News

School board adopts harassment policy

Eleven-year-old student returns to testify after testy Jan. 28 exchange

An 11-year-old Palo Alto student, whose Jan. 28 testimony to the Board of Education was interrupted by the board president because she was off topic, returned to the board Tuesday to tell members that bullying is still a problem in local schools.

The testimony of Angela B. Tuesday came prior to the board's unanimous adoption of new policies governing the harassment of disabled and other minority students.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said the policies should satisfy a December 2012 agreement signed with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in which the district agreed to revamp its procedures for handling complaints of discrimination based on "protected classes" of students, including disability, gender, race and sexual preference.

That agreement followed a December 2012 federal finding that the district's mishandling of a bullying case had violated the civil rights of a disabled student.

But Angela B., a middle school student who was flanked at the podium by six adult supporters, including her mother, said bullying is a problem for students in general, not just kids with disabilities. She recounted her experience of having been bullied on the bus and at school because she is short.

"I'm here to tell you that not only special ed kids get bullied, and you should protect all kids to stop their suffering right now," Angela said.

Skelly said he'd return to the board by March 25 with a proposal for a district-wide policy on bullying. Within the next two weeks, the district will post and seek public comment on a draft bullying policy, he said.

The district's student services coordinator, Brenda Carrillo, is drawing on policy work going back to 2012 in formulating a new proposal of which there have been "I don't know how many drafts," he said.

Skelly and board members said they shared concerns expressed by teachers and principals that extending a "uniform complaint procedure" beyond protected classes of students could have the effect of escalating and creating records on minor playground scuffles.

"If every bump, every cutting in line meant they had to write a report, (school staff) couldn't use those as ways of teaching in the classroom and it possibly could get in the way of teaching other things," board Vice-President Melissa Baten Caswell said.

"There was a request to us to figure out what the balance is."

The narrower focus on "protected classes" of the policies adopted Tuesday satisfies the district's 2012 agreement with federal enforcers, Skelly said.

Palo Alto resident Andrea Wolf said there had been a lack of transparency about why school district leaders had changed their minds, both on a district-wide bullying policy and on a staff proposal to "de-lane" freshman English at Palo Alto High School, which Skelly withdrew this week.

"It's impossible for a community member to participate in any meaningful way with this school district and this board of trustees," Wolf told the board Tuesday, adding that she had attempted to closely follow both issues but felt they had not been adequately explained.

Though some adult supporters of Angela B. requested that Board President Barb Mitchell apologize for cutting short the girl's Jan. 28 testimony, Angela said Tuesday: "I don't care about an apology or not. ... All I'm suggesting is for you to listen to what children have to say.

"What happened last time wasn't planned for, but I also don't think it started us out on the right foot. Bullying has been going on for a long time, and I feel like you guys haven't done anything about it."

Mitchell, who interrupted Angela's Jan. 28 testimony, saying it was not related to the agenda item at hand, told the girl Tuesday: "Thank you, Angela, and I certainly will apologize if anything I said made you uncomfortable or caught you by surprise. Thank you for coming back and having the courage of speaking."

Earlier in the meeting, Mitchell did apologize more broadly for the duration of the Jan. 28 school board meeting, which adjourned after 2 a.m.

"I completely misestimated the amount of time it would take to cover the questions, interest levels and public comments on subjects that are very important to all of us," she said.

"What happens in that instance is it really does impact the ability of community members and staff members to impact our conversations."

In the future, Mitchell said, she plans mid-meeting time checks to determine whether agenda items need to be rearranged or postponed.

Tuesday's meeting was unusually short, adjourning around 9:30 p.m., well short of the officially targeted time of 10 p.m.

Comments

Posted by Waiting for so Long , a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:01 am

They went around the bush for so long, and waisted our students' education funds to pay lawyer after lawyer, to come up with this little thing (harrassment policy). I am really dissapointed. I guess we need have to make a big complain on the none protected groups in order to put them to work, and again our tax $$ will be waisted. They really do not learn from history.


Posted by wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:08 am

wow!!! this world is getting crazy. The poor school board and crap they have to put up with! Kids will always be kids and tease, etc..... not okay but unfortunately happens and always has! what a horse and pony show that was last night!

The real hurtful and dangerous bullying occurs on-line: facebook etc.... that is the biggest difference today and it is a huge problem.


Posted by excuse me!!, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:18 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Cheesin' rice, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:23 am

There is physical bullying, verbal bullying, and cyber-bullying. One does NOT need Facebook for the first two, which also happen to be a little more controllable. All three are equally destructive and dangerous.

When my now-grown son was at Jordan, he got a broken knee-cap from verbal abuse ( which he ignored) that escalated to physical abuse (which the bully confessed he committed because my son kept ignoring him--as the vice principal had told him to do).


Posted by Waiting for so Long , a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:38 am

[Post removed due to earlier removal of referenced comment.]


Posted by yeah!, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm

"Though some adult supporters of Angela B. requested that Board President Barb Mitchell apologize for cutting short the girl's Jan. 28 testimony, Angela said Tuesday: "I don't care about an apology or not. ... All I'm suggesting is for you to listen to what children have to say."

Seems like Angela has more sense than the adults around her.


Posted by Fact check, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 12, 2014 at 12:29 pm

There are inaccuracies in this story. To be honest they have been present in other of Kenricks stories. She still is inaccurately reporting that the district discarded the prepared bulling policy because of concerns over treating ordinary bullying at the district level . That is not what happened. The district had prepared a site level investigation process that went through approvals and on the eve of adoption it discarded it. There has been no explanation for that. It is exhausting trying to correct these misstatements. Editor, it is bad enough that we have to correct the district. We shouldn't also have to correct The Weekly. Please editor fact check your stories and report accurately.


Posted by yeah!, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

The district had prepared a site level investigation process that went through approvals and on the eve of adoption it discarded it because of concerns over treating ordinary bullying at the district level.

Seems clear to me.


Posted by Trying to Help, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 12, 2014 at 3:29 pm

@ yeah!

A site-level investigation process, as was described in the (tossed out) bullying policy proposal for non-protected students, would take place at the site level (not at the district level). Under that draft policy, the entire set of procedures for handling a bullying report or complaint would occur at the school site. That was the whole point of it: The two sets of students (protected and non-protected) were separated for different treatment under that proposed bullying policy. "Ordinary" bullying was not to be handled at the district level under this policy.

The only bullying investigated at the district level under this proposed bullying policy would have been students who were bullied on the basis of "protected" characteristics (race, sexual orientation, disability, etc.)

There has never been a policy drafted in this district that would send all students (protected and non-protected) to the district level. It does not and never has existed. It was only a very short-lived idea that was floated at the December 3 BPRC meeting, recommended in that moment by Skelly, who then quickly changed his mind because he ran into opposition to that concept. Basically that idea never made it as far as the drafting table.

I hope that helps. To summarize, "site-level investigation" for non-protected students who have been bullied is not the equivalent of "treating ordinary bullying at the district level." In fact it is the opposite.

Also, on a related topic: The idea that "ordinary" bullying is somehow less potentially serious than bullying that befalls a "protected" student is troubling. The definition of bullying is the same, regardless of who it happens to, under the proposed (tossed out) policy. The definition that was in the draft was very strict, applying only to conduct that is "severe or pervasive" and also has substantially detrimental effect (defined in several ways) on the victim.

Under this strict definition of bullying, it is difficult to understand why administrators and teachers have been worried about the slightest playground mishap rising to the level of "bullying" under this policy. But in any case, under this draft (tossed out) policy (BP/AR 5131.2), any complaints about bullying of the "non-protected" students would have been handled at the school site level.

If you want to check out the (tossed out) policy for yourself, here is a link to it on the district website:

Web Link

(Scroll to pp. 176 -198 for the draft of BP/AR 5131.2, known as the "Bullying Policy")


Posted by pa parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 12, 2014 at 4:44 pm

It is heartening that the Board did the right thing here, and that Barb Mitchell apologized. Their treatment of this girl was a mistake and I'm glad that they realized that and dealt with it openly. Kudos.


Posted by End this circus, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Feb 12, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Barb Mitchell did not apologize to the girl. "I certainly will apologize if anything I said made you uncomfortable or caught you by surprise last time." That is how a scoundrel apologizes, not an elected leader.


Posted by Waiting for so Long , a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:37 pm

I agree with End this Circus,
Barb's apology sounds like the school bullie's apology after they are asked to apologize to the victims i, and they do, but it does not really comes from the heart. I Hear Barb saying "I will apologize if..." meaning that she does not even think she ows an apology to the girl for interrupting her. Wow, we are not being good models for our kids. She had a chance to really apologize to Angela, and she wasted it.


Posted by JustMe, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Did anyone else notice that the topic of the sign held by an adult in the accompanying picture was not at all addressed by this article? That sign specifically asks for protection of all students from bullying BY ABUSIVE TEACHERS. Bitter experience showed me that the bullying and abuse is not just from other students. More than just permitting this behavior from the students, I saw teachers engaging in it, and my child suffered from it.

Don't think that the bullying is just a student-on-student thing. It starts farther up the food chain. Silence on this is tacit approval of it.


Posted by are you kidding, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm

to "Fact check"
Do you seriously expect the public to believe a "fact check" from an anonymous source?


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2014 at 1:21 pm

are you kidding,

"to "Fact check"
Do you seriously expect the public to believe a "fact check" from an anonymous source?"

That's funny, anonymous Edmund Burke has been fact-checking this issue for over a year now.

That's a story for this highly educated community.


Posted by Khannie, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm

New policy adopted, but enforced? I highly doubt it. The current one was rarely enforced, so historically, the chances of them actually adhering to the new policy are infinitesimally small.


Posted by explainer, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm

@been there
"Research" includes all the data and evidence on Paly students in the report. Ed told you that but you were so busy grinding your axe that you couldn't hear. You like tracking that's fine. We get it. Leave Ed alone, I enjoyed reading what he kindly took the time you could just have found for yourself. Evidently it's not only the Paly teachers who could be lazy.


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