About two dozen parents and children in the Palo Alto school district stood in a candlelight vigil Monday night at district headquarters and called for stronger policies to address bullying.
The event followed publication of a ruling by the U.S. Department of Education that the district violated a middle school student's civil rights by failing to conduct a thorough, organized investigation into persistent bullying that was related to the student's disability.
While admitting no violation of law, the district agreed to settle the case by adopting new policies and procedures and communicating with parents, students and staff.
School officials have been analyzing survey data on bullying, the results of which will be presented tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 12, to the Board of Education.
In the California Healthy Kids Survey, Palo Alto students reported feeling "safe" or "very safe" at school in consistently higher proportion than students across Santa Clara County.
"The high perception of safety in PAUSD (Palo Alto Unified School District) schools is supported by low bullying rates," Student Services Coordinator Brenda Carrillo said in the summary points of her presentation to be delivered tonight.
Carrillo said three separate surveys show that "overall bullying rates have declined across (school) sites.
Though bullying generally is down since 2008, between 3.07 percent and 4.74 percent of Palo Alto middle school students last year reported being "bullied socially once a week or more."
Carrillo said the district is working toward finalizing an updated bullying policy this spring that will "provide a common understanding of bullying across our school communities" and "promote a standard reporting and complaint procedure to monitor bullying incidences."
Several parents at Monday's candlelight vigil said the anonymous middle school student who was the subject of the federal investigation could have been their child.
The bullied student was in special education with a speech-and-language impairment that affected the student's social skills and ability to interpret social cues, according to a school resource specialist quoted in the report.
The student and family persistently complained that the student was called "stupid," "slow," "annoying," "gross" and "retarded."
Among those attending the vigil was software engineer Ken Dauber, who ran unsuccessfully last November for a seat on the Board of Education.
Today Dauber and a parent group he cofounded, We Can Do Better Palo Alto, called for an "independent public investigation into bullying."