those who had commented on social media regarding the matter.
“Word of my mistake has made its way around the district and beyond,” she said. “Some of the published social media remarks have been troubling, as have unfounded rumors and gossip, and I will defer to the independent findings of the school board and other authorities on those issues. But I assure you that this has been a lesson learned.”
Vonderau’s administrative leave is open-ended pending further investigation, said Melanie Gregg Charleston, an attorney with the Houston law firm of Walsh Gallegos, which represents the district.