Woodburn schools superintendent takes legal step
Woodburn School District Superintendent Oscar Moreno Gilson filed a tort claim notice to the school board on Tuesday, April 6, declaring his intent to sue the district for claims that include breach of contract, retaliation and emotional distress, his legal team said Wednesday.
The WSD School Board placed Moreno Gilson on administrative leave Jan. 27. At that time WSD board president Anthony Medina said there would be an outside investigation into a personnel matter, but nothing else could be divulged about the action.
On Wednesday, Moreno Gilson's attorney, Maria Witt, said roughly five hours after the superintendent filed his intent Tuesday, WSD board voted to send him a "Notice of Action" the board discussed in executive session.
"I do not know what the Notice of Action will contain, although termination is certainly possible," Witt noted in an email.
To date neither Moreno Gilson nor his legal counsel have received any information regarding the investigation.
"We have asked for a copy of the investigator's findings as well as notes and/or witness statements. To date, we have not received any of these documents," Witt said.
The claim notice filed by Moreno Gilson and shared with the board noted that the superintendent "has been targeted and retaliated against for attempting to institute a culture of accountability within WSD to improve student achievement, address racial inequities and increase transparency around leadership and administrator performance."
Medina said Wednesday that "the district has no comment at this time."
The claim also underscored that Moreno Gilson restructured the district's Senior Leadership Team, a group consisting of administrators, the superintendent and the board secretary, to meet district needs, align programs and make it more accountable.
The claim noted: "After finding that the majority of SLT members had neither received nor provided formal feedback or performance evaluations for years, Mr. Moreno Gilson instituted changes to ensure that all of WSD's leadership would be evaluated and held accountable for their performance."
It further noted that the superintendent began implementing Oregon Department of Education directives from "All Students Belong," a policy geared toward facilitating a safe environment free from discrimination, harassment and intimidation.
The claim indicated that some SLT members were apprehensive about, and resistant to, the superintendent's restructuring, in some cases "due to their own personal political beliefs."
No evidence of dereliction on the superintendent's part has been provided.
"Mr. Moreno Gilson received positive feedback for his focus on accountability and equity from WSD employees and board members," according to the claim. "He never received any negative feedback, disciplinary action, performance evaluation or other indication that the WSD board was unhappy with his performance. He was never told that he had violated any WSD policies, nor was he given requirements to improve his performance, nor was he given any indication that he needed to obtain further training or professional growth."
Moreno Gilson said he was shocked by the board's Jan. 27 action, as were others.
"Woodburn School District hired Mr. Moreno Gilson in order to improve student achievement and advance equity principles within the District. It is a shame to see that the district is now backing away from this mission," Witt said.
Before WSD hired Moreno Gilson in March of 2020, he served as the Area Senior Director of Comprehensive Support and Improvement in the Portland School District. His contract to serve as WSD superintendent runs through June 30, 2023.
Craig Hawkins, executive director of the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, wrote a letter of recommendation for Moreno Gilson, which he said "speaks to my experiences with him in state-level work."
"Oscar is a leader with resounding personal and professional integrity. He has helped to foster an environment of trust that empowers school and district leaders to be vulnerable as they strive to center equity and commit to the success of each and every student," Hawkins said.
"Oscar's commitment to closing opportunity gaps and putting students first resonates with colleagues from large and small districts throughout Oregon."
Regarding further legal action, Moreno Gilson's legal team said the ball is now in the school district's court.
"We are waiting to receive the Notice of Action from the board and will determine legal activity at that point," Witt said.
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