News

Editorial: Elusive bullying policies

School district's quest for unique system has turned routine policy development into a process quagmire

It is bad enough that the Palo Alto school district has still not complied with state anti-bullying laws that took effect more than a year and a half ago.

But it is inexcusable that a year after having been found by a federal investigation to have violated the civil rights of a bullied Terman Middle School disabled student the district is holding up adopting required new policies because it wants them to be embraced by the state as a "model" for other districts.

And while district officials wrangle over whether they have received adequate "blessing" of their draft policies from federal and state agencies, Palo Alto school principals, teachers and parents are relying on old policies that are not legally compliant and that the Office for Civil Rights concluded were not being properly followed anyway.

Why is this such a herculean task for us, while other districts long ago adopted the legally required provisions in their bullying policies?

In part because Palo Alto wants to create a unique policy that even its own state school boards association strongly advises against.

The district has devised a complex policy where school principals will be forced to determine whether or not a bullying complaint relates to discrimination against a "protected" class. If it seems to the principal like the bullying is due to a child's disability, race, gender, sexual preference, national origin, religion, etc., then the complaint will be investigated and handled by the district office in accordance with clearly established and legally mandated procedures.

But if the bullying is against a kid who is small, overweight, un-athletic, has blonde hair or is just being targeted by mean friends, the complaint will be handled differently, and at the school site level, since the law imposes no requirements relating to how that type of bullying is handled except in extreme cases requiring suspension from school.

The California State School Boards Association (CSBA), whose guidance the district pays for and regularly follows when developing policies, recommends strongly against setting up this type of "bifurcated" system to "ensure certainty and consistency for students, parents and staff when addressing all bullying complaints, regardless of whether or not a bullying incident might involve discrimination," CSBA General Counsel told the Weekly. It also is safer from a legal liability standpoint, because it will be virtually impossible for principals to get it right every time.

But district consultant and attorney Dora Dome recommended against this approach because she said it was "untenable" and could lead to "hundreds of complaints a month" being handled at the district level. So Palo Alto's draft policies, developed over the course of many months by Dome, Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the school board's policy review committee (consisting of trustees Melissa Baten Caswell and Camille Townsend) include the unique two-track system.

In a bizarre twist, however, both Skelly and Caswell told the Weekly they didn't know, or couldn't recall learning, that CSBA had recommended against the very policy the committee was in the process of developing. Now they say that might cause them to rethink the policies they have spent months developing and pushing for approval from the federal and state education departments, which they have now finally received.

Perhaps the continuing confusion and persistence in seeking its own unique approach to bullying policies could have been avoided through an open and transparent process, instead of one that took place entirely behind closed doors.

As a regular standing committee established by the school board, the policy and review committee is required under the state Brown Act to be properly noticed, to have public meetings and to allow public comment. For years, none of this has happened; the committee has met regularly without posting any public notice and agenda, in violation of the Brown Act.

And since the full school board has chosen not to discuss the evolving bullying policy at any of its regular meetings, the public has had no opportunity to participate, except for a few selected individuals who were asked to provide input.

It is but another discouraging indication of how on the one hand the district repeatedly includes in its strategic plans lofty goals of transparency and openness, and then fails to provide that transparency in practice. Having already suffered the embarrassment of multiple civil rights investigations, is it too much to ask that the district, in public, discuss and adopt the policies that were required by law 18 months ago?

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by what next
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 15, 2013 at 8:31 am

Until we have a different school board nothing will change. This board is massively incompetent. Sometimes I wonder -- are they incompetent or malevolent. It can be hard to tell. On the one hand, they seem to be angry and driven by feelings of resentment against OCR, the complainants, and the public. They are too identified with this Superintendent, who they have followed mindlessless despite his own obvious laziness, arrogance, and contempt for the public. ON the other hand, they just seem stupid. They don't remember why they selected a highly complicated policy against the advice of OCR and CSBA? They don't understand the Brown Act (again)? They meet secretly for months to discuss an issue that the press and public have been clamoring to hear about in public? That is just dumb. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by devil in the detail
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 15, 2013 at 8:43 am

"Why is this such a herculean task for us, while other districts long ago adopted the legally required provisions in their bullying policies?"
Actually, other districts don't have a solution. They have adopted state required policies that don't meet the federal requirement. This disconnect is why it's taking so long. I guess Palo Alto could do the same and then get blamed by this same set of people when the feds rebuke Palo Alto for it.
This editorial just has a simplified (some would say, naive) view of the situation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 15, 2013 at 8:46 am

In our family, it is the definition of bullying that is causing problems.

How a student can be classed as a bully who has been teased for a period of time by a group of students, then eventually loses patience and retaliates is the bully I don't know. It happens, a lot.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by what next
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 15, 2013 at 10:11 am

Let's review what happened to the last smart person on the school board, Barbara Klausner. Klausner, a Yale educated lawyer who refashioned herself as a district math teacher hoped to work on equalizing practices throughout the district to ensure that every student had the benefit of evidence-based best practices. That would seem, on the surface, to be a noncontroversial agenda.

Yet even this was too much of a management expectation for this board. Dr. Skelly let Klausner know that he was uninterested in board oversight and greeted her efforts at oversight with a stiffarm. This went on for years on issues large and small but the limit for Klausner, a Gunn parent, was found when Skelly informed the staff at Gunn that it did not need to comply with a board request that it consider adopting an advisory counseling system similar to that in use at Paly because the latter system was found to be more effective for students. Skelly was not truthful in his dealings with the board about this, and was forced to apologize to Klausner publicly and to agree to "stake his integrity" on behaving better in the future.

What was the consequence for what in private industry would be a major breach? Nothing. He received a raise and high praise from all members of the board, including some faint praise from Klausner herself, who then promptly announced that it was impossible to ever successfully challenge Skelly or site-based control and stepped down rather than seek a second term.

The board we got after her departure is probably the worst PAUSD has ever had. To call them malleable would be a compliment. [Portion removed.]

We need hard, strong, firm leadership on the board that will retake the reins of this situation and get PAUSD back on track. Bullying disabled kids? Lawsuits? Excluding kids for genetic information? [Portion removed.] The Paly Math letter? No consequences for any of this and it just goes on and on.

Will anyone intelligent and focused with a background in business even want to be on this kangaroo board? Doubtful.


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Posted by bobgnote
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 15, 2013 at 10:53 am

Bullying must reach all the way down, to pre-school, as do street gangs because all media, administrations, and courts, in the US and inferiors are corrupt, and these actively cross-contaminate all persons, in all directions, over time.

Bullying is simply a symptom, of larger problems, which include profiteering, on fraud, including on court, in every jurisdiction.

When we have constitutional rule, which provides even enforcement, of laws, defined by equal rights and fair procedures, we might see a reduction, in social malaise, including bullying, but for the time being, profiteering on restriction of personal ethics feeds the fraud monster, which breeds more bullies.

See GITMO? You don't think we get timely discovery or habeas corpus in US Court or state courts, do you? Guess again . . .

The US is a bully, the states are bullies, [portion removed], and what happens, in little places like Terman is only symptomatic, of a gigantic problem, in the USA, all the way.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm

If the Weekly really thinks the district is violating the Brown Act with the Policy and Review Committee, then you should threaten to sue. Remember the last time the Weekly accused the district of a Brown Act violation. I believe the allegation was that a memo from Skelly to the board constituted the violation. So the Weekly went ballistic. It turned out Skelly's memo was perfectly legal, was something other districts were doing, and the Legislature refused to make illegal. So when I read that the a Weekly is accusing somebody of violating the Brown Act, I'm skeptical.


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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Anon,

Thanks for bringing this point up. We informed board chair Dana Tom and Superintendent Kelly last week of the Brown Act problem, and Tom acknowledged that the committee is a Brown Act body and said that it was an oversight that the meetings were not noticed or open to the public. As a result, the meeting of the committee that was planned for this week and that had not been properly noticed was cancelled and all future meetings presumably will be handled in accordance with the Brown Act. Had the district tried to maintain the committee was not a Brown Act body, the Weekly would likely have sued and asked a court to enforce the law, but resolving this without expensive litigation is much better.

Regarding our Brown Act dispute with the board a year ago, your recollection isn't quite right. Our Brown Act concerns were over the confidential emails that were going back and forth between the Superintendent and school board members about issues that were, or would soon be, in front of the board for action. The law does not allow members of a governing body to utilize emails to convey their thoughts on an issue to their chief administrator (or each other) and allow him to essentially "poll" the body, all without the public having any idea of what's going on. As a result of our objection to the practice of these confidential emails, while the board did not believe it had done anything to violate the law, it agreed to make future emails public. In addition, at our request, the District Attorney's office reviewed several of the emails and advised us that there had been one clear violation and that other emails were probably not advisable but also probably not illegal.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Barron Parker
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm

In fact, the most egregious Brown Act violation involved confidential emails between Skelly and all of the board members about the possibility of expanding Spanish immersion to Barron Park School. Skelly polled the board about it, all members were happy to give him their opinion, and Skelly decided not to go forward with it because 4 of the 5 board members (excepting Klausner) were opposed. Skelly told Klausner that her colleagues didn't support it.
All of that was completely illegal under the Brown Act, and as a consequence deprived the Barron Park community of a public discussion of the issue.


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Posted by That was fun
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm

". In addition, at our request, the District Attorney's office reviewed several of the emails and advised us that there had been one clear violation."

Oh snap!

Booyah. And that is how we roll, ladies.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Good job Weekly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2013 at 4:02 pm

You had me with your first three words, which summed up six years of this board, six years of Skelly: "It is bad"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by That was fun
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Here's my three words:

Run Ken Run.

If people had known about this OCR madness and the policy debacle at the last election it would have been different. Now the state is auditing PAUSD too. What's next, locusts?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by do-overs
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2013 at 8:30 pm

"If people had known about this OCR madness and the policy debacle at the last election it would have been different."
This always amuses me. Any negativity caused by the previous board would only have affected Camille and she walked all over Ken. Ken couldn't touch her. If it wasn't for the huge negative campaign waged against her, Camille would have come away with the most votes.
The best candidates won the last election. OCR complaints or not.


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Posted by Bully for you
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Most bullies were bullied when they were younger, and instead of being sensitized to it, they even the score by bullying others. it makes them feel empowered. The problem is that these bullies, having once been bullied themselves, somehow did not develop a sense of empathy, but it stead a sense of payback, or " pass it on". That is what makes them sociopathic.

Kevin Skelly, despite his three Harvard degrees, does not know or understand this. It makes me think Harvard ripped him off somehow, because he just is not that knowledgeable in these things, and seems to lack practical experience or knowledge.

[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Y'all who complain about bullying in PAUSD have no idea what it's like elsewhere and are expecting too much. We came from the Midwest, where the schools were considered good and my children had to learn how to push and hit back because administration and teachers were deaf to the problem. There is no public school that lacks bullying issues.

All three of my children have been victims of physical bullying at the elementary and middle schools and administration took it very seriously once we reported it. There were also issues of verbal bullying and the teachers and administration ended it. But my children are likeable and we spoke in a professional manner with the staff and administration.

I know some parents who complain their children are bullied have children who provoke people with their irritating personalities and/or the parents are condescending to teachers and administration. It's the parents' duty to teach their children social skills so their children know how to act in public. There are some seriously geeky and nerdy children in our schools and they are not bullied here, while they might be bullied elsewhere. PAUSD is a safer public school district than others.

Also, realize the schools can't stop all kinds of bullying. How do you stop a child from bullying with negative facial expressions or saying rude things? Sure, a punch in the face can be punished, but there is a grey zone of some bullying that is difficult to stop.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 16, 2013 at 12:55 am

After [portion removed] PA parents run Skelly out of Palo Alto, they will be begging him to return after the next Supt is just more the same or worse.

Grass ain't greener.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by This is Sparta
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2013 at 5:11 am

Palo Alto residents consider themselves and their schools special, above schools from the Midwest or anywhere else. Comparisons with other regular schools only points to an increasing sense of mediocrity. As for crazy parents, it's a bit unfair to label crazy the small group of parents who supported a whiny group of principals who ran Callan out in 2007, just as it would be to label crazy what I would estimate to be a much larger group and growing number of parents who have had enough of this board and of Skelly. Scare tactics such as the notion that it's impossible to elect better board members or employ better superintendents are not working as well as they were just a year ago and definitely not as effective as they were three years ago, but they do help explain why a weak, rudderless board has done nothing to right this ship.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2013 at 6:29 am

Most bullies were not bullied when younger. ALL bullies were allowed to get away with it when younger.

The present school board and superintendent are by far the worse we have ever had. As long as they are in place, nothing will change.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by what next
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 16, 2013 at 8:41 am

@momof3 said "Sure, a punch in the face can be punished."

I believe the problem here in PAUSD is that a disabled girl was punched in the face and yet it was not adequately punished, but according to the federal civil rights investigators.

[Portion removed.]

Second, many disabled children do indeed have social skills issues due to their disabilities. They might even be irritation due to their tics or other symptoms. That does not mean that the district cannot or should not respond adequately to stop the bullying when it is reported. That does not mean that the district should have no procedures and not follow any procedures it may have when reports of bullying are made in writing.

This isn't 1950, and every child doesn't have to just sink or swim. We don't have the right to ignore federal law in the case of people you find annoying. [Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by do-overs
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by what next
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 16, 2013 at 9:15 am

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Place the blame
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Place the blame where it belongs: Kevin Skelly and the blindly supportive Board of Education. They are all culpable for the existing problems and need to be censured or eliminated.

PAUSD needs to start anew, without the offending BOE and the equally offending Skelly


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Why Not?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2013 at 9:09 pm

There is bullying of Special Education students. Why not have them eat lunch with an aide nearby? Bullies don't bully when an adult is around. We give an aide to each student who is a new immigrant and speaks no English. Surely, they can find one aide for each middle school to hang out at lunch time. At least PAUSD can cover their tail.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2013 at 7:56 am

It takes 3 school board members to change policy, and if Mr Dauber had won, he would just 1 voice, who could perhaps bring up issues, but would be in the same position as Klausner in terms of changing policy. The next election is for two of the board members. The lack of candidates beyond perhaps Mr Dauber will inhibit any change in policy.


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Posted by This is Sparta
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2013 at 8:16 am

Bullying was not the issue, it will happen always, the issue is what is under PAUSD's control, and that is the response to it, which has been a persistent pattern of failure. The superintendent, Kevin Skelly, is the district's leader. He has given up caring about kids. All his work has been to increase salaries of the unions and to add more voting members of the unions with the piles of money the district has, such as the new teachers and new IT folks that he has proposed at the last two board meetings. There have been two raises for teachers, for example, in just the last few months, and that means there has been two raises for principals as well. He has done this quickly and he has done this quietly. While he has been working on this, he has been unable to go over to a photocopier and make a copy of the existing Uniform Complaint Procedure and hand it over to Charles Young and tell him to send copies to all employees. But what about bullying? Isn't that some special problem? Not really. Posters have correctly pointed out that bullying exists in all schools. Well, the state made up some new laws last year, which rehashed a lot of the existing laws, to address bullying. At that time, all Skelly or Young had to do was make a few clicks, and just like they do with all the other policies, download a few samples, and use Find and Replace to type in PAUSD. But according to the Weekly, Skelly didn't do that. The board didn't do that. Young didn't do that. Instead, they opted to behave as if parents or students were the issue and needed special measures and extra time. They spent their time getting others to take responsibility for leadership. This includes the PR person who is being paid to visit Stanford, Leadership Palo Alto, and who knows where. She is not a great hire, she has not brought excellence to our town. Her role is to deflect communication and interaction from Kevin Skelly. Another paid gun is Dora Dome. Her job is to take her slide show from district to district, changing the date in the footer and the district's name in the header, to regurgitate last year's set of anti-bullying laws, which are basically a regurgitation of other existing laws. Somehow, as the Weekly reported, Skelly still doesn't have a set of policies in place. He's got the time to go to Boston to take pictures with a set of bicycles and he has the time to post that picture in his Weeky Communication, which is posted on the board's website, and in that communication, Young has time to write to Skelly and the board every week about his latest half-marathon and his personal running record times, but no one has pressed Send on the email and implemented a basic bullying policy. Palo Alto is not special. It does not need a special bullying policy. With the magic of computers and the Internet, we live in a time in which many specialized jobs have been demystified. Perfectly good bullying policies can literally be created by Young in less than an hour, and that is his responsibility, and implemented just as they have been implemented in every other California district. Young is an intelligent man, he can do this. He will do this when he goes off to his next job in a different district. Principals will not need extra training to understand a basic how-to explained over a few pages. A board member has stated that they will need extra training, according to emails uncovered by the Weekly, but that board member is very good as making statements to distance herself from the issue and placing responsibility anywhere but her shoulders. And that is why any policy will not work: there is no leadership. It's almost a joke played on parents. If you have a problem that needs to go up the chain of command, you will experience the fundamental frustrating sense of powerless despair that many, not all, of parents with issues in special education have felt. Filing complaints with the Office of Civil Rights (whoops, that would be Office FOR Civil Rights as that other lawyer explained to us at that board meeting) should never have been an option in those parents' minds. These matters should have been handled by leaders, and those leaders should have been the person in charge, so to speak. We used to have leaders like that, not uniformly, but we had many. Now we have Tabitha Hurley listed right under Skelly's name on the Directory page online. And then there is Kathleen Ruegsegger's name. She left the district a couple of years ago for good and now she's back, just like Marilyn Cook and Irvin Rollins are back to help Skelly. Why do we need these folks? Haven't we hired the right people? They should reorganize the Directory to show who is in charge and show that you are serous about taking on bullying by listing the Compliance Officer right there close to Skelly. In each case that calls for leadership, the board and Skelly hire leadership instead of leading. They don't take the reins themselves because they simply haven't been able to in the past. They ceded it long ago. Brown Act issue in 2012? Call in Lozano & Smith to debate the Weekly. They were wrong then and in this thread Bill Johnson writes about a current Brown Act violation in which Dana characterizes it as a whoops excuse. But didn't we just have Lozano & Smith here last year leading the district debate? Didn't Dana get a notion then that the Brown Act was a pretty big deal? Again,either no leadership by choice or by lack of ability. Skelly has been using public funds to buy the leadership that he voided years ago, but he continues to bring in nearly $300,000 per year. Young's leadership? I haven't seen it, but feel free to write back something, especially in terms of the bullying policy. I invite any reader to post corrections or alternative points (except the usual crazy parents theory or no one will run for board nonsense). I've read the TERMS OF USE and I believe that I have complied. Let's see.


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Posted by what next
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

Wow excellent post. Well said. Agree on all points. And you are completely correct on the law -- Seth's Law made only minor changes in the law and mostly simply restated existing state and federal law. It really is almost comical how badly muffed this whole episode is. Regrettably, most people have no idea how mismanaged the district is until their child needs help -- a bad time to find out that no one is in charge.

To common sense you are absolutely right that if Dauber had won he would only be one vote, however, that would not make his presence unimportant. Klausner meant well but she lacked clarity and was too concerned with appearing to be nice. This meant that she would say something important, like "Dr. Skelly you were not honest with the board and misled us." but then she would say "but I really like you and you smell amazing," and negate the importance of her message. Very female management style IMHO. Afraid to lead.

Dauber, on the other hand, might not have been in the majority on many issues however I am sure that there would have been no secret closed meetings about issues that are not really legally confidential under the Brown Act. The public would be informed and there would have been public discussion. For one thing, any board member can place things on the board's agenda. That alone would have been a valuable curative to the secrecy that pervades this board's doings.

But it wouldn't have been just him on these issues because he is a pretty pleasant and persuasive person. Despite the rantings on TS, those who know Dauber and work with him in either his job or other activities find him extremely likeable and easy to work with. All the talk about how we can't have someone who is "difficult" is just a plea to continue staggering along with no leadership at all.

[Portion removed.]





 +   Like this comment
Posted by Why Not?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2013 at 10:27 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


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Posted by Midwest transfer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2013 at 11:09 am

Great post by This is Sparta. PAUSD's problems stem from poor leadership combined with the arrogant notion that Palo Alto schools are somehow uniquely special and must constantly reinvent the wheel rather than implement policies that have worked elsewhere, even when elsewhere is right next door. I too miss Barb Klausner and agree that Ken Dauber would have made a significant difference in this poor excuse for a Board. In any other school district, Kevin Skelly would have been fired at least a year ago.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 17, 2013 at 11:15 am

What is bullying?


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Posted by What next
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 17, 2013 at 11:54 am

I also hope Ken Dauber runs again. He was horribly [portion removed] by Mandy Lowell and Walt Hays last time and they didn't even know him. I guess they thought we were better off with zero leadership, lurching around from crisis to crisis and investigation to audit to findings of noncompliance. What can you expect from Lowell who herself led the board into a spectacular train wreck with Callan and caused PAUSD to have a principals union which is by the way crazy. Yes she was a shining example of not leadership herself now ensuring that we continue to have none. [Portion removed.]

Things are so much worse now than they were last time thanks to them. Maybe they can kindly stay out of it this time.


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Posted by SPSA Boad of Education Meetings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm

A Special PAUSD Board of Education meeting on 11/19/2013 will discuss the School Single Plans for Student Achievements (SPSAs) for elementary schools. A lot of the material relates to Special Education, bullying, and plans for bringing failing students up to standards. Looking over the report of each school principal, there are differences in resources given to each school.

Web Link

Meeting Information:
"The Board of Education will review the SPSA reports for the 2013-14 school year for the twelve elementary schools and Greendell."
Tuesday November 19 Meeting at 8:30

Middle School SPSAs plan was presented at a meeting on 10/22/2013. It discusses Special Education and services for students.
What safeguards are there with a stated goal at Jordan to increase mainstreaming 20% and reducing counseling referrals? What if that doesn't work for every student? (Help students by reducing help for students?) JLS says it will increase co-teaching based on student's IEPs. What if students don't have IEPs? They may have IDPs or not qualify, but still have disabilities. What happens to the rest of them?

Web Link

Webcast can be viewed, see below:
Web Link

For Live Broadcasts:
"Most Board of Education meetings are cablecast live on cable services
CHANNEL 28 and webcast live on
Web Link"


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