Palo Alto Weekly
News - June 14, 2013
District refutes Duveneck Elementary bullying complaint
Principal handled allegations thoroughly and properly, district tells federal agency
by Palo Alto Weekly staff
In a strongly worded defense of the actions they took in response to bullying complaints at Duveneck Elementary School, Palo Alto school district administrators have told the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that allegations were "investigated fully and responded to in a timely and thorough manner."
The district's April 24 response to a "data request" from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), obtained by the Weekly through a Public Records Act request, refutes claims by a Duveneck family that the district didn't respond to their repeated appeals for action to stop the bullying of their disabled child since last October. It also declines to acknowledge that any bullying even took place.
Just a week earlier, on April 15, Duveneck Principal Chris Grierson sent an email to all Duveneck families, approved by Superintendent Kevin Skelly, informing them of the complaint, urging them to "not be alarmed," and stating that "As I see it, the OCR is addressing a national rally cry about bullying behavior." (That comment brought a reprimand from the Office for Civil Rights on April 17.)
The seven-page letter, accompanied by documents that were withheld from the Weekly for privacy reasons, offers no apologies nor admits any mistakes. Signed by Holly Wade, the district's director of special education, and Brenda Carrillo, coordinator of student services, the letter said Grierson "worked with school personnel, district staff, student and parent to address issues in a timely manner, complete robust investigations and provide ongoing supervision and support to the student on a daily basis."
The Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation into the Duveneck complaint on April 4, and attorneys were reportedly on campus conducting interviews prior to the end of the school year. The federal agency does not comment on pending investigations, and it is unknown when the investigation will be completed.
In order to protect their child's privacy, the parents declined to provide the Weekly details of the child's bullying or their experiences with Duveneck or district administrators.
The district's response reveals that there was no "formal written documentation" prepared by the school about its investigation or findings in the case, as required by district policies. Without explaining why, it attributed this to the fact one bullying incident involving the child had been reported to the police and had not resulted in any report or action by them.
But the letter references emails to the family and notes of the principal, as well as chronologies of steps taken, contained in the withheld attachments, to demonstrate the school handled the complaints appropriately.
The response also said the school district uses the Uniform Complaint Procedure to address complaints of disability discrimination. The district's required log of all Uniform Complaint Procedure complaints, however, does not include the Duveneck case, nor any other discrimination complaints that have recently come to light. The log, obtained by the Weekly, lists only three complaints of any kind in the last seven years, and just one, relating to PE requirements, since 2007.
Posted by It's the response,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2013 at 10:55 am
I'd have to agree that bullying is a feature at every school, but I don't want to lose sight of the bigger issue I have with Kevin Skelly and Charles Young, which is the quality of their response. They are paid to administer and manage the district and they have not done that to a level to remain in PAUSD for the next school year. If parents and other stakeholders feel that way, I need to read that in these postings. Demonizing one parent group and putting any citizen that criticizes Skelly, Young, or the board in that group does not address their performance. I've lived here for almost 30 years and I have never seen the level of competence so low in so many administrators, but to be fair, we have speedier communication online now.
Either way, do not expect teachers to do much about bullying. Their union should really be leading this effort, but too often they are fixated on more money. It sends a bad message. I would really suggest that they come out with position papers and establish themselves as a collective group of adults who will care for our students. Instead of recruiting teachers to show up to board meetings complaining about high gas prices and Palo Alto real estate, use your power to push the agenda of safe schools in a way that does not place the sole responsibility on your principal because we didn't give you a raise for that purpose. We gave you a raise to care for our kids. Please do it by not complaining to someone, but by demonstrating that you are the cream of the teacher ranks. I invite you teachers to come to the board meeting June 18 to speak in favor of our kids.
Let the public deal with the principals. This is not their finest hour. We like our principals, but if they had to look for a job right now, they would not get it. Let's look at the evidence: Chris Grierson, handpicked by Skelly, has had a miserable year. When I saw him speak at a meeting last year, I could not shake the discomfort of his arrogance, arrogance that many more would see in his infamous email. Grierson's youth is a good thing for many kids, but now his performance is a good argument for experience, especially outside experience. Katherine Baker. She is a nice person. She has botched her own OCR mess, to a point that she, too, should be cut free. Michael Milliken. He hid in the background as Director of Secondary for the past two years. It is amusing to see posters note his hair and his stance against bullying, but he had two years to actually demonstrate leadership, out-in-the-public leadership with innovative ideas and a firm grasp of the management of the OCR mess. He did none of that, but my hat is off to his timing, he got out just in time, but not before he publicly wrote of his admiration of Skelly. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Holly Wade, Director of Special Ed and connected to Skelly back in Saratoga. I'll say the first part again, because there is nothing more to say: Director of Special Ed.
How do you possibly fire, release, or demote these administrators? If Skelly throws one under the bus to take pressure off himself, he will incur the wrath of the administrators like his predecessor, Callan. He certainly cannot lead the teachers because they are untouchable by him, but apparently not the OCR. But if he were to do anything remotely consequential to a principal, he would lose the support of the other principals. Complicating the situation is that the principals are six years fresh from their temper tantrum with Callan. If one principal would speak out against the current dysfunction, he would be ostracized by not only his fellow principals, but also by most of the other stakeholders. It's a chilling environment in PAUSD right now. Not even that group of parents, who were so brave to write a letter against Callan, have uttered a word in public against Skelly. That means you support him and the rest, message received, and majority respected.
So where does that leave us? I've written to the board a while ago and the response was patronizing, if not ignored. I've met with district office administrators and it has always ended in the falsehood of site based management. That is really code for I don't want or can't lead or manage, per my job. The last 12 months of tumult and dysfunction have done nothing for our kids emotionally or for their academic competitiveness. The board must do what they should have done a year ago, release Skelly. That is merely the start. They must then begin the difficult task of housecleaning by releasing many, if not most, of the other named officials. That would be the start of regaining the trust of so many in the public. They will then have to direct the standardization of many policies, such as bullying, that are currently being driven by outsiders such as the OCR and its lawyers. If you really believe in local control, then you believe that our locally-elected politicians and salaried leaders should be leading and directing this district because right now this chap Curious seems to be having a bigger impact than any other PAUSD employee. Maybe he or she is an employee, but his post on summer school fees, hidden in the cellar of the Forum, led to an embarrassing about-face by Skelly and the board.
I'm not paying all the taxes, bonds, special fees, and donations to PiE so that Curious can act as our superintendent, and that is one of dozens of embarrassments why reform is needed, beginning with the release of Skelly. Board, you can do this today, there will be no negative impact more than the current level of dysfunction, but it will signal a new beginning. He clearly does not have the honor to do so himself, but this about the kids, now, not the adults.
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