Updated: Mon, Jan 13, 2014, 9:30 am
Uploaded: Fri, Jan 10, 2014, 5:06 pm
School panel backs limited bullying policies
Only students in 'protected' classes will be covered, but action will satisfy federal resolution agreement
A Palo Alto school board committee gave a tentative go-ahead Friday to new policies and procedures aimed at resolving the district's violation of federal civil-rights laws in connection with its mishandling of a bullying case involving a disabled student.
If the policies are approved by the full board, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said they should satisfy a December 2012 resolution agreement signed with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in which the district agreed to revamp its policies and procedures for dealing with complaints of discrimination based on gender, race, disability, sexual preference, etc.
But the board's Policy Review Committee decided not to adopt any district-wide policies for students who are not in these so-called "protected" classes. Instead, every school site would determine how to handle those bullying complaints.
Without an additional clear process for bullying victims who aren't in "protected classes," the district will invite more complaints and lawsuits, Stanford Law School Professor Michele Dauber said. Dauber's concern was echoed by parent Christina Schmidt, chair of the district's Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, who said that a year's worth of work to develop a new bullying policy would be lost if the district does not adopt a uniform grievance procedure for all bullying victims, whether or not they're in a protected class.
Oakland lawyer Dora Dome, who is advising the school district on federal civil-rights compliance, disagreed.
"There is a process (for 'non-protected students')," Dome said. "It's not laid out like it is for protected classes, but it does have a structure."
The process would be for bullying targets or their parents to appeal to a teacher or principal, Skelly said. If they're not satisfied with a principal's resolution of the case, they can file a complaint against the principal or other district personnel with the district office and the district is required to investigate.
Once the board approves policies to bring the district into compliance with federal law regarding "protected" students, he said, the district can continue working on specific policies governing other students, which are not required by law.
Committee member Melissa Baten Caswell -- who last month advocated a single bullying complaint process for all students -- said she had changed her mind after speaking with teachers and the head of the teachers' union.
Caswell said she originally believed a consistent process for all students would be simpler for parents to understand and for teachers to implement, but was persuaded otherwise.
"I realized it wouldn't be more simple," she said. "Teachers would be required within 24 hours to report that, 'Yeah, I pushed you.' I was told it would become such a heavy process it would be the primary process in the classroom. I changed my mind as a result of that.
"We obviously have to obey the law and protect kids, but we shouldn't be creating incidents that aren't incidents," Caswell said.
But she said she wanted to be sure to include language in the new policy clarifying the school's responsibility to investigate any school repercussions of harassment or bullying events, even if the events themselves take place off campus.
Citing cyber-bullying, off-campus fights or "egg wars," Caswell said there's been confusion among some in the past as to whether the school has responsibility.
"I think we're doing training, but I know there's been confusion, and I don't want people to say, 'I don't know whether we're responsible or not.'"
Caswell and fellow committee member Camille Townsend told Skelly to return with clarification on posting procedures on the district's website for all types of bullying complaints, updating student manuals that will be distributed next fall, a system for tracking site-based bullying complaints, including oral complaints, and a timetable for rolling out new reporting forms on bullying.
"Parents just want rules they can refer to," Townsend told Skelly.
"When you present this to the board I want reference to the conduct policy that it's inappropriate to bully other students, and that if you're in a protected class there's a clear Uniform Complaint Procedure and if you are not in a protect class our staff knows what to do as well," she said.
See related Editorial.
Posted by Go PAEA!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2014 at 3:02 pm
This was never as complicated as some wanted you to believe. Adopting an anti-bullying policy or a complaint policy was always as easy as adopting a anti-lice policy or any other policy, using the sample policies from the CSBA. PAUSD just released a whole bunch of policies based on the CSBA samples for the previously secret meeting they held yesterday. It was easy. Kevin Skelly and Charles Young only made this look like a circus to distort reality so that you would blame the OCR, the Weekly for reporting, or to the Daubers for calling out Skelly's leadership almost two years ago. Of course virtually all the neighboring districts and all the districts in California have approved or revised the same policies without fanfare because they had a basic level of leadership in their superintendent and associate superintendent and board. Skelly and Young have damaged the PAUSD brand, doing nothing for kids, focusing on keeping the principals and teachers happy, and you can't blame him for that. That was his job when he was hired in 2007: keep them happy. It had nothing to do with kids then, nothing to do with kids now. The principals threw their spat in 2006 and 2007 against Callan. It wasn't pretty, but fortunately for them, their behavior, which included prominent parent collaborators and leaving a note on a bench, has been forgotten. As for the teachers, PAEA specifically, they are not about kids, either. PAEA exists to protect all teachers from work they consider extra and to protect the low-performing teachers from a shred of accountability. PAEA leadership, from president Teri Baldwin and past president Triona Gogarty to the school representatives, are not represented by the star teachers of PAUSD, quite the opposite, these are our least effective teachers, and often our most disgruntled. Our star teachers focus on kids and parents and other teachers can easily identify them at each school, just as everyone can identify the dead-weight or lemons. I have only lived (that's for those of you who treat residency as a contest) in Palo Alto for 30 years, and this current superintendent, associate superintendent, and this board combine to make up the lowest-performing, ineffective group of leaders I have ever witnessed. I am reading fewer and fewer posts in this public forum that defend Skelly, Young, or the board, nor should I. 2013 was a horrible year for these folks, but many of us saw the signs a year or two earlier. 2014 is off to an start that I cannot imagine getting worse. Either way, as the Weekly has written, there is failure. I urge the board to make substantive, real change in leadership. This district is no longer working with Skelly and Young at the helm. The board has been unable to lead as they were elected to do. Nine OCR complaints in a little more than a year is not an indication of a well-oiled machine. Payouts, deals, and settlements highlight the board meeting agenda, the hidden agenda, not the public one, which is all about keeping it positive. Tabitha Hurley is not making you feel better about the district, but again, it is hard to fault her, considering what she has to work with. PAUSD is clearly currently rudderless, and all the lawyers in the world, or just in Palo Alto (Lozano, Fagen, Reynolds, Dome, how many more have been paid several hundred dollars per hour to distract your attention off of Skelly, Young, and the board), are not going to be able to make you ignore how bad it is today. This is no longer about the local electoral power structure, about who can spread rumors or withhold information from the voters right before an election, this is about a town of smart people, people like you, who cannot find enough energy to cloud your view of the stink at 25 Churchill.
Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2014 at 10:52 am
"a year" asks the following question:
How does Options' comment about a multi-school complaint procedure square with a one-tier bullying policy vs a two-tier policy or a zero policy for students who are not in a protected class?
We know this much, there is at least agreement about one policy for protected classes, and that policy has a uniform complaint procedure.
For the rest - is the policy itself a referral to school specific complaint procedures?"
"Year" thank you for your question.
I will try to be as clear as possible in giving you a chronology of where we are and how we got here, though please note that the board and the staff have been clear as mud, and just as transparent so it may be hard for people to follow and I am in the dark about some details myself.
1. PAUSD has never had a "bullying" policy. The district first began to consider a bullying policy during the summer of 2012. By that time, the district and board knew (but the public did not) that Terman had been found to have violated a student's civil rights by failing to respond correctly to disability-based bullying. One of the issues identified by OCR at that time, but not disclosed to the public, was that the district lacked compliant policies on discriminatory harassment. Our policies failed to comply with both federal and state law. We did not use the Uniform Complaint procedure, which was required by law for many years (since 1999). There were other policies and procedures that were not correct. Part of the Resolution Agreement in the Terman case was that PAUSD would use the UCP for discriminatory bullying complaints and that it would, essentially, follow the law from now on.
2. The public knew nothing about any of this. But Dr. Skelly and Charles Young and the board knew that the district had some kind of issue with bullying, the federal government, state law, and policies and that there was a need for improvement.
3. That summer, in 2012, Dr. Skelly hired Brenda Carrillo, PAUSD's new director of student services, was from Santa Clara County board of education, where bullying was one of the issues she worked on.
4. One of the first things Carrillo did was to begin work on a comprehensive bullying policy for the district.
5. In December 2012, Dr. Skelly received an OCR Letter of Finding against the district as well as signed a resolution agreement with OCR regarding bullying. This agreement obligated the district to use the UCP for all discriminatory harassment complaints (which we did not at that time do), and to conduct training and produce a Notice to parents and a Guidance Memorandum for staff regarding these policies that did not yet exist.
6. During this time Brenda Carrillo continued to work on developing a bullying policy, but it did not comply with the OCR resolution agreement because it did not use the UCP for discriminatory bullying but instead had a site-based investigation procedure.
7. Still nothing was disclosed to the public. THe board was told that there would be training of staff on bullying but they probably assumed that this was just routine. It was not disclosed publicly that the training was the result of a Resolution Agreement with the federal government.
8. In February 2013, the family of the Terman victim went public and gave information to the Weekly to publish about the case.
9. At that point, this issue burst into public view. The district's response to the concerns of the public was that it was working on a comprehensive bullying policy that would be forthcoming and would address these issues. The board also made promises about a forthcoming "comprehensive, consistent" bullying policy. There were many many speeches and statements about the need for and promise to have a comprehensive, consistent bullying policy -- even though that was somewhat orthogonal to what happened with OCR.
10. Various task forces, climate committees, and stakeholder groups were hastily organized and promised a comprehensive consistent bullying policy throughout the next year. Over the summer, at least 2 such groups were convened.
11. During this time (February - current) the board began to hold regular closed meetings to discuss the OCR mess, which was rapidly becoming a fiasco and more parents learned about OCR and began to file their own complaints in hopes of getting some help for their disabled children. While most of these complaints do not meet the high evidentiary bar for proving discrimination, they signal a problem with the district's lack of clear procedures for handling such complaints.
12. Also in February, 2013 Paly published a story about Rape Culture which made it clear that the district also lacked a valid Title IX investigation procedure. OCR launched its own sua sponte investigation into that.
13. In March 2013, district lawyer Laurie Reynolds appeared before the board and gave a presentation that the Weekly called misleading and obfuscatory about the Terman case. She did not mention the procedural issues.
14. After her drubbing in the press for her lack of candor, Reynolds disappeared from public view and is replaced by Dora Dome, an Oakland based consultant who primarily conducts trainings on school discipline. Dome takes over negotiating with OCR. It is not clear whether she is acting as a district attorney or training consultant.
15. Through the ensuing months (spring, summer, and fall 2013), the board repeatedly stated that it was not discussing the matter publicly but it would soon, because the new comprehensive consistent bullying policy was coming, and when it was ready we would be moving to adopt it and put this whole rather sordid mess behind us.
16. Dome continued to work with OCR throughout the summer of 2013 to complete the drafting of a bullying policy that will satisfy OCR. The Carrillo draft was rejected by OCR because it did not use the UCP but had a site-based process instead. In order to satisfy the goals of having a comprehensive, consistent policy which was promised to the community and of satisfying OCR that PAUSD would follow anti-discrimination law and to satisfy the goal of site-based control, the policy was two-tiered. Discrimination complaints are heard through the UCP in compliance with the law. Regular bullying had a site-based process laid out similar to what is in current policy and similar to what Carrillo had drafted in her first cut at this.
17. In August, 2013 OCR approved this two-tier policy. Discriminatory bullying would be handled by the UCP and regular bullying by a site-based process. CDE and CSBA also approved it in November. It was about to be adopted. That was in December 2013 (last month).
18. Many in the community, including me, expressed reservations about the two-tier system, saying that it was both inequitable, and also would lead to mistakes. Dr. Skelly said he would revise the procedure to send all bullying complaints to the UCP.
19. Suddenly on December 20, Dr. Skelly sent a memo to the board slamming the brakes on the long-promised comprehensive consistent bullying policy. Instead, he notified the board that he had abruptly changed course, thrown away the bullying policy that was over a year in the making, and gone back to the drawing board with OCR. He was now doing the legal minimum, whatever was required to "get legal" on discrimination. There would be no bullying policy at all for the time being for ordinary bullying not based on a protected class.
20. That has left PAUSD with no procedure at all for the investigation and handling of ordinary, nondiscriminatory bullying complaints. Although Dome claims that we have our suspension and expulsion process, this claim merely serves to demonstrate that the Oakland-based Dome doesn't really understand Palo Alto, doesn't understand that we rarely use that process, and doesn't understand that we don't want more suspensions and expulsions here. Instead, we need a complaint procedure that guides principals and other staff as well as parents on what to do if there is an issue.
21. Dome also does not seem to understand that the suspension and expulsion due process accords rights to the accused but is not an investigation process for complaints in any way. It is revealed in the same meeting that the bullying forms that the district recently produced that do not comply with the UCP were modified disciplinary forms provided by Dome and that is why they did not work for the purpose to which Palo Alto was trying to put them. It is beginning to become clear that Dome is advocating either a radical increase in school discipline in Palo Alto or a situation in which there is no response at all to bullying unless it is so serious it results in suspension or expulsion, which is to say, virtually never.
22. The district currently has a Conduct Policy (5131) See: Web Link. As you can see, there is some language about bullying in this policy. It says that complaints will be handled under AR5145.7.
23. AR5145.7 is found here: Web Link. This is a site-level investigation process that is a lighter weight process than the UCP. It is this process that more or less formed the basis for the proposed second tier of the now-discarded two tier policy. This process is not consistently utilized but it is our actual process on the books currently.
24. Dr. Skelly recommended the deletion of this AR at last week's BPRC meeting. That means he recommended deleting the only process for investigating complaints of ordinary bullying that the district has.
25. At the BPRC meeting it was clear that neither the board members, nor Dome, nor Dr. Skelly even understand precisely what our current procedures are, what the effect of Skelly's proposal will be on them, and what will happen next. Both board members said that they wanted "something" that would tell people what to do, but did not understand that they were approving Dr. Skelly's proposal to delete that very thing that they were asking for. Dr. Skelly for his part said that he would now start the process over of writing something that was alternatively discussed as a new AR, a website, a flowchart, a set of forms, and "something, whatever it is" that would guide people.
26. Of course, that is what the two-tier policy that they just threw away was. And it is what the AR5145.7 that they just deleted was. So it is not clear why they are going back to the drawing board and starting over to make "a new AR, a website, a flowchart, a set of forms, and "something, whatever it is" that would guide people" or what that something would be or when it would happen.
That is where we are today. Fifteen months have gone by and two things have occurred: A. We have a process for handling discriminatory bullying that if adopted will comply with the state and federal civil rights law; B. we have less process for handling ordinary bullying than we had at the beginning. Today, under the current plan, we have deleted what process we had and we now will have nothing. We might eventually get "a new AR, a website, a flowchart, a set of forms, and "something, whatever it is" that would guide people."
Unaddressed is why Dr. Skelly and the board decided, out of public view, to eliminate the two-tier policy. They explained why they did not want a one-tier policy: staff did not want to have to send all bullying complaints to the district office. But why, given that, did they not just revert to the 15-months-in-the-making December 2013 draft of the two tier policy that had been approved by OCR, CSBA, and CDE? Why did they decide to trash that, waste all that work, and start over from scratch?
The answer to that was doubtless discussed off-line in the tangle of closed meetings that have been held. The public has been given no answer to this question.
As of now, every school is on its own to decide how and whether to investigate bullying complaints. If parents are dissatisfied, they can file a complaint against the principal or teacher. There is, of course, no criteria to determine whether or not a principal or teacher has or has not acted properly so no basis for the district to overrule them and no information for parents as to what basis there might be for complaint other than "I don't like this result." Thus, one can imagine how these complaints will be handled.
Posted by Former PAUSD Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 16, 2014 at 11:03 am
I'm sorry, but I believe you are mistaken about the existence of a board-adopted bullying policy in Palo Alto. I will do my best to clear up the confusion.
"PAUSD does have a bullying policy: 'PAUSD prohibits bullying. .. Students are encouraged to notify school staff when they are being bullied or suspect that another student is being victimized. In addition, the Superintendent or designee shall develop means for students to report threats or incidents confidentially and anonymously... [for students not in OCR protected status] the complaint shall be investigated and resolved in accordance with site-level grievance procedures' ... Any student who engages in ... bullying...may be subject to discipline, which may include suspension or expulsion.'"
The language you quote is from a DRAFT of the bullying policy and its companion administrative regulation (BP/AR 5131.2), which the district has been working on for more than a year (and sent this fall to the CDE and CSBA for vetting), but it has NOT been adopted by the school board, and is not currently recommended for adoption by the board.
There are multiple versions of this DRAFT bullying policy on the PAUSD website and linked to stories in the Weekly, and perhaps you have mistaken a draft for an actual policy adopted by the board.
However, the Bullying Policy and its companion AR have only been proposed so far, and have not been adopted in any form by the board. In fact most recently the Superintendent and Board Policy Review Committee have recommended that this Bullying Policy and its AR be set aside, and not brought to the board for consideration at this time. Plans for any future board-adopted bullying policies are uncertain at this time, for reasons that are unclear. Given all the resources and public statements that have attended the development of this Bullying Policy (BP/AR 5131.2) during the past year-plus, this recent turn of events has surprised parents and given rise to protest from some in the community who were looking forward to adoption of a comprehensive board policy and procedure to govern issues around bullying in the district.
You can check for yourself at the PAUSD website, where all the adopted policies are listed: Web Link You will not see a Bullying Policy (5131.2) listed.
However, among the adopted policies on the website, you might notice BP 5131, which is labeled "Conduct." At the risk of adding more complications to an already complicated picture, this Conduct Policy lists student conduct that is prohibited under the state law discipline code, including bullying. Towards the end of that Conduct Policy it directs that: "Complaints of bullying or harassment shall be investigated and resolved in accordance with site-level grievance procedures specified in AR 5145.7 -Sexual Harassment." There is apparently some confusion among district officials about whether this Conduct Policy was ever adopted, although at the end of the policy document (on the district website) it says it was adopted in January 2010, and according to the board meeting minutes at that time, it was among those policies adopted. In any case, the complaint procedure set out in AR 5145.7 (and required for complaints of bullying and harassment under the Conduct Policy 5131) is apparently not in use at the school sites for handling bullying complaints, perhaps due to this confusion about whether it was ever adopted (and/or the fact that board-adopted policies and procedures are often not followed at school sites, which is another issue entirely).
Meanwhile, at this time, the Superintendent and Board Policy Review Committee are recommending that AR 5145.7 be eliminated, so it will no longer be in effect for any type of complaint, aside from the issue of whether it is followed. This AR 5145.7 is slated for deletion because all Sexual Harassment complaints are now proposed to be processed through the district-level UCP, to meet requirements of federal and state law (including Seth's Law). This action to delete AR 5145.7, once taken, would coincidentally eliminate any site-level procedure for bullying complaints that might have existed otherwise under the Conduct Policy.
With no Bullying Policy (BP/AR 5131.2), and no AR 5145.7 attached to the Conduct Policy, there will be no board-adopted policy or procedure in place to govern the handling of "non-protected" bullying reports and complaints. (Reminder: Under the scheme currently proposed, "protected" or "discriminatory" bullying complaints would go through the district-level UCP process, per state and federal legal requirements.)
All of these most recent Superintendent recommendations -- to shelve the draft Bullying Policy (BP/AR 5131.2) while proceeding to adopt the updated UCP (BP/AR 1312.3), the updated Nondiscrimination policy (BP 5145.3) and the updated Sexual Harassment policy (BP 5145.7), and delete the current AR 5145.7 -- are planned for presentation and discussion at the January 28th school board meeting.
Finally, the "process" that the school district's lawyer/consultant Dora Dome refers to that still would apply to the bullying of any students (protected or unprotected) is the disciplinary process contained in the California Ed Code and reflected in the district's discipline policies, which include bullying as conduct which is subject, under certain legal definitional criteria, to the disciplinary sanctions of suspension and expulsion. This disciplinary process (focused on appropriate procedural protections for the "accused") is quite different -- and to be distinguished from -- a complaint process focused on guidance for someone who wants to make a report or complaint about alleged bullying. A complaint process describes the steps to take when one wants to report bullying, and what to expect will follow procedurally from that report (for example: how it will be investigated, how a decision about resolution will be communicated, any appeal process for the complainant, what possible remedies might exist to support the victim, how numbers and types of complaints might be documented to create data to help evaluate the incidence of bullying and/or effectiveness of prevention programs, etc.). The vast majority of reports and complaints of bullying do not result in suspension or expulsion of the student alleged to have bullied or harassed (and that is to PAUSD's credit since that level of discipline is not viewed in most cases by experts in the field as the best means of handling peer victimization situations).
Thus, if we leave the handling of bullying complaints solely to the process set up in the discipline code, we are leaving parents and staff without any district-level guidance for how reports or complaints of bullying will be handled procedurally unless and until they become the subject of suspension or expulsion procedures. The disciplinary process will only kick in, and not very often, when the conduct is severe enough that the school decides to take the more extreme disciplinary steps of suspending or recommending expulsion of the student accused of the bullying misconduct. In that case there will be "due process" under the disciplinary code for the student who is accused and potentially subject to the discipline. There will be no board-adopted procedures focused on processes to guide and support those victims, and/or their parents, who want to make a complaint. That is not part of the disciplinary code scheme. If the board wants a policy to guide the process for handling bullying complaints, it needs to adopt one focused on that (in other words, some version of BP 5131.2). Relying on the discipline code does not serve that purpose.