Third-Party Investigator Confirms Antioch School District Handled “Bully Boss” Claims Appropriately

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

The Antioch Unified School District has released a statement stating a third-party investigator cleared the district of any mishandling of “bully boss” accusations.

In a letter (see below) released by May 15  by Robert Martinez, Chief Human Resources Officer, he shared that two of the four complaints have been processed and determined to be consistent with district practices, protocols, procedures and board policy—as well as within the law. This comes in response to multiple news media stories around “bully boss” and calls for the Superintendent to resign or be fired.

Back in April, four district employees publicly accused Ken Turnage II of bullying others and the District did not take the matter seriously—this included placing Jim Kesser’s  desk on a roof. The incident occurred nearly 14-months prior in January of 2023 and only after a new employees union contract approved and a school bond passed.

It turns out, the desk was not assigned to Kesser, or any employee, but was a spare desk in the paint shop. The desk was placed on the roof for a photograph and taken down the same day–Kesser never physically saw the desk on the roof, but rather through a text message. Kesser was apparently off work that day.

This led to four employees then accusing Anello of turning a blind eye to “bully boss” because Turnage is friends with her husband–the only evidence apparently provided of this was social media photographs. The District has stated Anello was not involved in the investigation which was ultimately handled by the human resources department which included Martinez and Carrie Wells. — the third party private investigators confirmed Anello was never involved.

Another bullying complaint of Turnage, filed by Kim Atkinson, it was also investigated and handled appropriately by the District. Turns out, her complaint was filed weeks after speaking during public comments, not before.

“Under the Superintendent’s direction they were subsequently reviewed by an outside, third-party, independent investigator which found that the internal investigations and appeal process were appropriately conducted, finding no irregularities in the investigation processes or the findings of the investigations,” said Martinez in the letter.

Martinez shares the governing board is working to identify an acting superintendent in the absence of Anello who is on medical leave.

District Blasts Hernandez

Also in the letter, Martinez disputed claims by Board President Antonio Hernandez that the district mishandled the employee complaints. He states Hernandez made the accusations public in April, but the Board did not hear anything about the steps by the District took to investigate until May 8—including results from the outside-third-party-independent investigator. The Board was given the information that District staff acted appropriately and within the law.

Hernandez attempted to call two special meetings in an effort to fire Anello, however, during a regular board meeting which was a third attempt, the vote failed 2-3 to oust Anello–its also being suggested Hernandez broke The Brown Act and Ed Code in attempts to fire Anello who is currently on medical leave and firing her without cause.

Timeline… so far.

January 2023 – First Complaint against Turnage filed for desk on the roof Sept. 13, 2023 – Kim Atkinson speaks at school board meeting – Dr. Clyde Lewis says they will look into it. Late September 2023 – Kim Atkinson files complaint against Turnage Jan 24, 2024 – Kim Atkinson speaks at board meeting says she provided 24 examples of a hostile environment. April 10, 2024 – Superintendent Anello confirms Trustee Hernandez requested debrief April 14, 2024 – Kim Atkinson speaks again at school board meeting. April 14, 2024 – the “bully boss” news articles begin to hit the public April 18, 2024 – Trustee Hernandez calls for Superintendent Anello resignation April 19, 2024 – Special School Board Meeting called – no quorum and calls for resignation of Anello for second time April 23, 2024 – Superintendent Anello formally placed on medical leave (unknown when she will return) April 24, 2024 – AUSD announces independent third-party investigations. April 25, 2024 – Special School Board Meeting called — no quorum and calls for resignation of Anello for third time. May 4, 2024 – Turnage returns with Liz Robbins to remove personal items from office May 8, 2024 – AUSD Board Meeting. School Board provided debrief on investigations. May 15, 2024 – AUSD releases letter to district employees citing they acted in accordance with the law and proper process and protocols. Also cites Anello not involved with any of the investigations, findings or discipline. May 15, 2024 – Trustee Hernandez cites he is now being bullied by superintendent on social media. Also posts legal documents breaking client-attorney privileges of the Board. CSEA Chapter 85 Still Won’t Confirm Vote

CSEA Board Members have not responded to questions or provide any proof that the executive board took vote of no confidence against the upper cabinet. During the May 8 School Board Meeting, CSEA Chapter President Brian Atkinson stated they took a vote while blasting the District.

At least two sources claim a vote never occurred while several others within the District have confirmed they cannot get any answers regarding a vote of no confidence.

No response from Linda Rambeau-Jaime, Luis Sandoval, Anna Hernandez-Guzman, Chapter Treasurer Lilian Morataya, Joan Burke, Laura Dickerson, Michael Brisco Marcos Valdez, Stewards Erik Pitschner, Levon Edwards and Thomas Sellers.

On May 10, Martinez confirmed the AUSD has received no formal documentation from CSEA confirming that any formal action was taken by CSEA with regards to Mr. Atkinson’s public statement.

Hernandez Calls Superintendent Bully

On social media Wednesday, new accusations of “bully boss” as Trustee Hernandez called out the Superintendent and may have now formally damaged her career by alleging she has created a culture of bullying and was bullying him.

“This is yet another example of the culture of bullying at the Antioch Unified School District. I will not be bullied by the Superintendent in hopes that the the problems she created go away.” said Hernandez.

Its apparently setting the stage for a separation from the District and Anello–however, Hernandez likely is headed towards a lawsuit for the District. What school board will hire a potential candidate with claims of bullying board members? Or, while having media reports by a school board president calling for a superintendents resignation without cause or basis?  Not very smart. AUSD will likely be on the hook for a nice payout to Anello.

Despite a month-long investigation and smear campaign, Hernandez or anyone has provided any evidence that Anello or staff acted inappropriately which is what the independent investigation revealed. I think we all know who the real “bully boss” is — see letter below.

AUSD Letter to The District Employees

May 15,

Deer Antioch Unified School District Staff,

I hope this message finds each of you well and thriving in your roles within our District.

As you may be aware, there has been recent media coverage regarding certain personnel matters within our organization. I want to take a moment to provide clarity and address some of the concerns that may have arisen as a result.

First and foremost, I want to assure you that the District takes all employee matters seriously and handles them with the utmost care and diligence. Any complaints or issues brought forward are thoroughly investigated by our Human Resources Department or a third party, independent firm, in accordance with established protocols, procedures, board policy, and applicable law.

Two of the four complaints recently highlighted in the media coverage, were in fact processed consistent with the District’s practices, protocols, procedures, board policy, and applicable law in that they were investigated by Human Resources and the complainants were responded to with Confidential Administrative Determination letters that contained findings of those investigations. In addition, under the Superintendent’s direction they were subsequently reviewed by an outside, third-party, independent investigator which found that the internal investigations and appeal process were appropriately conducted, finding no irregularities in the investigation processes or the findings of the investigations. The two more recent complaints are under investigation and will go through a similar process. If and when there is a need for employee discipline, based on the evidence and findings, such discipline would be assigned by the Human Resources Department, again, based on appropriate protocols, board policy, collective bargaining agreements, and applicable law.

Last month, the Board President spoke to the media claiming the District mishandled certain employee complaints. However, it was not until last Wednesday, May 8, that the Board first heard about the steps the Human Resources Department took to investigate and respond to the complaints. Moreover, the District and subsequently the Board has also been informed by an outside-third-party, independent investigator who reviewed the District’s handling of the complaints, that the District acted appropriately and in accordance with the law.

It is important to understand that personnel matters are confidential in nature, and as such, we are limited in the information that we can disclose publicly. While we understand that this may lead to speculation or misinformation, we want to emphasize that the District remains committed to protecting the privacy rights of employees while being transparent where possible.

We also want to make it clear that Superintendent Anello was not directly involved in the investigations, findings, or disciplinary actions related to these matters. This is consistent with the District’s practices, policies, and procedures.

We understand that media coverage can be unsettling, especially when it involves our organization. However, we encourage you to focus on the important work that we do every day to support our students and the community. We have had a challenging but rewarding year. All schools will soon see some much-needed facility improvements because of the passage of Measure B, which will bring $195 million in upgrades and repairs to our schools, and the District has implemented a new approach to early literacy to advance the skills of our students. Additionally, all schools have engaged in the equity audits commissioned by the Board of Education and most importantly, we provided a comprehensive, positive learning environment that was safe and supportive which has allowed students to thrive. This work, the work of our amazing employees, and the positive impact to students continues to be our focus and a reason to celebrate as we wind down the 2023-2024 school year.

Superintendent Anello is currently on medical leave and looks forward to returning once her doctor releases her to return. The Governing Board is working to identify an acting superintendent in her absence. More information will be shared once that person has been determined by Board action.

Thank you all for your dedication and commitment to the Antioch Unified School District. Your hard work and professionalism are greatly appreciated.

Warm Regards,

Robert A Martinez, Ed.D.
Chief Human Resources Officer
Antioch Unified School District

Mike Burkholder
Publisher of ContraCosta.news
[email protected]

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.

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