This story is part of an in-depth package of stories on the subject of bullying in Palo Alto schools. For links to all the stories, follow this link.
The Office for Civil Rights report inspired Palo Alto special-education parents and Community Advisory Committee members Christina Schmidt and Mary Vincent to research and prepare their own presentation for school decision-makers on the topic of disability-based bullying and lessons learned from the federal report.
Armed with large binders and handouts, Schmidt spoke at the Walter Hays and Duveneck elementary schools' site councils in April, with Vincent joining her for the Duveneck meeting. The two parents also met this spring with PTA Council leaders and Duveneck staff serving on the school's Social-Emotional Learning Committee. Schmidt said she and Vincent hope to be a "part of the solution" that includes addressing the needs of all children, especially those with disabilities who are more vulnerable to peer victimization and harm.
Schmidt begins her site council presentation with a careful review of the facts in the Office for Civil Rights report, line by line.
"There is a lot of misunderstanding based on a lack of grounding in the report," Schmidt said. "There is a great opportunity to use the information in the report to improve the schools and community."
The two volunteers also provide a list of resources about best practices for bullying-prevention programs and intervention strategies.
Schmidt and Vincent are enthusiastic advocates for building a transparent, easily navigated system for bringing complaints about bullying and harassment issues.
"Information has to be visible," Schmidt said.
Part of their work has been to collect anti-bullying posters and public-service announcements for possible use at the schools. They both also advocate for more training "across the board for everyone who interacts with kids."
Schmidt and Vincent share a belief that the district needs more central direction and monitoring of schools and are glad to see the movement now in that direction. With school autonomy, responsibility can be "too diffused" and accountability too difficult, Schmidt said.
Schmidt's and Vincent's fall agenda includes speaking to other site councils and leaders across the district. They also would like to see information on this topic featured in the back-to-school packet and envision fall parent-education events rolling out the district's new bullying policies and procedures, once they are finished and approved by the Office for Civil Rights and Board of Education.
Schmidt also served on the task force of the district's new "Safe and Welcoming Schools" initiative and advocated consideration of an independent ombudsman to review complaints about bullying.
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