Members differ on path for bullying complaints

School committee weighs clarity versus risk of escalating minor disputes

A debate on the degree to which playground and other school complaints should be resolved by a teacher or principal versus being formally sent to the district office was at the crux of a school board committee discussion Tuesday.

In pondering a proposed policy on bullying, the two members of the Palo Alto school board's Policy Review Committee disagreed over whether all complaints should be forwarded to the district office or whether that procedure initially should be reserved only for complaints of bullying based on things like disability, religion or sexual orientation.

Committee member Melissa Baten Caswell said that for the sake of clarity and simplicity, all bullying complaints, whether run-of-the-mill or involving so-called "protected classes" of students, be treated the same, using a Uniform Complaint Procedure at the district office.

But committee member Camille Townsend worried that such an approach could lead to undue "formalization" and "criminalization" of minor playground squabbles that are better resolved at the school level.

"The farther away we get from solving disputes in the classroom, the more formal and criminal it gets," Townsend said. "We've all seen cases where someone gets tripped on purpose, or someone gets called a name on purpose. Are we really sending those up to the district office to be handled? Not in my book."

But Caswell worried that a two-tiered complaint process, which elevates the initial level of scrutiny for children in "protected classes," could put teachers, principals and playground supervisors in the position of having to make hasty calls in ambiguous situations as to why a child is being picked on.

"It's hard to ask those people to look at what's going on when there's a particular confrontation and make the judgment whether it's a protected-class issue," she said.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who initially Tuesday said he was leaning toward a single system for handling all bullying complaints, said he would poll teachers and principals and return to the board in January with a recommendation.

School district staff and lawyers have spent nearly a year trying to fashion a new policy on bullying as part of resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which found in December 2012 that the district's mishandling of the bullying of a disabled middle school student violated the student's civil rights.

Tuesday's board Policy Review Committee meeting was the first publicized board-level discussion of details of a new proposed policy. The committee has met many times to develop district policies but the meetings were not properly noticed to the public as required under the Brown Act, California's open meeting law.

When the Weekly raised the issue two weeks ago, school board president Dana Tom said the lack of notice was an oversight and that from now on meetings would be announced, agendas posted and the public welcome to attend and speak.

Several parents at Tuesday's meeting urged the board to adopt a single policy for the handling of all bullying complaints.

"It's better to have just have one Uniform Complaint Procedure that is standardized," parent Dena Dersh said. "This will enhance transparency, increase consistency and promote accuracy."

Parent Christina Schmidt worried that a policy that's confusing to people would increase the odds it's not followed. "We need to put trust in the system," she said.

Oakland lawyer Dora Dome, who has consulted with the district in helping to draft the new policy, had urged the two-tiered system in order to prevent the district office being overwhelmed with complaints.

She noted that well-established procedure and protections also exist for bullying victims who are not in "protected classes," including appeal to the district office.


Posted by Unbelieveable, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 9:51 pm

A whole year has passed and they still do not agree or have a policy in place for bullying procedures? How many more kids need to get the detrimental and irreversible damage before they have a policy and reinforce it?

Posted by Find a new superintendent now, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Dec 4, 2013 at 6:32 am

This is a problem with a cost of around $450,000, which would be the 18 months of salary for Kevin Skelly, which the board was dumb enough to agree to, just like that $1,000,000 loan. Go get a retired superintendent or just about anyone else to come in and put in the same basic bullying policy that every other district has. The superintendent does not have to go check with the teachers or principal after six years in office. He should know what to do and he should have done it years ago before the civil rights violations and lawsuits. Why does he need lawyer Dora Dome to do this for him, why does he need lawyer Lou Lozano to tell the Weekly how the Brown Act works, or why does he need that other lawyer to chastise the public about OCR? Kevin Skelly and his board have lost our confidence. I dare anyone to post your support in how they have handled these issues over the past few years. Why is it they can give thousands of dollars in two consecutive raises in six months to every teacher and principal, regardless of performance, but they can't email a copy of a standard bullying policy?

Posted by Skellytons, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2013 at 11:04 am

It is time for Skelly to move on period! Why has the jellyfish (spineless) board rewarded Kevin for more of the same bad stewardship of the district? I blame the board more than anyone for the failures as they do not direct Skelly to do the will of the people in the district and they reward him for incompetence with a recent "one time 3% raise" Come on, you need to put the man on immediate leave while you investigate why he didn't report to you that our district was cited by OCR for violating the rights of that middle school girl that was punched and had to be taken to the office in a wheel chair. I can't believe that the Board only found out about that one when the girl's caretakers broke the story to the PA Weekly. Skelly and the Board need to wake up and read the handwriting on the wall. That handwriting says that we parents are sick and tired of this ridiculous charade of a Superintendent and Board that continue to malfunction to this day. Enough is enough!!!!!

Posted by Paul, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

What about teachers & other staff? Administrators bully teachers all the time - to change grades. Does "protected class" extend to staff - both certificated and classified? Protected classes include gender, age, and race as well. Currently a high school teacher is being bullied for speaking the truth and not changing grades. He/she is being subjected to a witch hunt to find cause for their termination. Money is being spent by Scott B. on a wild goose chase. Our tax dollars could be better sent than to silence a good teacher and honorable person

Posted by Concerned Retiree, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Sometimes the person being bullied just has to stand up to bullies himself. And sometimes, it takes a punch back to do it. Sorry Palo Alto Pacifists, but that's just the way it is.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm

This debate seems to be proceeding with the same lack of clarity that gets the district into these messes.

The case that spurred all of this wasn't just a complaint or two, it was a long-term problem the family went through every district channel possible to address. There was at the time a seeming deliberate avoidance of procedure that extend protections to the child. The district has worked to change that, overseen by the DOE.

There has been better on-site training, and better understanding of procedures at district level. Complaints should be dealt with at the school level, unless the school finds (after initial attempt) it cannot solve the problem. This way, there is no need to try to differentiate, bullying is bullying, and everyone deserves a response. Most can be handled at the school level and if - with all the new trainng and procedures - that is not enough, the district would be the next stop.

Passing all complaints to the district no matter how small is ridiculous and will thwart dealing with a lot of bullying as teachers and principles stop seeing the dealing of it as their job and start passing the buck. People at the schools who know the parties, with the right trainng, are best equipped to handle such situations. That didnt happen in the case that spurred all this, but if parents and/or principles know the next step is to elevate to district level - via a clear and responsive process - things would have never gone so wrong in that case, either. The family did escalate, but then the district lacked the will and process to respond properly. That has changed. What would help now for escalated complaints is replacing of those at district level who have such an antogonistic relationship with families such as Charles Young with those who have a mindset of working with teachers and families, and see solving such problems (as opposed to seeing it only through a liability lens) as part of their job.

Posted by What next?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm

After more than a year of facing this problem without an outcome, Skelly is now indicating that he is against the recommendation of the consultant that he hired and has been working with all of this time. Now he wants to put off even further discussion of the options until sometime in Jan after he has surveyed staff. He has been sitting on this recommendation for months. Why wait until now to begin a staff survey? I honestly don't know whether this is a further delaying tactic or a competence issue. It is surely another example of the very weak governance by the board.

Posted by JerryL, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm

The whole society seems to have gone crazy. The problem wouldn't exist if
teachers and playground monitors were actually empowered. If an adult, seeing a bullying incident taking place, could actually intervene, administer
an appropriate quidance (or even punishment)--problem solved. If the intervention is not accepted by the offending student or students, elevate to
the next level and so on and so on.

There should be no "protected classes", all students need to be respected and treated well, not only some.

We as a society seem to have backed ourselves into a corner where policy and procedure are elevated way above common sense. It is not surprising that the issue festers.

Posted by John Mack, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2013 at 7:28 pm

@What next? This is surely another example of weak governance, but there is more than just the surface lack of competence going on.
Let's remember how we got this "consultant" in the first place. Skelly hired Dora Dome to provide training on bullying and civil rights, rather than having OCR provide free training. Why? Because the OCR resolution agreement requires the training, and Skelly was still trying to comply with the agreement while keeping the fact of the agreement secret. Having OCR lawyers in town giving training would have made that impossible.
Having hired Dome to provide training, her role has somehow morphed into providing legal advice about policy. Unfortunately she does not seem very well prepared for that job, so we get recommendations for two-tier systems.
The other problem with this process is that the school board has indulged its penchant for secret meetings by having Caswell and Townsend meet on the Board Policy Review Committee for months without public notice to talk about these policies. When Dana Tom was finally called on this Brown Act violation and forced to schedule the meeting publicly, the sun was allowed to shine in on the policy and parents are understandably not happy with two levels of protection for kids.

Posted by observer, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 5, 2013 at 10:35 am

I agree. I was at the meeting and noticed that Dora Dome was often not accurate about the law. A Stanford law prof was there and she corrected Dome on a couple of occasions about basic legal things, like whether or not federal privacy law conflicts with civil rights law. Dome said there was no rule about it but the professor showed that Congress had already made an exception in privacy law for OCR. That wasted 40 minutes while Camille went on about privacy but it wasn't even a valid issue. Then Dome said that the district didn't even have to adopt a bullying policy at all, but Seth's Law requires that every district have a policy and procedure for receiving bullying complaints. There were a couple of other times where she seemed unsure of herself. I don't think that this is working very well -- why is she taking so long to just get it done? And since Dr. Skelly decided for the 1-tier system, why was Dome lobbying the Board to keep her 2-tier system? Why does she have independent basis to lobby our school board? What is going on. This is so off the rails.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

There seem to be several problems here.
1) The superintendent has had the policy since August and the committee is just now reviewing it?
2) This is one of the hottest issues facing the district and the teachers, principals and staff have not been given a copy of the policy even though they have received training? How are they supposed to function if they have not read the policy they are being trained to enforce? Do they have clear procedures to follow?
3) Unfortunately, it will take until January for feedback from middle and high school teachers; there is less than two weeks until finals.
4) Is Dora Dome unsure of herself or is the policy being revised by PAUSD staff or the board without notifying her? Her appearance of being unsure may really be hesitation because she is being surprised with seeing material for the first time in the meeting.
5) "The other problem with this process is that the school board has indulged its penchant for secret meetings by having Caswell and Townsend meet on the Board Policy Review Committee for months without public notice to talk about these policies. When Dana Tom was finally called on this Brown Act violation and forced to schedule the meeting publicly, ..." If this is true, this is outrageous! BTW, it was difficult to find the meeting on the district website - it wasn't under 'meetings and materials' or 'committees' - it was listed under 'board agenda', even though it was not a board meeting.
6) ONE SINGLE PROCESS for UCP! The OCR found that we couldn't follow the ONE process we had on the books. Adding a TWO tier process will put undue burden on the staff at the sites. Site staff are on the scene making tough calls; district admin are simply in a review role. It is crazymaking.
In January, it will be one year since the OCR complaint was revealed by the WEEKLY.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

In another article, Dora Dome was quoted as saying that the two tier system would keep the district from having to review 'hundreds of complaints'. Hundreds? Really? If they are posted online, they should be easy to review each day. Again, let's use email to poll the principals on how many complaints they deal with in a day.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 5, 2013 at 11:43 am

@pausd parent: you wrote "ONE SINGLE PROCESS for UCP! The OCR found that we couldn't follow the ONE process we had on the books. Adding a TWO tier process will put undue burden on the staff at the sites."

Lol. So true.

Posted by Shame on Us, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm

As long as PAUSD feel no pressure from parents, they will keep taking their sweet time.They Hired and paid for lawyers to represent them, when they do not even know what they are doing as is the case of Dome, and the lawyer who spoke at one of the boards meeting when the OCR case became public. I do not think that she gave false information about how OCR works. I think she truly does not know about the law. And here they are defending our district. If I was the district's lawyer I would have had advice PAUSD to listen to parents and take care of it ASAP. Obviously they did not recommend that because all they care is about making money even if a students mental or physical health is on the line. I am shocked to know that the attorney they hired to go the this meeting was that good, as it should be when you are dealing with this serious issues of bullying; especially when she is getting paid. I am wonder who was the smart person who retained her services. He or she should be paying out of their own packed. We can spend the education $$ on attorneys or settlements. Enough is Enough. Not too long ago, they cut the homeschool liaison position at Barron Park because of budget cuts. It was not a credential position, so I am guessing that it was not as expensive as the PR position and t he attorneys' fees. Now we are finding out that they do have money, but they preferred to spend on hiring. We have been cheated! I will not donate to PIE again, till they learned how to use the $ well. Money does not grow on trees. We have to use it on our students education.

Posted by New supe neede, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 6, 2013 at 9:39 am

Kevin Skelly has made it clear he does not think bullying is all that serious of a problem. That is one of the things that makes him unsuitable for his job.

Many of the school shootings in the last 14 years or so have been committed by kids who had bullied for years and then just snapped! I would say that is serious, and it is always a possibility, even in PAUSD.

Skelly just does not get it. In fact, he seems not to "get" any of his job, which is why the district has lawsuits and federal inquiries against it. Obviously, the school board does not get it either, and after stupidly praising and raising this man, they ALL need to be removed from office in one fell swoop.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm

It is confusing that Dr. Skelly favors the one tier solution, but the lawyer the district is paying is advocating for a two tier solution to the bullying policy. In addition, according to the Weekly's reporting it is clear that the California School Board Association has no interest in a two tier solution. Why is our Board and the district's lawyer so set on a unique bullying policy that they are willing to continue to draw out the entire process for over a year since they first were informed by the OCR that they were out of compliance? This is starting to remind me of the Board's approach to solving the inequities between the counseling program at Gunn and the program at Paly. Just keep studying, conferring, and debating - throw in a little ignoring and distracting and hope the whole problem goes away. Fortunately, in the case of an appropriate bullying policy and adequate Uniform Complaint Procedure the district now has some oversight in the form of the Office for Civil Rights. I am curious to know how much time a district can spend putting together what the OCR requires of them before the district is punished in some way by the federal government?

Regarding the "hundreds" of bullying complaints that will flood the district if we choose the standard one tier bullying complaint procedure: it appears to me that the district is complaining on both sides of this argument. On the one hand Dr. Skelly says bullying is not a big problem in the district. On the other hand, Dora Dome, our lawyer, says the district will have so many complaints if we use a one tier approach, that the district will not be able to manage the deluge of complaints sent to them from the individual schools. Which is it? And, why doesn't the district have some numbers on this question? Could it be because they don't use a UCP and thus are unable to adequately measure the amount of bullying that truly takes place in the schools?

Posted by Bullying Incidents Don't Get documented, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm

To Skelly bullying is not a problem because most incidents do not get documented and parents are not told about it. Many times they do not get reported because the kids are afraid, and also, some already know that nothing is done. Most the cases go under the table. No one moves a hand to do the paper work, because it is tedious, and you have a chance to get in trouble with the educated and rich parents of the bullies. That was the case of Misael Morales,former Gunn Student, who defended himself from the bully, who have had bullied a lot more people including Ismael's sister.

Posted by Zacklie, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Dec 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm

That is correct...probably 95% or more of bullying cases do not get reported! even when observed by teachers and other witnesses. Everyone is afraid of the bully and his parents.

Posted by observer, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Everyone is probably afraid of having to actually do something. Who wants to fill out tiresome paperwork and answer questions or talk to parents [portion removed.]

Posted by J Foster, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm

@Eileen 1
I (reluctantly) think I have to agree with your point that the district has badly mishandled this bullying situation, and its whole relation with the federal government. Barb Mitchell's letter to the editor was the last straw for me. We need good, honest management, not a public relations campaign.

Posted by Jon Foster, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2013 at 5:46 pm

The prior poste was not made by me. Hopefully it was made by someone whose first initial and last name is actually "J Foster" and not by someone trying to impersonate me. In any event, I completely disagree with what "J Foster" wrote above. I think the school district has responded well to a difficult situation, and I thought Barb Mitchell's letter to the editor was excellent.

Posted by Drama of the Gifted Child, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Hey rando, no one "impersonated" you. No one even knows who you are. People "impersonate" Obama and Elvis. Not some random guy down the block. But thanks for putting yourself on the record as disagreeing with OCR's findings, which are decisively not that the district "has responded well to a difficult situation." Indeed, OCR concluded that the district responded totally improperly and its footdragging on compliance has only made the situation go from bad to worse.

Anyway, just because your views are well outside the mainstream and you have a very common first and last name doesn't mean you don't deserve not to be the center of attention.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 6:48 pm

@Drama of the Gifted Child: Actually Jon Foster is very well known in the community. You could have at least googled him before you called him out. Whether you agree with him or not doesn't matter. I don't blame him for setting the record straight as a lot of people listen to what he has to say.

Posted by observer, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 7:27 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hays parent, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 7:47 pm

I know of Jon Foster from letters on local politics that he occasionally sends out, that are forwarded to me. I don't know if someone is trying to impersonate him or not. I rather doubt it.

I was struck when I read his wholehearted support of school board trustee Barb Mitchell at his phrase, "I think the school district has responded well to a difficult situation." That's a very delicate bit of misdirection, since the situation the school district has "responded well" to is its own failure to comply with federal civil rights law, and indeed to follow its own procedures. I have myself reached nearly the opposite conclusion, that the school district is badly mismanaged and that it has taken a bad situation of its own making and seems incapable of discerning how to make it better.

I wondered, as I read Mr. Foster's letter, whether he is also defending Ms. Mitchell's arguments in closed meetings of the school board that Palo Alto should resist federal civil rights law? Or her decision as board vice president not to schedule open meetings of the school board on how the district came to go so far afoul of the law? Or Dr. Skelly's decision to withhold the fact of a federal finding from the school board and the community until it was reported in the newspaper? Perhaps he could clarify whether his full-throated support for the performance of Ms. Mitchell and the senior staff of the school district extends to those subjects.

I have become increasingly concerned at the corrosive effect of a small but influential group of insiders, among them Mr. Foster, in defending against sensible reforms in the direction of transparency and legal compliance in the governance of the school district. I fear that they are aiding the degradation of our reputation for high-quality local schools.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm

@ Hays parent: Is it possible that Mr. Foster actually believes what he is saying? That possibly he doesn't believe in the "witch hunt" that is going on in this district? If parents were actually educated about the extent of bullying, and I'm not saying it is okay, we are still doing better than most districts. Unfortunately, parents are only looking at schools solving this issue rather than the families where the problem starts. It's unfortunate that the community is only looking to blame the schools for not dealing with the problem rather than looking at the community to solve the problem. We always take the easy way out.

Posted by Hays parent, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm

@parent: Thank you for your thoughts. I doubt if Mr. Foster is unaware that the "situation" he is referring to is a federal finding of noncompliance by the district with civil rights law. But I of course cannot be sure.

While I believe that the community has a role to play in addressing bullying, I don't think that the community can "solve the problem" of the failure of the school district management to follow the law (and even its own procedures). I am disappointed when insiders like Mr. Foster, who undoubtedly insists on good management in his own business affairs, defends mismanagement in a public agency.

Ms. Mitchell has, in my view, done a poor job at oversight by failing to forthrightly insist on transparency and good governance. I wish influential citizens like Mr. Foster would play a more positive public role by reinforcing those shared community values, particularly where our public schools are involved.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 8:15 pm

All due respect, Hays parent, if you google bullying, cyberbullying, and the law, it is extremely confusing. Every state has different standards. Fortunately, California has actually passed some laws saying it is illegal. Unfortunately, they did not allocate any monies to actually educate staff about what these laws are. Most people think it is easy to identify what is bullying, what is harassment and what is not. It's not that easy. If you have any knowledge of this, you would have to agree. I challenge you to spend a day on a middle school campus and identify behaviors that you think are bullying. You will probably miss 95% of them, as most adults would. If the adults in this community would play a part in preventing this problem, as they should, then we wouldn't need these laws now, would we.

Posted by observer, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 9, 2013 at 9:37 pm


It is ridiculous to contend that we should be "looking at the community to solve the problem." You think we should be "looking to the community" to solve the problem that the Terman staff failed to stop the bullying of a disabled girl? You think we should be "looking at the community to solve the problem" that Skelly and the board ignored the repeated and increasingly desperate efforts of the family to get the school to intervene? Or maybe you think we should be "looking at the community to solve the problem" of Skelly hiding the OCR finding and Resolution Agreement from the board and public because he was "embarrassed" about it?

Or is it that we should be "looking at the community to solve the problem" that we still don't have policies that comply with the law even though we are years down the road and have spent hundreds of thousands on lawyers? Or should we continue "looking at the community to solve the problem" that we continue to have more OCR complaints despite the fact that any sane manager would be doing everything in his power at this point to stop the bleeding?

Or maybe we should be "looking at the community to solve the problem" even though the community has been purposely excluded from the process by holding meetings of the BPRC in secret, that violated the Brown Act by everyone's admission?

I think now that people are aware that Mr. Foster wholeheartedly supports what the district has done here and Ms. Mitchell's efforts to avoid compliance with federal law, they will have second thoughts about him as a reliable analyst of public affairs. Even stalwart district defenders are disgusted with this board and this superintendent. [Portion removed.]

His unquestioning support of a dysfunctional and poorly managed district is the result of his desire to maintain the brand at all costs. This might be called the "Lowell Doctrine" and is the view of his neighbor and friend Mandy Lowell who advocates that district staff might be incompetent but they're not likely to improve through criticism so the best we can do is just protect the brand and raise more money through bonds and the like. Revenue solves all problems. That doctrine has a certain surface appeal because of its simplemindedenss and elitism (after all, how good can an underling like Kevin Skelly really be, he's not our class darling). But it ignores the problem of discrete and insular minorities within the district. The brand isn't doing anything for the black kids being cast off by the Paly Math department nor the disabled being bullied. And they have the right to good schools too.

[Portion removed.]

But even if you agree that the brand is primary, how is having multiple federal investigations of disability bullying going to enhance that brand? We're the district that punches disabled girls in the face and then covers it up. Not the best brand management ever, and the new PR drone doesn't seem to be fixing your wagon.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 10:25 pm

@Observer - I am asking why you are content that we have kids in this district who feel free to bully other kids whether it is based on race, disability, gender, etc. Why are you focused on punishing the perpetrators rather than not creating perpetrators in the first place? I'm not excusing the school district but I am saying that they are not solely culpable for these issues. We all are. Teachers are there to teach our children. We can't expect them to parent them, too.

Posted by Teachers too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Teachers spend a lot more time with their students than principals. They have a respomsibikty to do more than plan and teach content. The just teach comment always makes me think that the teachers doesn't have a sense of the non-academic duties and are trying to avoid any personal responsability.

Posted by Hays parent too, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:01 am

The issue here isn't about teachers but about our school board's and top district adminstrators' failure in handling a disability harassment complaint. OCR is not asking teachers to assume the role of parent, they are asking our district to follow federal laws designed to safeguard our children. These laws are not complicated. Avoiding compliance is complicated.

Posted by Teachers too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 7:09 am

The school board is responsible for approving policy and directing the superintendent, currently Kevin Skelly, and they have been woefully incapable of these basic responsibilities. Increasingly absent are defensive excuses in this forum about how they are volunteers, good-people, and other emptiness designed to divert attention from how harmful the school board and Kevin Skelly have been to the PAUSD brand. Teachers are perhaps the biggest part of this particular thread. They are the most important adult at school in a student's life and they have the most contact time with the student, and that includes the supervision and monitoring for the student's well-being. In some of these bullying cases, the teacher has been accused, just like the principal, of failing to protect the student from bullying. In short, bullying has everything to do about teachers. It's quite basic. Union folks have been eerily quiet about this whole mess. I think part is explained by a deal to remain quiet and collect raises, you know, don't rock the boat and you'll get what you want. I think the other part is that the union doesn't know what to do, judging by the past few years of watching former PAEA president Triona Gogarty and current president Teri Baldwin publicly represent teachers at PAUSD board meetings, focusing of pay raises and nothing else. PAEA is one of the most powerful forces in PAUSD, nothing gets done without Skelly first asking for approval, and that includes anti-bullying policy. You would think that paying all these people more would result in the resolution of PAUSD problems, but it has had the opposite effect. Will the board's 5-0 vote in 12 hours make Skelly a better leader? Well, did the 5-0 votes last month and in the spring to give raises to the teachers and principals make them better at what they do? They are all part of the organization, they are the people we pay to care for our kids, and they are all part of the problem. Until they recognize that and stop playing the game of silence, then only then will we be on the way to improvement.

Posted by observer, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 7:44 am


I don't expect teachers to be parents. I expect them to have control over their classroom. Let me put it this way: no one was punching the disabled girl in the face and then ignoring her cries in her own living room or in her neighbor's home. That happened in school.

Teachers are responsible for handling complaints that happen in their classrooms. The reason we have rules and procedures is to help teachers know what to do to make it easier for them. Principals are responsible for order in thei school. When a disabled girl is punched in the face so hard that the police have to be called and you still don't fill out a UCP form, [portion removed] you deserve to be fired. I don't see how this is even controversial and yet Katherine Baker was promoted instead of told to seek her fortunes elsewhere.

Yet according to district defender Jon Foster, the promotion of Katherine Baker was "responding well to a difficult situation." That is so out of touch with reality that he should be off the Utilities Commission and out of public life. If a utilities employee was sexually harassing a subordinate so severely that the city was sued and instead of being fired was promoted, would Foster call that a great solution to a difficult problem? That's the equivalent of what happened here and his judgment has just been shown to be too poor for public service. [Portion removed.]

Posted by so dumb, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:17 am

Why is this even being discussed? If a child hits another child in our schools then the teacher, principal and district staff deserve to be fired.
There are no shades of gray here. How can you even argue against this?
If ANY child is bullied in our district the board needs to be recalled if they don't immediately fire the teachers, principals and district staff that knew of the bullying.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:43 am

@dumb-if one follows your logic, then there would be no one to work in middle schools since physical behavior such as hitting goes on frequently. Just walk down the hall at any middle school and you will see what I mean. Not all hitting is bullying, much of it is boys and girls expressing themselves physically. Continuing your logic, I would think that you would also like the aggressor to be taken out of their home since obviously the parents are not doing their job. When one of my children was boxed on his ear resulting in a trip to the doctor, the school handled the aggressor just fine. He apologized, they moved on, remained friends and he is now a successful student at Paly.

Several of you think the staff should be held responsible for bullying behavior. You are forgetting that most of this behavior is not witnessed by adults and not reported. When it is reported, just as in a court case, it's hard to know which person is telling the truth which is why dealing with bullying is so difficult, not just in Palo Alto schools but schools across the world.

Posted by so dumb, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:50 am

We can do better. Bullying is awful and the affects last through their whole life. If teachers, principals and staff know about bullying and don't stop it then, yes, they deserve to be fired.
No one has said the staff are responsible for bullying but they are responsible for not stopping the bullying. They didn't and you're defending the indefensible.

Posted by observer, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:57 am

that's not what happened in the Terman case. It was not hard to tell who was telling the truth there. There were multiple witnesses and dozens of reports. There were physical injuries, doctor visits and a police report. You can have your own opinion but not your own facts, and the facts in that case are not even slightly ambiguous.

How did that happen? Was it a lack of training? Lack of oversight? Lack of compassion? We have no idea because all of the discussions have been held in secret, all of the documents have been redacted, and the Brown Act was violated by holding discussions in the secret Board Policy Review Committee, a standing committee of the Board that was subject to the Brown Act but which met illegally in secret.

It's not your fault parent that you are ignorant of the facts -- we are all ignorant of the facts and that is by design. Jon Foster says whatever the district has done was "responding well to a difficult situation." Well try this out, Jon. How about the fact that OCR ruled in the child's favor in April 2012, and the district did nothing to assist her or remedy the affects of the bullying for more than six more months. Even after the district received a final letter of finding against it in December and entered into a Resolution Agreement, she still received no help until the family finally in desperation gave the documents to the media. After the media publicized her story, she received help within a matter of days.

That is the "responding well to a difficult situation" that you endorse. You lack the judgment required for public service if that is your view of how public agencies should behave.

Posted by Barrington 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:18 am

@Jon Foster

I was interested to read your opinion of Barb Mitchell and the board's behavior in your earlier post. I wonder if you are privy to information that the average Palo Altan does not have? Just looking at the facts of the "difficult situation" (meaning the OCR review) the district does not appear to have behaved either legally or honorably. But, I have a hard time believing that a community like ours would support a board that appears to be in such opporsition to following federal law. Nevertheless, people such as your self are in support of the board. So, does that mean that you are in support of opposing the OCR's requirements or does it mean that you know something about this case that I, and many others, don't know?

Please respond. Since you are known in our community I am interested in how you formed your opinion of the board's behavior.

Thank you

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:46 pm

[Portion removed.] An individual attempts to clear up a version of identity theft - makes some comments disassociating himself [portion removed] and that becomes a subject for vilification.

And you wonder why no one takes Forum posts as credible comments?

Posted by Duvy dad, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2013 at 3:11 pm

@Paly parent. What an odd criticism. The fellow was expressing a strong opinion on a matter of public interest, not just correcting a possible misidentification. I'm sure he expected to provoke a discussion.

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

The dress code
By Jessica T | 26 comments | 2,048 views

September food and drink goings on
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,427 views

Two Days to Save This Dog?
By Cathy Kirkman | 15 comments | 1,271 views

It Depends... Disguising Real Characters in Fiction
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 420 views

Twenty-five years of wedded bliss
By Sally Torbey | 0 comments | 107 views