News

When teen dating violence hits

Are our schools ready when relationships turn violent?

Related articles published today:

Title IX issues raised in latest federal civil-rights case

Dating violence: What it is, and what schools and parents can do

Women tell of high school partners who harassed, assaulted them

Laura had her hands full last fall. She had broken up with her boyfriend, Mark, the week before. Since then, he had been stalking her at school, where he was a student too. He cut class to follow her to and from her classes, where he stared at her through the windows. He called her derogatory names like "bitch" and "whore," pressured her to come back to him and barraged her with text messages. He also followed and harassed her on the way to and from school, Laura later told the police.

Laura told Mark to leave her alone, to get away from her, that it was over; still he persisted. On the way to school one morning, a neighbor overheard Laura yelling at him and called the school, concerned for Laura's safety. A school administrator asked Laura about the incident. Laura assured the staff member that everything was under control. Laura thought she could handle it on her own.

Later that week, after stalking her all day at school, Mark again pursued Laura on the way home from school, and she finally decided to phone for help. That's when Mark attacked her. Witnesses in the neighborhood saw what was happening and stepped in immediately to stop him and call the police. Still, Mark managed to pull Laura's hair and head towards the ground and strike the back of her head with his hand, according to police records. The police arrived and arrested him.

At the time of the attack, Sept. 20, Laura and Mark (not their real names) were Gunn High School students. What happened between them is a very common pattern of behavior and a classic example of teen dating violence, according to Emily Austin, a staff lawyer with Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of teen dating violence.

According to Austin and other experts, the biggest threat of violence is after a break-up, a time of great volatility.

Violence within a dating relationship is not rare. Each year, about one in 10 teenagers suffers from physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend, according to the national Centers for Disease Control. However, often it is not recognized as a serious, widespread problem -- threatening the mental, physical and educational health of many teens -- as most incidents go unreported, unnoticed or minimized, according to experts in the field.

Research shows that the long-term consequences of dating abuse are more severe for young women, who are more frequently victimized -- though young men too can be victims, as can partners in same-sex relationships, where the tendency to report is even lower due to added stigma and fear of being "outed," according to experts.

"Many young victims do not recognize warning signs and confuse controlling behaviors as a sign of care. Fear and shame discourage victims from seeking help, and when they do, adults often minimize the potential for harm," according to a Fact Sheet from California Assemblyman Ricardo Lara's office, a legislative leader on this issue.

In 2012 Lara sponsored a bill to promote dating-abuse prevention programs and policies in schools, citing a "serious gap" in the Education Code; the proposed legislation, which is still pending, was in response to a teenage girl killed on school grounds in Lara's district, as well as other publicized dating-related violent attacks.

In addition to proposed legislation, Peace Over Violence and another nonprofit, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), are partnering with the California Department of Education and California School Boards Association on a project, "Delta Focus," to promote school environments that support healthy relationships and prevent adolescent dating abuse. The project includes development of policy resources for school boards, superintendents and other education stakeholders, according to Lisa Parks, CPEDV's prevention programs director.

Whether dating abuse and violence occurs on or off school grounds, it "can have devastating effects on academic achievement, campus safety and positive development ... (because) teens in a dating relationship also see each other at school and their violent association can cause a severe safety hazard to themselves and other students," according to a report Austin co-authored with the California Attorney General's Office, "Guide to Addressing Teen Dating and Sexual Violence in a School Setting." (For more on this topic, see the sidebar, Dating violence: What it is, and what schools and parents can do.)

Questions arise for school, parents

Laura and Mark were lucky in one way. Residents near Gunn noticed the problem, took immediate action and put a stop to the violence. They also exposed for the first time the dangerous dynamic in the teenagers' relationship.

The adults now were the ones with their hands full.

The steps that followed, especially between Laura's parents and school officials, illustrate the difficult issues faced when dating relationships turn violent. Within a six-week period, the parents and the school wrestled over the following:

• Whether the school should have called Laura's parents or taken other proactive steps when the neighbor called the school concerned about Laura's safety;

• Whether the school was obligated to follow the terms of a 300-yard stay-away court order, which would have made it impossible for Mark and Laura to attend the same school;

• Whether the school could (or should) transfer Mark to Palo Alto High School;

• Whether the school's proposed accommodations to allow Mark to continue to attend Gunn (assigning Mark and Laura walking routes at school, having security staff monitor Laura, etc.) were sufficient to ensure Laura's safety;

• Whether the school could/should discipline Mark for any of his alleged misconduct on campus and/or to and from school.

"Getting to yes" with the school district proved difficult, stressful and time-consuming, Laura's mother said. It required many emails, phone calls, meetings, research of school policies and Internet resources, consultations with private attorneys, the police and the district attorney. During the process, the family felt a continual sense of urgency to get an effective safety plan in place in time for Mark's release at a date uncertain, possibly imminent.

Instead of being able to rely on the district as their ally, the family said they found themselves fighting an uphill battle in an effort to keep their daughter safe. They increasingly turned to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and Probation Department for help; by early November, those offices were able to facilitate an agreement with Mark's family that he transfer to another school. The court also renewed for three years the protective order requiring Mark to stay 300 yards away from Laura at all times, including her school, making it impossible for him to return to Gunn without violating the order.

The family was grateful and relieved and credited the criminal justice system with making the right thing happen. School officials appeared to share the relief.

"The good thing is the kid is in school in (another city), far away from the district and this young lady," Superintendent Kevin Skelly wrote in an email to Board of Education member Melissa Baten Caswell.

But while the situation eventually resolved for Laura, Laura's mother, a long-time PTA volunteer, today expresses her lack of confidence in the Palo Alto school district's ability -- or willingness -- to be proactive in protecting a victim from further danger. She said she worries about the next victim of harassment, stalking and violence, especially if he or she chooses not to pursue criminal charges, which many victims are reluctant to do for a variety of reasons.

Is there good reason to believe the schools will handle things differently in the future? With the past as an indicator, Laura's mother has doubt. (See sidebar, Women tell of high school partners who harassed, assaulted them.)

Since the fall, Laura's parents have had time to digest their experience and learn more about the school's obligations under state and federal laws, including duties to investigate fully as soon as the school is on notice about possible sexual harassment and to take prompt and effective actions to provide remedies for victims, like their daughter, caught in a hostile environment at school. They believe those obligations were not recognized or fulfilled in their daughter's case and that the school, especially after being alerted by the neighbor's call prior to the attack, might have helped prevent further harassment and violence.

In March, Laura's family filed a complaint alleging Title IX violations with the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and provided the Weekly with a copy of their complaint, which included a detailed statement of facts, copies of emails with school officials and the district attorney, and other documentation. The Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation at Gunn on March 24. (See sidebar, Title IX issues raised in latest federal civil-rights case.)

Laura's family decided to share their story with the Weekly to help others who might face similar situations in the future. Laura's parents asked that their identities, and certain identifying details, be kept anonymous to protect the privacy of Laura and Mark.

Enforcing the stay-away order

When Mark was taken into custody, the first issue that came up was how to keep him away from Laura, especially at school. The police helped the family obtain an emergency court order restraining Mark from coming within 300 yards of her; the order was effective for seven days (the maximum time available without a full court hearing).

The police told Laura's family that Mark could be released at any time. If that occurred within the next week, the temporary order would protect her, they advised, including preventing Mark from being at school because it would be impossible to stay the full 300 yards apart there. This general advice was confirmed by Palo Alto Police Department school liaison officer DuJuan Green; he told the Weekly that court protective orders must be obeyed by the restrained party, including on school grounds, or risk arrest and prosecution for violation.

In the meantime, the family was urged to pursue a more permanent court order, which they did.

After the arrest, as Laura's mother listened to what Laura was telling the police officer, she learned a number of facts for the first time. She learned about the extent of Mark's escalating verbal abuse and harassment after the break-up. She also learned about the stalking at school and en route to school, the concerned neighbor's call to the school, and Gunn Assistant Principal Trinity Klein's meeting with Laura about the call.

Laura's mother was especially upset that she had not been notified about the call; she later let Klein know that.

In response, Klein emailed: "I asked (Laura) very direct questions about their relationship and her safety, and she gave me every assurance that things were under control, she didn't need help, and she wasn't concerned about him hurting her. Unfortunately, I took her at her word.

"In hindsight, I too wish I had contacted you. At that time I did not know (all the facts) and (Laura) gave me every assurance that what was overheard was an isolated argument between a couple in a committed relationship."

After finishing up with the police on the day of the attack, Laura's mother went directly to Gunn and hand-delivered the restraining order to Principal Katya Villalobos, told her about the past week's harassment and stalking leading up to the attack that afternoon, and requested that the order be enforced whenever Mark was released. Villalobos said Klein would be handling the matter but was gone for the day (a Friday) and would call Laura's mother on Monday.

Klein called on Monday, and Laura's mother briefed her as well on the past week's events. Klein told her that the school was not required to observe the restraining order because Mark had a right to attend Gunn regardless of the order. Klein also said that Gunn had had a previous case with a 300-yard restraining order in which the school didn't follow the specified yardage but instead followed the "spirit" of the order.

Laura's mother was stunned to hear this. Laura's parents did not think Mark could be trusted on the same campus with her and had been counting on the protection order to help keep her safe at school.

Laura's parents decided to appeal their concerns to higher-level officials.

In a Sept. 28 email to Villalobos and Skelly requesting a meeting that week, they wrote: "I know when (Mark) sees (Laura) at school, he'll be way too tempted to try to talk to her ... and I know that will just escalate again."

It would "be best for both parties" if Mark were transferred to Paly, they said. "We need a plan that can be executed immediately to ensure (Laura's) safety."

Klein replied by email: "This is not the kind of situation Dr. Skelly would be involved in, nor Ms. Villalobos."

Klein reiterated that she and Gunn Assistant Principal James Lubbe were "your point people until the situation demands otherwise, if it ever does."

Laura's mother emailed Skelly again: "As Trinity has replied, she does not think that this warrants your attention. However, as a parent, I disagree."

She said she wanted to be sure he was informed of the situation. Skelly didn't respond.

In a later email sent to Katherine Baker, the district's secondary schools director, Laura's mother said: "Believe me, when a parent is told it does not warrant their time after their daughter is assaulted, it does not help the situation."

Meanwhile, Laura's mother did not accept the school's information about not following the protective order. She checked again with the police, did Internet research and consulted two local attorneys; no one agreed with the school's position.

One Palo Alto attorney consulted was Emma Bradford. Bradford told the Weekly she was "incredibly surprised by the school's initial reaction" that it could be exempt from the letter of the 300-yard court order.

"This is an unfounded idea," she said.

"No one wants any student to lose out on education, or to get into more legal trouble by violating an order, so there is a need to help support that restrained student as well as the protected student," she said.

"But at the same time, the school needs to be proactive in meeting these obligations. It can't just sit back. If the order is unworkable and the school feels stuck, it can't ignore the order. It needs to work it out with the judge, who is the ultimate authority on crafting the order so that all interests are protected," Bradford said.

Bradford said she has seen a number of cases in which these issues have come up in other schools and the first response has been "This is not our problem" or "We can't do anything." She said she thinks schools may be misinformed about their differing obligations to both students and need more guidance about how to reconcile these obligations.

Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel with the National Women's Law Center, told the Weekly that the first thing schools should do in cases like this is launch their own Title IX investigation, led by the district's designated "Title IX coordinator" (in Palo Alto, this is Associate Superintendent Charles Young, who was not involved in this case, according to Laura's mother). Chaudhry suggested that given the basic facts of this case, a full investigation probably should have commenced after the neighbor's call alerting officials there might be a problem (whether or not the victim cooperated) or at the very least after the attack occurred. The investigative findings by the Title IX coordinator, who is required to have specialized training, would help shape the ultimate remedies, including the need to follow any court protection order, she said.

"Their hands are not tied," Chaudhry said. "If they had concerns about how to implement remedies, they could go to the police, the court or the OCR for advice. There are ways to figure it out. They need to be proactive to keep students safe in their learning environment.

"No one wants to transfer kids from one school to another lightly," she said, but at the same time, she doesn't think students have a right to attend one school over another within a district, especially if safety and hostile environment issues are at stake. These are determinations that need to be made in conjunction with a full investigation, she said. (See sidebar Title IX issues raised in latest federal civil-rights case.

When a student can be transferred

In a phone conversation on Sept. 30, as confirmed in subsequent emails between Laura's mother and Klein, Klein said that the school couldn't force Mark to go to Paly because that would amount to an expulsion and that Mark had done nothing to warrant suspension or expulsion.

Klein's plan was to meet with the two students (separately) upon Mark's release and work out a "walking route" for each of them to ensure their paths did not cross at school, regardless of the existence of a restraining order.

Klein also suggested having a campus supervisor monitor Laura from a distance for a week upon Mark's return to campus, and perhaps longer depending on need. Klein wrote that "given our experience this is what we have found to work well and be safe."

Klein also said that if Laura strayed from her walking route the "consequences could be serious in that she would be making it hard to protect her," putting her in "a potentially dangerous situation."

The idea of a "potentially dangerous situation" within close proximity on a daily basis, dependent for success on Mark's compliance and the vigilance of a campus supervisor, felt like too fragile a plan to Laura's family and an unfair burden on Laura. In addition, the plan did not follow the expected terms of a permanent protection order to be issued upon Mark's release.

Laura's mother also researched disciplinary options since they seemed to hold the key to the school considering an involuntary transfer of Mark to Paly. In Gunn's handbook, she discovered that sexual harassment and physical attack (including to and from school) were both grounds for suspension, involuntary transfer and/or expulsion. She included that information in an email to Klein.

In replying, Klein said, "We at Gunn are 100 percent committed to supporting and protecting (Laura). In doing so, we also have to follow the laws that govern our work." She reiterated that "transferring (Mark) to another school without the request coming from the family itself is an expulsion. ... (Mark) has not done anything that would warrant an expulsion."

Klein's assertion about transfers proved incorrect. Transferring a student to another comprehensive high school in the district does not require grounds for expulsion because unlike suspension or expulsion, "an involuntary transfer does not deny access to public education," a legal principle affirmed in a recent California appellate court decision appellate court decision. According to several legal experts consulted by the Weekly, reasonable justification (which could include, but not be limited to, disciplinary grounds or threat to another student) is sufficient, as long as the district has "substantial evidence" to back its decision.

Secondary Schools Director Baker, when contacted a few weeks later by Laura's mother for help, described her understanding of what was required for the transfer process: "We cannot transfer a student to another school without going through a process that justifies the transfer. The restraining order would be a crucial piece in considering a transfer."

One reason Klein thought that Mark could not be suspended or expelled was that she mistakenly thought the Sept. 20 attack had occurred in Laura's home, even though Laura's mother had discussed the assault with Klein and written to her about it. This mistaken assumption came to light in an Oct. 3 email from Klein, two weeks after the attack. Eventually Klein was set straight about this.

Three weeks after the attack, Laura's parents and school officials (Klein and Lubbe) finally met. By this time, Laura's family had retained a lawyer, and they let the school know this. Meanwhile, Mark was still in custody, but no one knew for how much longer.

Laura's parents talked in this meeting about the danger they felt Laura would be in if Mark returned to campus, given past behaviors, and how upset Laura was at the prospect. Also they said they had learned that Mark had already disregarded the protection order by phoning Laura repeatedly from the juvenile detention center.

Disciplinary options were discussed, though no action plan was formulated at the meeting. Klein still did not think any discipline was warranted, even if the assault occurred on the way home from school because, as she explained it, Mark had cut classes that week and so wasn't "in school" even though he was allegedly on campus stalking Laura. Klein said his failure to attend classes rendered any misconduct on those days outside the school's disciplinary jurisdiction.

Klein also said that even if the school had jurisdiction, discipline would need to be approached progressively, so the more serious measures of suspension (or expulsion) were not available even in that case.

Laura's mother was skeptical; Klein's explanation did not seem logical or fair to her, she told the Weekly. It seemed to her like the school was foot-dragging.

Weighing the rights of victims, assailants

Peace Over Violence attorney Austin and other dating violence experts say reluctance to take action is a common school response where concerns about the aggressor's rights traditionally loom larger than concerns about protecting the victim.

"Schools traditionally have fought a lot of battles around a perpetrator's right to access education," Austin said. "As a result, victims' circumstances are not weighed as heavily in many instances." Fear of legal battles over disciplinary and transfer issues often overwhelm concerns about liability to victims under Title IX or state tort law, which are less familiar legal territory to schools, she said.

Victims are commonly expected by schools to make more concessions than perpetrators, Austin said. In these cases, accommodations such as walking routes, security detail and changing classrooms are common. If a school change is necessary for safety, often it is the victims who end up making the switch.

Other experts agree. "I'd estimate in about 90 percent of cases, it is seen as easier to ask the victim to make concessions, even though the law may require otherwise," Kelley Hampton of nonprofit Break the Cycle (which works with schools nationwide) told the Weekly. Schools have a duty to comply with court orders, Hampton said, but in her experience, some do and some don't. She said her organization tries to bring schools "into awareness that it's not just liability involved, but it's also about preventing future violence" that could affect all students at a school.

The ACLU's Women's Rights Project is a leading legal expert in this area. According to staff attorney Sandra Park: "A school can't unilaterally decide not to follow the terms of a court order." If that order has been made, she said, there has been a court finding that the restrained party is a threat to the protected party within the specified yardage, and the school "needs to deal with that legal reality."

"The OCR's letter on this is an important tool to educate schools about this," she said, referring to the Office for Civil Right's 2011 "Dear Colleague Letter" about sexual harassment and violence.

After Laura's family met with Klein and Lubbe, the school decided it could suspend Mark for the Sept. 20 incident. Klein's Oct. 14 email conveying this information did not offer a reason for this reversal, but Klein later explained to Laura's mother that she had found a teacher Mark talked to at school on Sept. 20, so therefore Mark was "in school" that day after all, allowing the school to discipline, according to the Office for Civil Rights complaint documents.

On Oct. 17, county deputy district attorney Barbara Cathcart confirmed in an email to Laura's mother that it was the judge's policy in all juvenile domestic violence cases to issue a standard three-year, 300-yard stay-away protection order if the juvenile admits to or is found to have committed any of the charged offenses. She indicated that this would mean that the two teens could not attend the same school.

″In fact, it would probably be impossible," she said.

Laura's mother relayed this and other Cathcart updates over the next few days to Klein. On Oct. 21, Laura's mother also let Klein know that if Mark were to be released with a 300-yard order, as expected, and the school allowed him back on campus, that she would call the police and they would arrest him on campus.

Klein replied within the hour: "You are correct that we can require a change of placement if the restraining order is over 300 yards."

The next morning, Oct. 22, Klein spoke directly with Cathcart. Following that conversation, Klein took the "following precautionary steps" documented in an email to Laura's mother: communicating with Mark and his family that Mark was not to come to campus at this time and outlining next steps for a meeting off campus; informing pertinent school staff that Mark was not permitted on campus and how to respond if he were seen; exploring options for alternative school environments; filing a suspension for the Sept. 20 attack; and sending an email to all of Laura's teachers advising them of the situation.

Laura's parents were gratified and relieved at Klein's turn-around and willingness, finally, to take clear, assertive actions to protect Laura. Baker also emailed her assurances: "I believe (Trinity) is on top of this situation. ... At this point the boy is not permitted on campus, and we are exploring every option to ensure that (Laura) remains safe at school."

Laura's mother replied: "I do appreciate that Trinity has been much more communicative and helpful in the past week or so. But it was a rough start, and I think some of the legal statements she made ... were too quickly stated before checking facts. And because it took us so long to actually meet with her, some of the facts of the case she had wrong (like the fact that the assault did not happen at my house ...). Just seemed like knee-jerk statements in the beginning, but I do agree that much improvement has been made."

The final disposition hearing occurred Nov. 5, resulting in the expected three-year, 300-yard protection order, Mark's release and his attendance at a new school.

Looking for improvements

A week later, Laura's parents sent an email to the school board and Skelly. They characterized the school's handling of their case as "pitiful" and listed areas they believed to be in need of improvement, including: better staff training on what to do (and whom to consult) when legal or other difficult issues arise; better communication among school staff (especially regarding multiple incidents of misconduct involving the same student); better communication between school staff and parents (especially if safety issues are suspected, as when the concerned neighbor called the school about Laura); and more effective use of discipline and measures to ensure victim safety.

"Maybe our feedback can help the next family that faces a bullying/assault issue in our district. They shouldn't have to endure the same mistreatment," Laura's parents wrote. They believe that parents should be able to rely on the school for accurate, expert information and clear protocols for handling such a crisis. Not every family will have the resources or inclination to involve law enforcement or private attorneys to help them persevere.

Shortly after emailing the board, Laura's mother heard for the first time from Skelly, who called and then emailed: "(We) will be seeing what we can learn from the experience. I for one will be changing my practice of asking staff members at sites to respond on my behalf to making contact directly with whoever has a concern."

Baker also called Laura's mother; that conversation was reported to Caswell (with whom Laura's mother had earlier met to ask for help) by email the next day: "Katherine (Baker) admitted that this boy could have been considered for expulsion since it was a serious enough offense ... something Trinity told me no way could be done, even though I pointed out (information to the contrary) in the school handbook. ... So Katherine said that she will be sure to tell Trinity that in the future when something serious like this arises, to be sure to escalate to Katherine right away so it will be handled better." Laura's mother disputed this point to Caswell, saying that district officials "knew all along (of the situation's seriousness) and still just backed Trinity up."

She concluded: "I can't see where anything will ever change in this district."

On Nov. 23 Laura's mother wrote Skelly, Baker and Villalobos: "I am willing to meet if gaining more information would help to ensure this fiasco did not happen again."

Ten days later, she re-sent the email, having heard no response.

The next day, Dec. 4, she heard from Skelly. In their final phone call, Laura's mother said he declined to meet, saying: "No, thanks. I think we're good."

A PDF of all four stories in this package may be downloaded here

Editor's note

The Weekly is publishing this article on dating violence to examine how and whether Palo Alto schools are equipped to handle situations of harassment and assault between students. It was undertaken with the consent and cooperation of the family of a Gunn High School student who last fall was harassed and attacked by her ex-boyfriend and who later filed a complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights alleging the school violated Title IX in its handling of the matter.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly declined numerous requests to participate in interviews for this article or provide answers to questions. Through spokesperson Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley he indicated no other district or Gunn officials would comment.

Skelly and Kappeler-Hurley said they would be unable to discuss the topic of dating violence, how schools are trained to handle these situations, what resources schools have available to them or other topics related to the implementation of policy without at the same time revealing specific confidential student information.

"This is based in the need to be confidential about student information," Kappeler-Hurley said.

Skelly commented: "I am uncomfortable adding more scrutiny of the students involved in the situation."

Skelly instead provided general written information about school policies and prevention efforts related to sexual harassment. He also said he didn't think it was appropriate to run this story at this time, citing the ongoing Office for Civil Rights investigation.

Freelance writer Terri Lobdell is married to Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson. She can be emailed at tlobdell@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Harriet, a resident of Downtown North
on May 23, 2014 at 6:27 am

I guess this means don't get involved with anyone.


Posted by parent, a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2014 at 7:30 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Wow, a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 23, 2014 at 8:05 am

Wow, in light of an serious and level headed story, the two posters above have chosen to distort the message and blame the messenger.
Let's have a thoughtful discussion about serious issues.


Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2014 at 8:05 am

This excellent story shows the ongoing problem with transparency and accountability in PAUSD under the leadership of Kevin Skelly. The management style of Dr. Skelly is fully revealed in the last lines of this story:

"On Nov. 23 Laura's mother wrote Skelly, Baker and Villalobos: "I am willing to meet if gaining more information would help to ensure this fiasco did not happen again."

Ten days later, she re-sent the email, having heard no response.

The next day, Dec. 4, she heard from Skelly. In their final phone call, Laura's mother said he declined to meet, saying: "No, thanks. I think we're good."

More importantly it shows the fecklessness of Charles Young. Young was the Title IX coordinator who should have investigated this matter. Yet he is not even a bit player in this drama. This is similar to his absence from the twin rape-culture and Phil Winston Title IX debacles at Paly.

Charles Young has no business continuing as the Title IX coordinator for PAUSD. Perhaps there are other jobs he can do well but he has repeatedly shown that this is not a good fit. Yet the board just gave him a three-year contract with a 6 month severance provision.

If Dr. McGee is not a good manager he will retain Young and the district's troubles with regulators will continue. If he is a good manager at all he will dismiss him as he is a liability. At that point, the taxpayers will hand young $75,000 in taxpayer money. Given this story, that is upsetting to say the least and is just the latest example of the Board failing to act like a board.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 23, 2014 at 8:08 am

This is an alarming story, but there is a lot lacking in it and so it does not make sense.

Obviously the events are from the point of view of the girl's family and the school. But what about the boy's family. This boy presumably is a minor and his parents should have been involved in all of this. Is this the case? I am not siding with anyone, but I would have expected that before all this got so far out of hand that the girl's family could have contacted the boy's parents and asked them for help in the situation. It is possible that this happened and hasn't been mentioned, but his family's involvement in this affair is part of the story.


Posted by True Blue, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 23, 2014 at 10:31 am

True Blue is a registered user.

I agree with Paly Parent - I found myself wondering when I was going to read about the boy's perspective, how his family dealt with the situation, and how the district dealt with them. The complete lack of acknowledgement of the "other side" of this issue makes this only half a story.

Note I am not defending him, just pointing out there were two parties involved in this issue and we are only hearing from one of them. If the boy's family declined to comment or participate, at least say that!


Posted by Roger Dodger, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2014 at 11:02 am

Roger Dodger is a registered user.

Calling this journalism is a joke. There is not one single reference in this entire "article" to the boy's story, his family's part in this, or his side of the matter. If you are going to pretend that you are doing journalism and not just publishing an expensive dog training tool or bird cage liner, you at the LEAST need to SAY that you tried to contact the family and that they declined comment (this of course assumes that you actually DID this). To do otherwise borders on journalistic malpractice, and it would earn you an "F" in any beginning journalism class.


Posted by KIDSNSCHOOL, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

KIDSNSCHOOL is a registered user.

What is lost in al this sensational and poor journalism is that the boy NEVER came back on campus EVER after the incident regardless of what emails flew about. The parents GOT the result they wanted, just not in a linear fashion. The school in the end DID protect her. [Portion removed.]

I imagine Ms. Klein perhaps did the dance of a lifetime with a weak principal (who was recently reassigned for 3 years of poor performance and shuffled away), and a [portion removed] superintendent who threw her under the bus for the purpose of assigning blame. Does anyone believe Ms. Klein did ANYTHING without his approval and the approval of the rest of the clown car that is the PAUSD administration team?

Wow. A lot of one sided information. Very misleading and sensationally written. Is it lost on anyone else that on Klein's responses are posted, not the precipitating event emails that were responded to. How can you possibly print this story with no "other side" information from the boys family or the school. Or even print Kevin Skelley's email response in it's entirety. To have Ms. Klein forbidden by her superiors from responding from this story makes it far less credible.

What will be truly shocking is when the circumstances the boy had that FORBID, legally, his immediate reassignment to another school and the PROTECTIONS he legally had that made it impossible to do what the parents asked. The Weekly does not know those circumstances and if they led with those FACTS the story would be a MUTE point.

I am so glad the weekly drudged up every bleeding heart organization to bolster their pathetic journalism.


Posted by True Blue, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 23, 2014 at 1:10 pm

True Blue is a registered user.

Well, if the article is to be believed, the parents had to engage the PAPD, the district attorney's office, and private attorneys in order to ensure the boy could not come back on campus. I would not call that the school protecting her or doing the right thing, they simply were forced to comply with the law. And, according to the Skelly quote, the boy left the district altogether so that must have been the boy's parents' decision and action, not PAUSD's (who would only have re-assigned him to Paly if they had done anything).

From what is written in the article, PAUSD failed at every juncture to act appropriately. The only question I have is why the girl's parents are not suing the district for attorney's costs and emotional distress. A lawsuit is the only thing that will make PAUSD change (and maybe not even then).

Of course, this is only half an article so who knows what really happened...

P.S. It's "MOOT," not "MUTE." Just tryin' to help...


Posted by KIDSNSCHOOL, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm

KIDSNSCHOOL is a registered user.

True Blue; when the OCR comes back and exonerates the school and Ms. Klein, will you be there to take back the "lawsuit" comment? Because you are commenting on hearsay, not fact.


Posted by JustMe, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm

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Isn't this story just another story of bullying at school? The reasons for the bullying may be different, but the trauma and school response seem very similar. It was certainly a story of one person harassing another, followed by a horrific story about what the school was willing to do about it. The second story looks like another example of why we need to be able to fire people who are clearly unwilling to do their jobs.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm

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KIDS - is this even relevant? "And those kids had over a year of bliss on campus in front of everyone."


Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Edmund Burke is a registered user.

In response to the question regarding "his side of the story" the boy admitted (pleaded guilty to) a serious criminal offense. His assault was witnessed by bystanders who intervened and stopped him. The only relevant fact is that he did it, and that he did it on the way home from school. That made it a physical assault on another student that was within the school's disciplinary jurisdiction. Those are all the relevant facts about the boy, and they are uncontested. There is no need for any more about that.

This is not a story about he/said/she/said. The facts of the abuse are not in dispute.

This is a story about management failure and rank incompetence by school personnel. These personnel, overseen by Kevin Skelly and Charles Young, failed totally to implement Title IX yet again. They failed totally to understand and follow their obligations under the law.

Ms. Klein was, I have no doubt, trying to do her best in an environment in which she was poorly trained, poorly supervised, and poorly managed. Policies are wrong or out of date. Training is nonexistent on this subject. Management must take responsibility, but she also has to take responsibility.

In particular her statement that the boy could not be disciplined because he was truant on the day of the assault badly mangled and misinterpreted a section of the education code that has to do with imposing discipline FOR truancy itself, not for violent assaults committed while truant. [Portion removed.]

PAUSD should address the management failures that brought it to this point. And to those who continue to wonder why OCR is investigating PAUSD and not some other district, the answer is that PAUSD continues to disobey the law.


Posted by True Blue, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 23, 2014 at 4:18 pm

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Pretty sure I began my post with, "...if the article is to be believed..." and then said, "From what is written in the article..." and ended with, "Of course, this is only half an article so who knows what really happened..."

I think I made it pretty clear my thought was based on the "hearsay" reported in this article. And, no, I wouldn't take back my comment. The girl's parents could file a civil lawsuit irrespective of what the OCR finds.


Posted by Those 183 Votes, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Those 183 Votes is a registered user.

Ed, you were right up to this point: "This is a story about management failure and rank incompetence by school personnel." But, as always, you overplayed your hand.

This article has no comment from the district. [Portion removed.] What you are subsequently presenting as "facts" are, at this point, "assertions". Come on, with your background, you should know the difference.

Given how the results of the recent OCR investigations have fallen, wouldn't you also consider it prudent to wait until OCR has finished their investigation before bringing out the rope?


Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Edmund Burke is a registered user.

I have no rope, just my own opinion based on reading the facts. One does wonder however at the appetite of the PAUSD board for continued controversy rather than transparency and good governance. And also at the quiescence of the people.

This reminds me of something I once said "When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people."


Posted by Those 183 Votes, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Those 183 Votes is a registered user.

"based on reading the facts"

There you go again. Please look up the difference.

Unsurprisingly the editor chooses not to remove your categorization.


Posted by Kwsmith, a resident of Menlo Park
on May 23, 2014 at 8:33 pm

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Wow. I agree the school should have some accountability. But it starts with the parents. Not sure how old they are, but perhaps they should not have been dating. Novel concept, don't date to this level until college. Lots of blame on the school. How about both sets of parents for steering their kids?. Typical over the top controversial article.


Posted by resident3, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2014 at 9:19 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

kwsmith,

"Novel concept, don't date to this level until college"

Harrassment and aggression is not a dating "level."

I agree that parents have a role. I have heard of parents who control their kids so much they prevent them from dating at all in high school. Others who are "anything goes", and who allow middle school kids to act like little married couples.

But from the school point of view, it's High School, dating - expected, like you expect to the sun to rise. Most relationships are normal and not a bad thing for kids to learn while still at home about boundaries and managing relationships. This is about dating.

The story line shouldn't be about teen dating hell. Hell would do, it's not dating!

There must be a great amount of shame and fear when you are a victim, so it's not likely to come up at the dinner table that your boyfriend or girlfriend is a drunk abuser. Adults can't handle this kind of abuse, it's a terrible pattern.

Ok schools, get your head out of the sand and stop pretending hell deserves special treatment. How about a zero tolerance policy about peer to peer aggression.


Posted by True Blue, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 23, 2014 at 9:56 pm

True Blue is a registered user.

"...drunk abuser?" Was alcohol ever mentioned? Maybe Resident3 knows more about the story?

Good luck forbidding your high school aged children to date - try it and most will just go behind your back and then you really don't know what is happening. Then they CAN'T come to you for help.

Teach kids what is normal, and abnormal, behavior. Talk, talk, talk to them about what is going on with them. Know their friends. Develop a relationship with their friends' parents - they may hear things from their child that you need to know. Volunteer at school and wherever you can to see your kids with their friends. Teach them about and agree on reasonable boundaries (e.g. only double-dating allowed and parents drop off and pick up, no alone time with a date except at the library or in the backyard when parents are home, etc...). You need to give them enough room to feel like they are growing up and gaining independence, but not so much that they stray too far from the nest.

Know where your kids are all the time, trust them to make age-appropriate decisions, and understand what "age-appropriate" means for your child.

Build a strong, mutually-respectful, trusting relationship with your children rather than trying to "control" them as teenagers.


Posted by resident3, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2014 at 10:17 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

True blue

"...drunk abuser?" Was alcohol ever mentioned? Maybe Resident3 knows more about the story?

No, I don't know "more." There are three similar stories on TS and the "date to this level" caught my eye. One of the stories had a drunk abuser, at school (imagine if that happened at work). They all sound like hell.

Your tips are all good, but everything could look perfect and sound perfect and your kid could still be hiding something. In these cases, it appears the victims all reached out to the school.

Do pediatricians ask these questions during check ups?


Posted by frustrated mom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm

frustrated mom is a registered user.

I truly admire the time, energy and dedication of Laura's mom. I am glad she always made sure that her daughter was safe. She had a lot of knowledge about the law, school rules and this helped everyone. If it was one of the immigrant parents who do not speak the language, and have no idea of what are the school's responsibilities, the victim would be worst shape. Thanks for risking your identity in order to makes us parents to open our eyes about what could be happening to our children and we might not even know it. I really admire you. Thanks to your tenacity and persistence things did not get as bad as they could have been. Blessing and hope Laura, her family and the young boy are doing better. Hope he to is getting help to learn how to deal with break ups. I am not surprised that Katherine Baker did not replied back. She should not even be a district administrator. But it was Skelly's idea. Now we are stuck with her and Young (who did not even got involved in this case, I guess it was probably better because it would had not made things any better.


Posted by Mass Mom, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Mass Mom is a registered user.

Thank you for the article on the Gunn family and their struggle with their daughter's school district honoring a restraining order.

I am the mother of a 15 yo high school sophomore who was raped and sexually assaulted by two males who attend the same public high school in Massachusetts.

We too filed for and were granted a court order requiring the assailants to stay away from her. We filed for only 50 feet inside the school because we thought that the school would not fight us at that low distance...it allowed the assailants to attend school while the case was investigated. We asked for 50 feet just to keep them out of her line of sight during the school day while we awaited investigation and prosecution for the rape.

Instead of accommodating the physical and emotional safety of our daughter so that she could continue to receive an equitable education as guaranteed by Title IX, the school's Assoc. Principal testified for the rapist at the restraining order hearing and requested that the court remove the proximity requirement within the school entirely.

He said under oath that he "felt sorry" for the rapist and that he "worried that the rapist would miss out on being with his peers" if the restraining order were in effect. When the judge asked the Assoc. Principal what he thought the school could handle in terms of distance, the administrator answered "zero feet".

The judge granted the order, yet still the school refused to accommodate the order in any way. The rapist was permitted to brush up against my daughter in the halls and stairs. The school refused to remove the assailants from the lunch room and told us when we complained of harassment and retaliation through intimidation "It's not a school issue, if you have a problem with him, call the police."

Of course, when police did come to the school, the administrators told them that the student had a right to be in the halls and so without the school backing our claims, the police were without much recourse. The DA's office tried to push the prosecution of the rape through as fast as possible, but our daughter spent months enduring close contact and intimidating harassment by her rapist.

Her grades suffered, she spent lunches in the nurse's office, she dropped classes to get away from friends of the assailants, she dropped extracurriculars from stress. She had been a straight A student. By the time the end of the year came around, she had 2 C's and 3 incompletes.

During this time, we contacted the Office of Civil Rights and filed a Title IX complaint against the school. This changed the tune of the administrators who then realized that they COULD (and in fact were required to) keep him more than zero feet away from her!

The OCR just finished their investigation and final interviews last week and we should know shortly what the findings are.

(We already know that the district is in deep trouble as the Assoc Principal, who suggested that a rape victim would be able to learn in a setting where her rapist under felony investigation is permitted within zero feet of her, happens to also be the Title IX Coordinator and the kid's coach!)

I'd like to thank the Gunn mother for speaking to the press as it allowed me to know that there are other mothers out there fighting for the rights of their daughters in similar circumstances. I am not able to go to the press yet as the rape case is still in the prosecution stage. When we can speak out, we plan to do so.

Thank you again for a great article.


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