News

Latest OCR case alleges disability bias

District says new probe, opened last month, stems from grade dispute

A recently initiated federal civil rights probe of the Palo Alto Unified School District is the ninth such investigation of the district opened by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights since January 2011.

In the latest case, the OCR is investigating whether the district adequately responded to a September 2013 complaint that a student had been discriminated against based on disability. The September complaint alleged that the district had failed last spring to implement a written plan to accommodate the student's disability.

Such plans are known as "504 plans." Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantees certain rights in public schools to students with disabilities and their parents.

A spokeswoman for the school district said the new case "stems from a grade dispute."

Superintendent Kevin Skelly received notification of the case Dec. 16 in a letter from the OCR and released a redacted version of the letter to reporters two days later.

In the letter, the federal agency said it has "determined that the allegation is appropriate for investigation" and "will proceed with resolution of the complaint."

But launching the investigation "in no way implies that OCR has made a determination" as to the merits of the complaint, the letter said.

San Francisco lawyer Ali Ebrahimzadeh is representing the complainant in the case.

Of the nine Palo Alto school district investigations opened by the OCR, four remain pending, including the newest one. The other three include two allegations of disability-based harassment and one probe into the district's compliance with Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal funds.

Another OCR investigation, involving the district's mishandling of the ongoing bullying of a disabled middle-school student, ended in a December 2012 "resolution agreement" in which the district agreed to rewrite its policies and procedures on bullying. The district is still in the process of complying with that agreement.

A second resolution agreement, also involving disability discrimination, is being monitored by the OCR to ensure full implementation.

The OCR in June dropped another case, alleging racial discrimination in a middle-school search after $20 went missing from a teacher's purse, citing insufficient evidence.

Two other cases -- a 2011 allegation of sex discrimination and a 2012 allegation of disability discrimination -- have been closed.

Chris Kenrick

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by A Concerned Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2014 at 10:52 am

I am so tired of the district officials violating students rights. When will they figure out thaty they messed up big times and live? That will be the day when we have the best news. Thanks for the article Palo Alto on Line, the only one who speaks the truth.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2014 at 10:59 am

> I am so tired of the district officials violating students rights.

Let's not forget that an allegation of wrong doing is not prima facia proof of wrong doing. More often than not, these situations are resolved in secrecy, and we, the public, have no idea what the details of the situation are, or how the complaint has been resolved.

It's a real shame that there is not more transparency involved in these cases.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 7, 2014 at 11:29 am

Thank you, Bob. Anybody can allege.

And to "Concerned Parent", you can be assured no public institution enjoys lawsuits, merititious or frivolous. Yet, our laws almost encourage it. Get used to it taxpayers. More and more of your money going less and less to actual education of the masses.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 7, 2014 at 11:35 am

If this is over a grade dispute then it sounds like some parent is disappointed that the less-than-brilliant child isn't getting straight A's. Welcome to PAUSD.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by green gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 7, 2014 at 11:59 am

There was a situation many years ago when an English teacher at Paly caught a very academic kid plagiarizing. He sent so many threatening e-mails to the teacher the the Palo Alto police got involved. [Portion removed.] No one heard about this problem; the teacher did not sue. The point is that there are problems from the other end also; many which we do not hear about.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by 504 parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm

504 plans detail accommodations for students (like more time on tests, need for regular feedback (e.g., graded papers), etc) In my experience with a child at PALY with a 504 plan, some teachers ignored these accommodations (e.g., the English teacher that returned no graded work til the last week of the term). If the accommodations were ignored and a bad (e.g., failing) grade issued, I can understand why someone might rightly complain, without the motives suggested above.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jan 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Bravo to OCR!!!! Bravo to the parents who filed their complaint forms!!! The once "lighthouse district" is now the OUTHOUSE district. There is another complaint on the horizon against PAUSD for age and racial discrimination. Will Skelly keep this matter under wraps? Will the school board move forward in the wrong direction on this matter? How will the real estate lobbyists spin this sad story? I guess there are no worries if you are white and wealthy. Oh, and better not be handicapped either! Non-white and persons over 40 need NOT apply for a job at the outhouse district. Bing Crosby might sing... "I'm dreaming of a white school district, just like the one we once had..." and will have again very soon.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Paul I love your post. I am thinking if you are a Paul that I know. Anyway, I hope you district officials see your post. It is t he best I ever seen. Way to go. "Bravo for your"
You are right they have a lot more cases hidden. This is how they spend the $$ that government, parcel tax, and PIE contribute to them. I hope that they do not raise the parcel tax again as a result of paying so many lawyers bills.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by money for nothing
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Interesting that most to of these allegations are getting closed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I have two brief observations on this story. First, I believe that there is a question as to whether the district has violated FERPA by releasing the fact that the subject of the complaint is a grade dispute. Grades are a matter of a student's educational record, and as there is a likelihood that at some point the school and other information regarding this student may become public, this seems like a valid question as to whether this is information that should be released.

The decision by the district to release this particular piece of information is particularly interesting given that the district will not release any information, including regarding policies, procedures, and school climate, regarding the Title IX investigation at Paly which is of far greater legitimate public interest than the precise contours of a disability discrimination matter.

In my opinion, a valid question exists as to whether the unidentified "spokeswoman for the school district said the new case "stems from a grade dispute" in order to discredit the family. In the toxic school climate of Palo Alto, saying that a family has filed any kind of complaint over a grade is likely to subject the family to being discredited and criticized. We assume the spokeswoman is or reports to Tabitha Hurley, the district's PR officer.

The complaint is not actually over a grade dispute. The complaint is actually appears to be over the fact that the family filed a complaint, according to the district's own records, of discrimination on the basis of mental disability and the district failed to respond to that complaint. The complaint is over the fact that the district, once again, failed to follow its own procedures and those that are mandated by state and federal law.

Now, because of that apparent failure to follow the proper procedure, the district faces yet another complaint. Following from its Duveneck playbook, it seems that there is a question as to whether the district now is outrageously subjecting the child to the public release of discrediting or personal information. I don't know but it seems like a reasonable question and if it is true, then in my opinion there is a question as to whether this constitutes retaliation.

I certainly hope that Mr. Ebrahimzadeh and the OCR attorneys will follow up on these important questions, given that Kevin Skelly was already warned about the release of student information following the Duveneck case.

Finally "nothing" is wrong that "most to of these allegations are getting closed." That is false. Three cases were closed. One resolved in mediation, one was found not to have sufficient evidence, and one is unknown as to why it closed. Two have resulted in resolution agreements. One resulted in a Letter of Finding against the district. The rest remain open and under investigation.

There have been nine complaints in the past three years. One is a full-blown compliance review of sexual assault and sexual harassment at our flagship high school. Four concern bullying of disabled or other minority students. The number of complaints, including complaints that are repetitive for the same problems, are a reflection of management concerns and poor oversight by the Board.

This evident release of educational information about the student complaining of discrimination is only the most recent example of mismanagement and poor behavior by our school officials.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wow
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 7, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Are you kidding me! Anyone ever heard of the saying "Cry Wolf". This is getting very comical now but i'm sure the lawyers are loving this.

Heck if a school does not have enough toilet paper in kids bathrooms or a bathroom is out of TP the way things are going that school will be sued for discrimination for not providing enough toilet paper.

[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by can't edit this one, hey Ed!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2014 at 7:18 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CP parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2014 at 7:47 pm

To the angry mob: It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. I would really like to see the school district handle students with special needs professionally, competently, and without rancor or resentment. That would go a long way towards making these kind of complaints unnecessary.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2014 at 8:57 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reality bites
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 7, 2014 at 9:24 pm

If a prosecutor had a conviction rate of OCR's with PAUSD, he'd be out of a job! Is there no sniff test before they pursue these complaints?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by SLS alum
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 7, 2014 at 9:38 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CP parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2014 at 9:38 pm

@reality bites, PAUSD is one of the few school districts in the country that has had a federal finding of violating civil rights law. You really should get your facts straight before posting to the public. The first step towards redemption is honesty.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reality bites
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 7, 2014 at 9:45 pm

""The OCR in June dropped another case, alleging racial discrimination in a middle-school search after $20 went missing from a teacher's purse, citing insufficient evidence.
Two other cases -- a 2011 allegation of sex discrimination and a 2012 allegation of disability discrimination -- have been closed.""

@CP Parent, you might like to read what we're discussing before posting! The first step to a solution is understanding the problem.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CP parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm

@"reality", the article says the complaints were closed not that they were unfounded. They can be closed by being settled. I also forgot about the other resolution agreement in a 504 case. 9 complaints and investigations including findings of civil rights law violation seems like a problem to me. If it doesn't to you that's ok, we can differ on it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Enough already
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 7, 2014 at 10:44 pm

The privacy of the child worried me to. Why is PAUSD telling about the grade?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Spectator at Large
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 8, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Spectator at Large is a registered user.

Outhouse Indeed! Need I say more?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by George Orwell
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2014 at 12:05 am

George Orwell is a registered user.

Bravo! lock the thread, silence the discussion.


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