The Palo Alto school board Tuesday will discuss proposed new policies governing bullying of disabled and other "protected" students. Superintendent Kevin Skelly said in a memo to the board that the policies should satisfy a federal agency that in 2012 found the district in violation of civil rights law.
The proposed guidelines for dealing with complaints of discrimination based on characteristics like gender, race, disability and sexual preference were backed earlier this month by the board's two-member Policy Review Committee.
But the committee opted against a district-wide bullying policy for students who are not in those so-called "protected classes." Instead, every principal would determine how to handle those bullying complaints at his or her school.
Despite staff and community efforts since fall 2012 to craft a district-wide bullying policy, Skelly said he has yet to find language "that adequately captures the values identified in the Board Policy Review Committee discussions" -- but may have a proposal by March.
"Teachers have expressed concerns about a process that could result in every potential case of hurtful student interactions needing to be addressed through district-level involvement," he said.
"Administrators share this worry and have discussed the possibility that bullying should be woven into existing incident report forms used by schools for other disciplinary issues."
Meanwhile, Oakland lawyer Dora Dome, who is advising the district on its policy revisions, acknowledged she made a "misstatement" to the Policy Review Committee regarding criticism of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, which is the agency that found in 2012 that Palo Alto violated the civil rights of a disabled student.
In response to a letter from Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber, who has criticized the Palo Alto school district's lack of strong, centralized regulations governing bullying, Dome said she misspoke when she said the U.S. Department of Justice has criticized the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for "exceeding its authority" in prescribing what schools must do in response to off-campus sexual harassment and sexual assault.
"The referenced criticism was actually of OCR's Dear Colleague Letter on Bullying and it was by the National School Boards Association, not DOJ, alleging among other things, that OCR's (Dear Colleague Letter) had taken an expansive view of what conduct constitutes federally protected 'harassment' and what remedial measures are legally required by school districts," Dome said in response to a letter from Dauber.
In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss proposed new high school and middle school course offerings for 2014-15 and the framework for a newly formed district committee that by May will recommend programming and location for a new elementary school in Palo Alto.
The board will gather in a separate meeting Tuesday morning to hear an annual update from high school principals about activities on their campuses.
The first meeting will be at 10 a.m. in the boardroom of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.
The second meeting will convene at the same location at 6:30 p.m., following a closed session in which board members will discuss employee and student discipline cases.