The 600-student Vallecito Union School District in Calaveras County has been in turmoil for more than two years over conduct relating to board member Carol Gordon.
She was censured by the board for conduct in the community, which means she can’t go on the grounds of any of the district’s three schools. A restraining order filed by a principal means she must attend board meetings by phone.
She has faced a number of misdemeanor charges and has had problems with her neighbors.
Last week, she said she panicked after hitting a car in a parking lot in Murphys and then left the scene.
Gordon’s term expires at year’s end, and she’s running for re-election on Nov. 8. She was first elected in 2012 following a 30-plus year career in education, including work at one of the district’s schools, Albert Michelson Elementary in Murphys.
Gordon said Thursday she blames everything, from the censure to the run-ins with law enforcement and the restraining orders, on being molested by a man at the Murphys Historic Hotel on March 25, 2014.
She said the incident occurred while she was drinking a soda in the saloon in front of a number of others. Online Calaveras County court documents show a man was cited for a misdemeanor charge of touching an intimate part of another against their will on March 25, 2014, but the charges were dismissed.
She said society is condemning her to get her to quit talking about her experience.
“These are small town attitudes with small minds,” Gordon said.
Gordon and the board
District officials said they have asked her to resign since 2014 when her behavior became erratic. She has been censured twice, most recently in early 2015. It was imposed following five instances at the Murphys Historic Hotel from December 2014 to January 2015 that involved law enforcement.
She was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold by Calaveras County Behavioral Health after the fifth offense, according to incident reports.
The censure barred Gordon from appearing at any of the district’s three schools, discouraged any calls to anyone associated with any school and established provisions for meeting attendance, among other guidelines.
Tom Pratt, president of the VUSD Board of Trustees, said if Gordon fails to fully attend any part of a meeting in three successive months, she could be removed.
In August, Gordon asked the board to lift her censure so she could better perform board duties. Between the time she made the request and the date of the hearing, Gordon was arrested twice.
Logs with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office show she was arrested on Aug. 27 after a disturbance involving “problems with a neighbor yelling” was reported.
She was booked twice two days later for entering a non-common dwelling.
During the hearing in September. Pratt informed the trustees about her arrests. The meeting minutes show Pratt said he would not support lifting the censure. Two other trustees, Colby Barker and Ali Heermance, supported Pratt. No motion to lift the censure was proposed. The attempt failed.
Documents from Calaveras County Superior Court revealed misdemeanor charges for aggravated trespassing were filed against Gordon in connection with the later instance. She pleaded not guilty on Oct. 18.
She said both occasions were overblown. She said she was honking her car in a playful mood as she drove to donate blood in Sonora on Aug. 27. She said she was detained and held on a 5150 because of it.
On the Aug. 29 trespassing charges, she blamed her neighbors. She said she was attempting to seek help to acquire a vehicle that was taken during the previous detainment when she rang a doorbell. Not getting an answer, she walked inside the house without permission, she said. The neighbors called the sheriff.
A search of court documents available online revealed three people have applied for a restraining order against Gordon. The most recent was filed by Jan and Patricia Schulz, her neighbors. It was approved earlier in October.
Brett Loring, principal of Albert Michelson Elementary, obtained a restraining order in 2014.
Loring said the restraining order was filed after a number of bizarre and atypical instances with Gordon at the school. Among the anecdotes was a subtle remark while teaching students about asphyxiation using plants. He said she told them “a plant can suffocate like a student can suffocate.”
In addition to the requirement to stay away from the school, her physical presence is forbidden when he is in proximity. It becomes especially tricky during board meetings. Special considerations are required since Loring attends every meeting.
Pratt said Gordon is able to physically attend closed sessions but must be elsewhere during the regular meeting. Typically, she goes home to Murphys and dials into a teleconference call.
During an October board meeting from district headquarters in Avery, the board was down one member because Heermance resigned to pursue a career in teaching. They almost lost a quorum when Gordon disconnected the phone before Pratt officially ended the meeting.
Last Thursday, Savannah Mattingy said she was at Pizza Plus in Murphys, where she works, when she saw the driver of a green Mustang try to squeeze between a tight curb and an Audi.
The Ford bumped the side of the vehicle, reversed, then squeezed through, grinding the sides along the way, Mattingy said.
Later that day, a green Ford Mustang with a white scuff mark on the passenger-side bumper and identical marks near the rear tires was in a parking spot reserved for clients of the Law Offices of Mark Borden in Sonora.
Outside the law office, Gordon denied she was involved in the incident. She said she was at her home in Murphys at the time. Later, on her front doorstep, she admitted to the accident. When asked why she drove away from the scene, she said she panicked.
An officer with the California Highway Patrol arrived at her house for an investigation. The inspection took place outside her front door then moved to the vehicle. The officer took photos of the car then returned to his cruiser to log information.
The officer said the incident was a traffic collision where the suspect fled the scene. They were investigating it as a hit-and-run. It was not a criminal investigation. She was not arrested Thursday.
Pratt said he fears uninformed voters will see “incumbent” next to Gordon’s name and vote accordingly.
The Vallecito Teachers’ Association has endorsed Susan Singleton for the seat.