Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 20, 2014

School board hopefuls differ on civil-rights-agency resolution

Split opinions reflect differing stances of likely candidates in this fall's race

by Chris Kenrick

Four hopefuls in this fall's Palo Alto school board race were split over a resolution — passed by the Board of Education Tuesday — challenging the practices of a federal civil-rights agency that has launched multiple investigations of the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Gina Dalma and Ken Dauber publicly urged the board to reject the resolution. Catherine Crystal Foster and Terry Godfrey told the Weekly they did not have enough information to weigh in on the topic.

Tuesday's board resolution seeking redress from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights "takes us even further down the road of resistance and conflict ... and does not protect our students," Dauber said.

The agency's 2012 findings against the school district in a Terman Middle School bullying case presented "an opportunity to improve how our district handles harassment and discrimination against young, female, disabled and minority students," Dauber said. "Behind each complaint are parents and students who sought help from district staff and, for whatever reason, felt that they ultimately had to seek aid from the federal government — whether the complaint was ultimately upheld or not.

"We should be inquiring about what lies behind those experiences and how we can fix them rather than criticizing OCR or seeking to revisit closed cases."

He also questioned the wisdom of the district allowing itself to be "enlisted as an example in pushing back against civil-rights enforcement nationally, which I think is a very real possibility given our national prominence."

Dalma, who works as a senior program officer in education for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, said it is in the school district's interest "to welcome OCR's oversight, not fight it."

Because she is traveling in Asia, her statement was read to the board by a friend.

"The ... resolution closes the door to this constructive dialogue and instead places the district on a defensive stance against OCR, deflecting time, energy and resources from our students. All this to fight an organization dedicated to social justice," Dalma said.

Foster, former executive director of the Peninsula College Fund and now an education-policy consultant, told the Weekly she had read the board's resolution and supporting materials but had "no independent way to verify what did and did not occur, and so much of what transpired isn't public.

"Commenting on it would, invariably, involve a great deal of speculation on my part, which I believe is inappropriate and also potentially unfair to all those involved," Foster said in an email.

Godfrey similarly said she does not have enough information about the background of the board resolution to comment.

"I know in my corporate life as a senior manager at Intel I was involved in my share of private conversations relating to personnel and/or legal matters to which others weren't privy. Some of those conversations were very difficult and, at times, the speculation surrounding was rampant and never productive," Godfrey said in an email.

"I haven't spoken to any of the board members or Dr. Skelly about this. Much of the decision-making that got them to this point seems to have happened in closed session," added Godfrey, who has chaired the Palo Alto PTA Council as well as the board of Palo Alto Partners in Education.

Dalma, Dauber, Foster and Godfrey all have said they plan to run for school board in the Nov. 4 election, though none has officially declared. Incumbents Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom have indicated they will not seek re-election to the five-member board.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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