Board to review proposed rules for protecting disabled, other minority students

District-wide policy governing bullying of all students not under consideration

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.

— Chris Kenrick and staff


Posted by Spectator at Large, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I hope that all Palo Alto parents who care about these issues that affect all of our kids come out to the meeting to see what is really happening. I am looking forward to hearing from some of the public about these issues. If you have a child that has been affected by bullying and are confused about the status of the district and its policies or lack thereof, this is a meeting that you won't want to miss. You can come before the aggenda item and fill out a card so that you can directly speak to the Board and Skelly.

So many parents I talk to seem to think that everything is just fine in Perfect Palo Alto. They are too busy to read about all of the less than stellar things that go on in this district. They say to me, "Oooooh, I got an email from Dr. Skelly assuring me that everything that is going on in the district is just peachy" or something like that. You don't have to look very far below the surface to see that all is not well in Perfect Palo Alto.

Let's try to get some candidates on board who will really come to bat for all of our students and give direction to the Superintendent (hopefully someone other than Skelly very soon!) and require follow through. This has been a disgraceful chapter in our district. It's time to turn this around.

Please parents, this is about our kids. Show the district that you really care and want to know the facts!

Posted by hmm, who's right? , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm

"You don't have to look very far below the surface to see that all is not well in Perfect Palo Alto. "

In actuality you have to have a very narrow definition of what is wrong with the district to make a finding of "all is not well".
As you, yourself note, "So many parents [you] talk to seem to think that everything is just fine in Perfect Palo Alto."

Posted by Annoyed to the Max, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 27, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Why won't Dana Tom put his thinking cap on and see Skelly for what he really is? The supe has been dishonest [portion removed] to the BOE on at least two occasions--grounds for termination right there.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 27, 2014 at 2:08 pm

What? Why will there only be bullying policies for "protected" students? And the rest have to hope their principal addresses bullying appropriately? We've experienced 3 PAUSD schools from elementary through middle school (5 elementary school principals, 2 middle school principals). From my experience and from the experiences heard from other moms, I can tell you that each of them deal with bullying differently. Some are fantastic, others turn their heads or don't solve the problem.

Compared to other public school districts, however, there isn't a large bullying issue in PAUSD. Bullying is in all public schools.

Posted by Confused, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I got an email back in October from Dr. Skelly saying that he had finished a bullying policy that applies to all students. He was just waiting for state approval. What happened to that policy?

Posted by Hayes Dad, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 27, 2014 at 2:59 pm

How did the district wind up with a lawyer who doesn't know the difference between the DOJ and the national school board association? Another hire from the bottom of the pile to go along with FF and F. What is she doing "misspeaking" to the board? What about the actual issue that it looks like Professor Dauber was raising -- off campus sexual harassment? Did Dome get corrected eventually or is she still misspeaking? What about the rape culture issue at Paly which is I presume was Prof.. Dauber was concerned about? Is the Weekly ever going to tell us what happened with that ? It's been a long time with no info.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 27, 2014 at 3:32 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2014 at 3:45 pm

@ Duvy Mom - I hope you didn't really mean what you just said...a girl/woman should never be considered a "target" at anytime; drunk or not. Hopefully I misinterpreted your statement.

However - you are correct in that our schools are not responsible for the behavior and actions of students off-campus. Whether it is partying, sexting, drugs/alcohol, etc --- it is not PAUSD's purview to intercede - unless the issues become a problem at school and affect school-life.

Certainly the school can provide education on health and well-being. But parents are soley responsible for the actions of their children - not the schools.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2014 at 3:55 pm

@Crescent Park Dad - please, let's get real... Predators do target women and girls who drink, and you better let your daughters know that. It isn't really helping the discussion to talk about what "should" be when everyone knows the reality is different. And especially when you are talking about high school students, the kids themselves share in the responsibility for their actions.

Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Crescent Park Dad you are partially correct. When off campus harassment, rape, or relationship violence have in school effects a school may have an obligation to respond under Title IX. In particular if a victim of sexual or other prohibited harassment is bullied or harassed in school based on an incident of rape or abuse that took place off campus the law requires a school to respond. This does not necessarily mean a disciplinary response. Other responses may be required such as ensuring that the harassment stops, changing class schedules, moving an abuser to another school or class, late exam or homework deadlines and so forth. Regrettably it appears that Dome does not seem well equipped to advise the district on this subject as she appears confused on basic points about this relatively straightforward subject.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 27, 2014 at 7:47 pm

So right, Mr. Recycle! In theory, abstinence is supposed to work too. Many males DO take advantage of drunk girls - the key is never allow oneself to get so bombed that it tempts them. Of course, not all sexual assaults involve alcohol, but . . .

My Paly students are not partiers but they hear the stories of who did what with whom. Girls should know that gossip spreads like wildfire in high school before they do something regrettable.

Posted by Duvy Mom is offensive, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 27, 2014 at 8:02 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Mom2, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2014 at 8:46 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by My Son Was Bullied, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2014 at 2:11 am

Dealing with bullying of "protected classes" of students differently than bullying for others is not only unfair, but could hurt a lot of students, and maybe even open up a can of worms for the district.

Signs that our son was "different" started showing up in third grade, and the bullying started in earnest when he was in fourth grade, when other children noticed his differences and started picking on him. He had an evaluation by a child psychologist during the summer between fourth and fifth grades (suggested and paid for by PAUSD). Although it was clear that something was wrong, the results were inconclusive, and no diagnosis was made at that time.

Meanwhile, the bullying continued unabated through fifth grade. Although the principal met with us and made the proper expressions of concern, nothing changed. (The idea at the time was to use conflict resolution techniques, but it wasn't a disagreement — it was a show of power of some children over others they considered to be weaker.)

The bullying slacked off in middle school (when he simply avoided everyone else), and eventually the diagnoses started coming in — learning differences diagnosed in seventh grade, autism-spectrum disorder (Asperger's) at the end of eighth grade (diagnoses in the teens and twenties are not unusual with Asperger's), and severe anxiety (especially social anxiety) was formally diagnosed in twelth grade.

So it's pretty clear that during the time he was bullied, he really WAS disabled; it just hadn't been diagnosed yet. The bullies didn't care; they don't just bully on the basis of the labels put on someone, they do it because they sense that someone is weaker, or just plain different.

Where would that have left us? Should our child's bullying have been taken less seriously because he hadn't actually been formally diagnosed with anything yet? Should we (if we were in the situation today) then be expected to go back to the school for some sort of remedy (a lawsuit, a complaint) after the damage was already done? No — things should have been taken more seriously in the first place.

Just to let everyone know — our son developed absolutely crippling anxiety as a result of this, anxiety that wasn't there before the bullying started. He is 26 now, still at home, and has had no friends since second grade, and essentially believes that no one could possibly like him, in spite of much (expensive!!) therapy of various types over all the years since.

How much better all our lives could have been if the bullying had been taken more seriously when it happened. And now, other parents and kids with as-yet-undiagnosed disabilities — or maybe just kids who are physically awkward, or slow learners, or unattractive in the eyes of the other kids — will have their bullying taken less seriously because they're not in a "protected class". My heart goes out to all of them.

Posted by Terri Lobdell, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 28, 2014 at 7:46 am

@My Son Was Bullied

I'm a contributing writer for the Palo Alto Weekly, and interested in talking with you more about your thoughts and experience, on or off the record, if you would like to contact me at

Posted by Duvy Mom is still an offensive victim blaming nightmare, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 28, 2014 at 12:38 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Duvy Mom is still an offensive victim blaming nightmare, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 28, 2014 at 1:58 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by If You Do not Stand up for ALL bullied Kids Leave your seat, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2014 at 2:59 pm

It seems like there is no point anymore to attend the meeting, they always end up doing what Skelly wants, and the board members sheer for him with joy, and then they move on to the next itm, and the cycle begins again. It is really a sick cycle. When will they leave and be replaced by someone who really cares about the students, and it is not afradi to speak up for them to Skelly?

Posted by Spectator at large, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by iSez, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 28, 2014 at 3:47 pm

iSez is a registered user.

Overdrinking leads to sexual assault for both males and females.
College Women: Stop Getting Drunk Web Link

Posted by JLS mom of 2, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 28, 2014 at 6:40 pm

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

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