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Editorial: Bullying case reveals systemic problems in school district

Original post made on Feb 8, 2013

Palo Alto school district leaders and parents should be shocked and saddened by the portrait painted in a scathing investigative report from the U.S. Department of Education.

Read the full editorial here Web Link posted Friday, February 8, 2013, 9:19 AM

Comments (139)

Posted by Mel, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:53 am

I too am really saddened by the lack of accountability by the Superintendent. An apology would have gone a long way. Hey the whole world knows the district made a mistake - own up to it! It is what it is. Poor display of character. If he was legally advised not to the counsel. They sure weren't thinking about the public opinion, the healing process, the right thing.....etc.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:02 am

The Weekly has spent a lot of time, and "ink", attacking Kevin Skelly over the past couple of years. In its usual practice, it has printed guest opinions calling for Skelly's removal, rather than taking on that editorial position, itself.

Given that Skelly has been involved in questionable practices of under-the-table communications with the school board in the past, it's interesting that he seems to have not taken the community's seeming mandate for more transparency at the PAUSD to heart, and revealed this settlement in a more timely, and process-driven, way.

> For a district and community often viewed as mired in process,
> the investigation uncovered a stunning lack of protocols and
> systems for addressing serious complaints.

Superintendents are paid a lot of money (over $250K in Skelly's case) for reasons that are not exactly obvious. Should someone making that sort of money be expected to understand that insuring that appropriate systems/protocols for dealing with all of the legal obligations of the District was part of his job description?

To make matters worse, the myriad of "privacy rights" that employees like school superintendents claim makes it difficult for the tax-paying public to have any idea what his yearly work plan is, or if he has achieved those goals—such as reducing "bullying", in this case.

The School Board is supposed to represent the public's interests—at least within the restraints of the CA EdCode. Yet, this Board seems to have become nothing more than a shield around the District's employees, and processes, showing little public interest, or understanding, of the details of the PAUSD—which grows ever larger, year-after-year.

The lack of transparency of the PAUSD causes one to wonder if it would not pay to change the EdCode so that school superintendents would be required to have an authorization by the voters for a continuation of his/her job after three years. Currently, these people seem to be outside the normal check-and-balance mechanism of a periodic review of job performance by the people of the district. There is no reason that Kevin Skelly should not be required to face the voters, and directly explain his actions to them.

Posted by Tim, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:23 am

To hide the report and then make the weak statements when it came to light shows serious a serious lack of professional skill and character. There is no way the situation will improve when Skelly and his Senior staff ignore the problem. They are broken and must go. They are the wrong people for the job.

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:46 am

"Without admitting that its actions violated the law..."

Wonder what message that sends to the bullies. Hmmm...

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:53 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Great editorial, but I have a correction to the facts. You state that "No records were kept of interviews with the victim or those students involved in the bullying, witnesses were not interviewed and no one compiled all the information relating to the incidents." This is not entirely accurate. According to the OCR investigating attorney, the school counselor kept detailed notes on all the incidents that were reported including names, dates and so forth. The Assistant Principal was less than candid with the investigator in stating that no records were kept, a fact that the investigating attorney notes with some skepticism on page 8 (last full paragraph). In fact, despite the fact that administrators claimed that they did not respond because they had no records, they had detailed records of each incident including names, dates, etc.

I agree with you that this shocks the conscience and it is clear that the family should proceed with haste to obtain other legal remedies available to them. However, your readers should be made aware that this child still lacks an appropriate placement and is not today obtaining a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive setting as required by law. The requirements of the IDEA and the ADA are not being met, and because the student lacks counsel, the district appears to feel that it does not have to meet these requirements short of a demand for a due process hearing.

Regrettably, it appears that the district is still failing to understand the severity of the failure in this case. Often as is the case with large organizations it takes litigation in order to ensure that changes occur. Media attention is part of that change process so this is to the good. But you should understand and follow up on the fact that this student still lacks an appropriate placement and is not receiving an appropriate education.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Yeah, Michele Dauber, you are back.

Posted by Clay, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 8, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Wow. This is an important editorial. Count me shocked and saddened. Hope this isn't the last we hear of it.

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Ah, yes, the Skelly and PAUSD bashers are back! Too bad about the school board election, folks, but never too late to cause needless trouble again.

We should be commending Kevin Skelly and the district for taking real steps to deal with another difficult and intractable problem. There will always be intolerant and often cruel students in our schools. (Unfortunately, there are also intolerant and cruel people who are parents, and some critics who share the same bullying characteristics.) Once again, let's take a broader view and try to work with everyone involved, parents, teachers, students, and the society at large, rather than blaming the few for everything that goes wrong!

As for the Office of Civil Rights, their report doesn't appear to acknowledge that the problem is difficult to deal with. They sound like prosecutors with not much sense of fairness, like some others in these discussions.

PS I wasn't a PA teacher, but I did back my kids up when they had trouble, and try to show them how to stand up to bullies. And I wasn't afraid to criticize inadequate responses, either, way before Skelly's time in the district.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm

My children attended Jordan and had issues with bullying. The administration and staff have a system in place, not sure what, but they address it immediately and the bullying ended immediately. This was under the reign of Michael Milliken, who is now Director of Secondary Education. I'm assuming the current principal, Greg Barnes, has followed his lead, as he is an involved principal.

Ours was physical bullying. The verbal bullying is perhaps more difficult to enforce (think middle school girls with attitudes).

Posted by Eric, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Thank you to the Weekly and to the family for bringing this into the light. I am disturbed by the lack of accountability. Even if they shouldn't make their own statement for liability reasons the administration owes it to the school board and to the city to keep us informed. By way of a statement they could have read the conclusions of the report without comment.

Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Retired teacher,

Skelly is only taking steps now because he is legally required to do so, not exactly "commendable". As the OCR report details, the failure lies with the district (specifically, the school, principal, and administrators) to take responsibility for educating and protecting the rights of all students, not prolonging the problem over the course of a year. Your personal example reveals a lack of understanding about disability and bullying--merely "showing" a victim "how to stand up to bullies" is insufficient to deal with an "intractable" problem.

Posted by More info, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I am a writer and a mom who has lived in Palo Alto for over 20 years and I have followed the dysfunction in the district, which has never been at this level, and yet voter complacency has allowed what this editorial has highlighted: a dangerous lack of leadership starting with the board, then Skelly, to Charles Young, the cabinet, Holly Wade, but then also out to others, and then ending with you, the voters who re-elected Camille and Melissa, and elected Heidi, and did not elect Ken. You said to the board that Skelly is providing the leadership that was needed after the principals conspired to drive former superintendent Callan out of Palo Alto. What has followed has been a financial success for the district in the form of bonds and taxes, an educational success for a majority of students who would replicate their parents' success in any district, and for the minority of special ed, Latino, African-American, and any other student that may need help, an unmitigated disaster.

The board: I'll do my best to put it in a way that is not deleted. Dana Tom really has no clue what to do. He will express frustration with Skelly from time to time, but he does not have the fortitude or knowledge of the system on how to effect change. Melissa is the champion of the rich and will not put her own child in the system. Her rationale was a cop-out, but most voters agreed with her. Barbara has seemed to lost any semblance of energy or enthusiasm, offering up compliments to trivial programs while never leading for systemic change or or directing Skelly to truly bridge the achievement gap that exists between Asians, Indians, and Whites and the minority of Latinos, African-Americans, those living in poverty, and many in special ed. Camille simply talks too much and says nothing. Cut out almost all of your words and choose two areas on which to focus, hopefully the student demographics listed above. I voted for Heidi and Ken only because they were new. Heidi, as I suspected then, seems to be worse than Dana. She looks lost and I fear she will add nothing of substance for the next four years. The one I miss is Barbara Klausner because she showed a little bit of fire and insight, but then she and the others renewed Skelly's contract for many more years, so I don't miss her too much.

Skelly is good for Skelly. He has prospered financially and he is driven to latch on to the latest science fair champion and pose for pictures, but is unwilling to address accountability for violating the law or educational code. Anybody that followed Callan was going to be given a lot of latitude and second and third chances and that is what we have given him. I have shaken his hand at a school event and he seems a personable character, but I have always had that uncomfortable feeling that his Harvard undergraduate degree and his work with a former superintendent was what got him his job. I know of very few organizations in the world where the leader would not resign after so many scandals and failures in the system. Something that needs to be said: he should have resigned in 2010 after the suicides of some of our best youth. They were not his fault any more than anyone else in Palo Alto, but his leadership of the response was too little, too late. An experienced leader would have gone into crisis mode, justifiably, and worried about his career later. All he succeeded in doing was establishing a policy of not talking about it, which protects him and the board, but not children. Do your homework and check police records to see that our youth are still attempting suicide. Without any malice, please leave, Skelly. You'll get a handsome payout thanks to the board. Some will throw their hands up and ask who will want to come to Palo Alto, but to them I would say, plenty will come and they will be an improvement.

Skelly's second in command, Young, brings nothing to the table and is probably here for one more year before getting enough experience to get a superintendent position in the East Bay, where he is from. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Young has matured a bit this year, but watching his nervousness at board meetings, his cliche-ridden vocabulary, and Skelly often rescuing him has made me cringe. Wade is an old friend of Skelly's and he has protected her throughout her three years in the district despite what I have been told and shown in emails a substandard performance. Her special ed system is broken, but I am sure that she feels she should not be blamed because what system in the district is not broken?

The 2012 election is indeed over and I wait patiently for 2014. It's called deomcracy. I will again be voting for new candidates and maybe the resukts will be similar. These words represent only one voice, so please do not be offended or frightened by their bluntness, and please feel free to correct any information that I have gotten wrong.

Posted by Not Ken Dauber again , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 8, 2013 at 6:09 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by No reform! , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 8, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Say what you will about Ken Dauber. He's kind and committed to kids and also totally brilliant. He's not afraid to speak up. He doesn't praise bad conduct. He would have held these characters accountable. I hope he runs again and so do a lot of people. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Concerned Parent, I have bad news for you. This commission sounds like a "hanging judge" commission which issued a biased, one-sided report. Your seeming wholesale acceptance of this document makes you appear credulous in the extreme. Skelly made a wise choice to avoid a protracted battle and work positively to change what he could. The fact remains that the problem is intractable; improvements can help some. We need to be reasonable and not demand an impossible perfection from our school officials, teachers, and board.

As for you PAUSD bashers, you're making these judgments without good evidence. By every reasonable metric, this is an outstanding district! Are there problems with special ed? Start with the ed code, people. Continue with the lack of state funding for mandate after mandate. Note that just the paperwork fills more time than overworked teachers and administrators have, even if there aren't fair hearings.

And, again by any reasonable set of judgments, we have a fine administration. Not perfect, no. What a shock! Not perfect! Let's just hope that these hard-working folks don't pack their bags and do what you seem to want--head for a place where parents are not carping, attacking, nit-picking, never-satisfied, unreasonable people with no grasp of what education is about.

For once, give us all a break and lay off!

Posted by Dickens, Janet, a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2013 at 7:01 pm

My son, William, had issues with bullying as a special needs student and he is dead. Thank you PA...

Posted by Former PA Mom, a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 8, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Both my daughters were bullied in PA schools. It is unfortunately not unique to Palo Alto, but why do we permit this to go on, generation after generation, and in supposedly one of the "best" districts in the country? It doesn't matter if you are special needs, or black or Hispanic or white - bullying knows no boundaries. Why not insist that our district firmly address this issue? I believe it would benefit all students, includint the bulliers, if such behavior simply was not tolerated.

Posted by Dickens, Janet, a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Lay off? Walk in my shoes...

Posted by Mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Janet Dickens,

I am so sorry to hear that.
My daughter was the same class with him at Gunn.
I just took a look at his year book page once again.
We could not ask the reason for his death back then.
It was very hard for all of us during that period.

I am so glad that PAUSD would finally be punished in public for ignoring one of the problems.

Posted by Dickens, Janet, a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Beware the environment you put your child in, monitor it all the time, as involved as we were, sadly, it still did nothing for us.

Posted by Anecdote Annie, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by You now Who, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Janet, this article is in the name of your son. His memory is still alive in my heart. I often think if he had asked for help, would he still be alive? but now I know that even if he did ask for help nothing would had been done because our school leaders are not taking responsibility and want to deny that we have a problem, so the only thing to do is blame the victim, or get it out of the school by documenting everything the parents of the victim or the victim does something wrong. At least there is no bullying in heaven. The pain of the family of the victims and their families is horrible, the worst thing is when you cannot do anything else about it. it is as banging your head against the wall, nothing happens. And it comes the time when they just ignored you and call you names, like the crazy lady, and so on.

Posted by Daniel Desario, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Even on Freaks and Geeks they did not bully the disabled student. Lindsey and Sam protected him from bullying. Pretty bad when your school system is worse than a Judd Apatow show. Guess that's what Palo Alto Stories is about. New Leadership? No we'll stick with Superintendent Kowchevski.

Posted by Confused, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:57 pm

The article says the Board found out about the settlement due to enquiries made by the Weekly after the family released the documents. Does that mean the Board was unaware of the Department of Education's investigation or just unaware of the settlement?

Posted by A, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2013 at 6:46 am

Skelly says he believes in letting the teachers have control in the classrooms, and in and open campus and open access to technology 24/7.

I believe he needs to guide instead.

Posted by Parent,Sch.District Supporter, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:07 am

Your article and the Federal investigators focused on a middle school in the PAUSD. I am profoundly sad to report that the systematic gross neglect and ineffective actions to control serious and chronic "bullying" is currently occurring at the Duveneck Elementary School also. Despite repeated pleads for over a year by the parents of a "special education " son and by at least four other parents on behalf of their fifth grade sons for over a half year, no effective measures have been implemented to stop the bullying. Pleads to the two respective teachers,the principal and school district personnel including the superintendent have met with
vague assurances that "some action will be taken". Repeated communications to the principal and others have been in the form of parent one-to one and group meetings, letters and e-mails,and even contact by an attorney representing the parent of the "specialeducation" pupil. These multiple contacts with the local school principal and teachers and school district personnel have been unproductive, frustrating and merely allowed for the passage of more time for the continuation of the suffering by the target pupils of the bullying and more disruption of their mental, emotional and educational lives. Home lives particularly of the involved parents have been "hellish" to say the least. Thanks goes to your paper and the brave parents who exposed this extremely serious matter. Hopefully it will prevent additional family/student(s)mental and physical suffering, avert suicides and/or school violence from pupils in response to the systematic school district's and school-site personnel ineffective or non-action to address "bullying".

Posted by A concerned parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:36 am

PAUSD students deserve better leadership and involvement than Kevin Skelly provides. He needs to do more than deliver vanilla programs and limp vision for the school district. His concern needs to move beyond his own children's graduation.

Posted by WhatTheDistrictNeeds, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:48 am

This district needs accountability; and it cannot happen without visibility.

The board should appoint an independent ombudsman to hear complaints on bullying, staff and administration mishandling/misbehavior. The ombudsman should:
- work to resolve issues, and advocate for the student/parents
- help students and parents understand what systems are in place to help
- gather statistics and report to the board monthly on the number/severity/resolution rates for such incidents

By exposing this information directly to the board, we can finally get out of the site-based black hole of management and misdirection that leaves us with no accountability.

The fundamental problem today is that the board has delegated to the District Office, with no oversight; they have allowed the district to delegate to the schools with no oversight, and the school sites delegate to the teachers with no oversight. Any parent trying to advocate for their child runs into the brick walls of "Not my responsibility - that is (teacher/principal/site/district/...someone else)"

An Ombudsman can cut through this hierarchy and raise visibility back to the board.

Oh, and because it is their job, they are less likely to retaliate against parents/children who raise issues. Just saying...because it happens all the time.

Posted by curious, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:52 am

I wonder if this problem will become even worse as our inclusion policy for students on the autism spectrum reaches fruition. For the kids with learning disabilities academic bullying is the norm and while teachers whince every time they see it, our curriculum and classroom norms are designed to make it happen time and time again. The parents of the ASD kids will be in our shoes now and see what academic bullying and social bullying altogether feels like. This cost cutting measure instituted by Holly Wade, Kevin Skelly and supported by some naive principals and parents will do more harm than good.

Posted by curious, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:57 am

And if you want another example of a teacher bullying students, take a look at [teacher name removed by Palo Alto Online staff] the gym teacher at [name of middle school removed]. He has stooped so low as to make fun of dyslexic students specifically, using the term as an insult and a reprimand in a large group situation and unwittingly directing it at a dyslexic student. Our staff needs to have some sensitivity training and realize they are setting an example every day with their own behavior.

Posted by More info, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 9, 2013 at 8:14 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Just another teacher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2013 at 8:52 am

The hard truth is that there is no way to put a complete and permanent end to all bullying. No one wants to hear that but it's just the cold hard fact of the matter. It's dominance/pack behavior, part of human nature, and it's particularly acute in adolescents jockeying for a place in the pack. Look at this comment board. It if FULL of bullies who are perfectly at ease pushing other people around with words. There is a LOT of hostility here, and we are wondering why our children might be hostile toward each other in school? We need look no further than the role models they spend the most time with: their parents. Workplaces in Silicon Valley are full of bullies who model intimidation and fear tactics as a path to success and glory at the top of the heat. This is a societal, systemic problem, and it is particularly acute in the culture in the Valley. Parents who want to lay the blame for this at the feet of the schools are, I'm afraid, looking for an easy way out of a very difficult scenario that does not have easy answers. (But firing the superintendent and bashing the schools looks easy, so let's just do that.) At the schools they can try to mitigate it, to be aware of it, to educate about it, and to try to stop it when they see it. And yet it remains the truth that the REAL heart of anti-bullying behavior begins at home.

For what it's worth, a short story: a classmate of mine was bullied horribly in 8th grade in the boys' locker room. We're talking about the sort of sexualized torture that is the special province of 13-year old boys. This was a while ago, before there was any such thing as an "anti-bullying" program. He endured it silently, with some small help from friends and with the help of supportive and loving parents. No ones sued anyone else (we didn't do that at the drop of a hat back in the day…..) Kids occasionally stood up to the bully, too. The bully was notorious - he had more than one target - and went on to a notorious career as a high school bully.

Cut to decades later: my friend is a highly successful PhD senior scientist with one of the largest blue-chip tech firms in the world. He is happily married and has two happy and well-adjusted kids. (Both of his kids got bullied in middle school. He and his wife dealt with it.)

The bully is working as a guard in a maximum security prison. I'd say the "victim" in this case came through well. Not so sure about the bully……

Posted by WhatTheDistrictNeeds, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:04 am

@Just another teacher - Ummm, your argument seems to be that this is a hard problem, so we should not try. I don't buy it.

You point out that the role models for bullying are the parents. I don't buy this either - both of my children were bullied and mistreated by TEACHERS. On a few occasions. There is no accountability, no expectations on teachers or administrators, and little effort to change their own bad behavior.

So I agree, this is a hard problem, but it is hard because there is little effort to try.

I would imagine you will dodge accountability in your response to this posting. It would shock me if you actually suck up and admit that the problems do exist in the classroom.

Posted by Anon Mom, a resident of Triple El
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:07 am

Sadly, nothing in this article surprised me, in fact most of it felt familiar. I've had two children in the district, one with a 504 which the school recognized but individual teachers refused to implement because they told me they didn't think my son needed it. They humiliated him in front of the class for his mistakes (this has happened to my other son as well). If teachers are going to use public embarrassment as a motivational tactic in class, should we be shocked when students model this behavior with mean-spirited teasing and verbal bullying?

Retired teacher - I absolutely agree that teachers are overworked with complying with state and administrative requirements in addition to the actual classroom teaching. I don't think creating a healthier, no-tolerance-for-bullying environment adds additional work for teachers, it just changes how they work and approach problems, to create a more supportive community. I know it's possible, because I've seen schools where this works.

Coincidentally, a friend posted this on Facebook the other day. Maybe this is the kind of leadership we need here in Palo Alto? Web Link

Posted by Grace - another experience, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

My child went through PAUSD and is a special ed. student. I thought her experience in PAUSD was typical of special ed students in any district but that is not the case.
She went through Ohlone, Terman and Gunn. The only place she experienced any bullying was when she first started at Terman. However the teachers and staff there stamped on it immediately. They also had this program where activities were organized with the "special day class", which created a great bond with all the kids. Thanks to Terman, her transition to Gunn was painless and her self-confidence when through the roof.
In spite of her circumstances she's now at a top UC. There are always exceptions but I couldn't have asked for more from PAUSD.

Posted by Just another teacher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

@WhatTheDistrictNeeds: I am making general comments about bullying and its prevalence in our culture. I never said we shouldn't try to resolve it, I never said teachers don't do it, and I never said it's not an issue in the classroom.

Posted by Casualty, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:53 am

My son was beaten bloody at Jordan. He did not start the fight nor fight back. The bully was suspended, but SO WAS MY SON!!!! Why? The Principal at the time said it was policy to suspend all participants in a fight. If one does not fight back, how can he be "participating"?

Posted by Casualty, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:57 am

Janet, I sincerely hope the PAUSD is punished for what happened to your son due to their neglect of the situation.

Posted by Inclusion Does not Always Work, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 10:03 am

Yes, the problem gets be worst when full inclusion is practiced. Many regular teachers do not acept special ed. kids, and instead of making it work, they tried to kick them out. When they see that they can't because parents advocate for them, they leave them alone, "I mean really aloe" and they model that behavior to the rest (regular) kids in the classroom, who by now they also have feelings about these special ed. different kids disrupting the class, not getting it, and they to make bad comments about it. Since they did not learn from the teachers to be sensitive about special needs, they start to make fun of them and isolate them too. The worst thing is that the district and parents thing that they are doing a good thing with the full inclusion, but the child has not saying on this. Many times they have speech problems and cannot say what is going on, or they are afraid to talk. Sadly buy true. I seen it over and over.

Posted by Anon Mom, a resident of Triple El
on Feb 9, 2013 at 10:07 am

Just another teacher - Congrats to your friend to making it to the other side of a horrible bullying situation and living a happy, successful life. However, (a) teen suicide rates are dramatically higher now than they were when we were teens (I'm guessing based on the information in your message that you and your friend are middle aged), and (b) bullying is often cited as the precipitating cause for suicide. So, while there might have been a "suffer through it" mentality 30 years ago, increasingly kids are taking their own lives before they get to a point where they see the happy ending that your friend did. THAT is the reason we should not be so blase about it - times are different, and the consequences for not taking it seriously are more devastating.

Posted by Let's do Something, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 10:11 am

I think is time to stop the B.S. and advocate for all bullied children in our district. We make a peaceful march to change the way our district works when it comes to bullying from mean teachers, deaf district officials, and students who bullied and who might also need help. If you are on it posted here. First we need to see how many people is willing to truly do something about it, besides posting here. If we just post, nothing will be done to stop the problem that the district likes to hide.

Posted by Let's do Something, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 10:22 am

Did you hear about last night suicide at the tracks. I am wonder if it is a student. By the way, I mend to say, "we should make a peaceful march.

Posted by jog your memory, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2013 at 10:39 am

I remember attending a public seminar put on by the then-principal of JLS (where our kids did not attend) perhaps 2003? about stopping bullying. The gentleman, who had an Italian name as I remember, seemed to me to be a strong leader advocating for all children. Then he left under some pressure from this district. I didn't know the inside story (some conflict with a teacher), but I DO know the district-wide seminar he led, with guest speakers, WAS meaningful. You may not be able to stop bullying, but you can reduce it and make it publicly known it is unacceptable behavior, and administrator leadership makes a huge difference! There is a lot of turnover of administrators, leading to quite a difference in experience at the various schools - so when parents and students recount experiences with bullying, or dealing with teachers and administrators - it depends WHEN the events occurred. My point is that administrator leaders are very important when it comes to leadership in this area and that ought to be crystal clear that leadership and supervision from them is expected.

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:58 am

Bullying can be dealt with by permanently kicking the bullies out of the district. Those who claim that bullying is basically impossible to get rid of are those who keep making excuses for the current Superintendent, arguably the worst in the history of the PAUSD.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2013 at 12:11 pm

There is a movie out on this subject, "Bully", and it was very good, informative and interesting. It is really unbelievable how the kids of people who don't really care or encourage their kids to bully run the schools by pushing up against their resources limitations - such as discipline.

The principle in the movie seemed to think it was OK to do nothing which caused all kinds of problems including one girl who was driving to "borrow" a gun and take it to school and wave it around because she was so harassed.

The bigger and more complicated our society get, the more we have to manage and the more likely that the ball is going to be dropped of that things are going to fall into a dysfunctional cycle that people get used to no one even thinks about.

We have to progress, modify and improve and at the same time keep our human values, kids are not factory products or farm animals.

Posted by Family of the Victim, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 3:41 pm

To all Supporters:
We want to thank you all for your support and messages to the school officials through Palo Alto on Line. And for those who have power over the district, please keep working so harassment stops at schools. Please e-mailed Dr. Skelly so the district does something about it takes responsibility, but not delaying anymore all the academic, mental, and social skills that the student needs. The report of OCR only talks about one year at school, but in fact the student was bullied starting in fourth grade and continue till eight grade. We did tried to do something about it with the little knowledge we had about this issue, but our hands were tight. We face many school officials who pretended hear, but in fact did almost nothing about it. As long as the school officials do not have a policy against harassing based an sex, sexual orientation, disability or race, etc. nothing will be done about it. Soon this news will fade and the families who are facing issues like this, will continue to be ignored, and the students will continue to suffer to the point of loosing interest in life.

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2013 at 4:02 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

If you really were trying to help, you'd be more fair and recognize the many good sides of this district and the people who work there, and at the same time offer your support to help correct the problems that do exist. And while you're at it, why don't you just admit that the problem is also a part of human nature, the way kids are as they grow up, and the questionable values of this community and the entire society. How about organizing community groups to bring attention to the wider problems?

Posted by WhatTheDistrictNeeds, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm

@RetiredTeacher - " more fair and recognize the many good sides of this district"

The problem is that we haven't seen the good side of the district when we are advocating for our children in these matters. If you ran this district, you would know there is institutionalized ambivalence towards students and parents.

Posted by Bullied too, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm

My child is a victim of physical and verbal bullying. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online at request of original poster.]

My heart goes out to this family, and I hope for change. I moved to Palo Alto with the money I had and I'm here so THIS SCHOOL IS ALL I HAVE! So should I, in the middle of the year, have to pack up everything and displace all of my children because the school won't keep my child safe? I shouldn't have to "hire an attorney" or fight so hard just for my son to have a Free and Appropriate Education and to be safe at school. He shouldn't come home and have stomach pains and anxiety or vomit from being bullied. The solution isn't easy, but doing nothing allows everything to get worse.

"Bullying" means any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act, and including one or more acts committed by a pupil or group of pupils as defined in Section 48900.2, 48900.3, or 48900.4, directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one or more of the following:
(A) Placing a reasonable pupil or pupils in fear of harm to that pupil's or those pupils' person or property.
(B) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantially detrimental effect on his or her physical or mental health.
(C) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her academic performance.
(D) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

Posted by straight shooter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:21 pm

@ret teacher - Would you stop? You are clearly projecting from other experiences and do not know anything about this situation firsthand. You are causing pain to people who have firsthand experience and have been hurt by those who should not be in the business of serving children and families.

This family's situation is far from the only one where school officials didn't understand federal discrimination laws, didn't have good procedures and systems for addressing complaints, didn't conduct proper investigations [understatement - investigations full of arrogance, falsehoods and even self-serving deceptions is more like it] and didn't provide appropriate training to its employees.

This report is shockingly similar to our experience with district employees, except not over bullying. I agree with one of the first posters -- among other things, administrators seem to be letting themselves be controlled by poor legal council, and lacking any strong moral guide, desire to work with families whom they are paid to serve, or good leadership, they end up acting like bad lawyers themselves. We have ourselves given our administrators every benefit of the doubt and defended them ourselves, but there's nothing like actual experience with them to dispel those illusions.

Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2013 at 8:22 pm

I wish that the article was more specific about what actually happened so that we could get an idea as to what could/should have been done to prevent it from happening. For example, if the bullying was always at lunch or always in the bathroom between classes, then what should be done in the future would be much clearer. It seems to me, that (if asked to do so) that some students might we willing to come forward to eat lunch with others and/or walk them to or from class. Most of our students are decent kids (and they would likely help out if asked). I do realize that it is not the "job" of the students to help other students, but it is an opportunity to help someone else out and, maybe, make a new friend and/or see things from a new point of view. I realize that this would not solve all bullying issues, especially in situations where the bullying is not physical, but it might solve some. If anyone else thinks that this is a decent idea, and they have students in PAUSD, then please comment accordingly (and perhaps we will try to organize something where students help eachother).

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 8:53 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by straight shooter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2013 at 8:57 pm

"No records were kept of interviews with the victim or those students involved in the bullying, witnesses were not interviewed and no one compiled all the information relating to the incidents. None of the teaching staff at the school could recall having been informed about the student's repeated reports of bullying nor being asked about what they might know."

That's right, because the student had a 504, and the district works really hard at making sure no one leaves a paper trail, or that they minimize the students' needs and rights in the record. I have seen this happen over and over.

This is also just the tip of the iceberg, this family was just brave enough to persist and step forward. I don't know what the people in the district office think they are accomplishing by the way they treat families, with such antagonism and distrust.

Posted by AnotherConcernedParent, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Who would be interested the subject of bullying being discussed in all the classes by someone outside the school? I know of 2 groups (I believe both non-profits) that could do this and I also know of an individual who has offered to the superintendent to do this for free.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:42 pm

@Bullied too: We had an issue with bullying at Duveneck last year and reported it to the teachers and principal and they took it seriously and ended it right away. Based upon your address, I'm guessing your child is at Duveneck too. The teachers at Duveneck would not dismiss bullying; I know most of them because I have other children too. When it becomes physical abuse, it's even easier for them to stop the bullying (vs. verbal and expressional abuse) because it's clearly assault.

If your child is so affected that it's causing him physical illness, then YOU need to wake up and stop waiting for someone to rescue him because it's your duty to protect him when no one else will. You can easily transfer him to Walter Hays or Palo Verde, which are near your neighborhood.

I have known students who have issues and one of them was finally kicked out of Duveneck. Others somehow end up leaving the school. Others have parents who are involved and trying to help their children's behavioral problems. It's a parent's responsibility to teach their children behavior skills, maybe not in an inner city school, but in a school district where education is valued by parents as ours is, it's an unwritten expectation that students are well-behaved.

If you can convince other parents and their children to go to the principal and complain that your child is being bullied, then there is more validity. If your child is well-liked, it should be no problem.

Posted by Candel Light Vigil, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 10:10 pm

If you are interested in attending the Candel Light Vigil this Monday at 6:00 at 25 Churchill, to ask district to take bullying seriously, please e-mail me at

Posted by Eileen, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:17 pm

This is the most mortifying event I have read about in the school district - maybe ever. How we as a community cannot be in agreement that this situation is WRONG and intolerable is beyond me. How can the School Board stand by a Superintendent who did not even have the professional responsibility to inform them of the investigation and subsequent findings? How can we dismiss the findings of a non-partisan/non local government agency that came in and did the appropriate investigation? Skelly should go, but beyond that the school board should be ashamed and embarrassed. The district management looks like a ship of fools. If everything is to be left to the specific school site to handle in their own way then we should dispense with the district office all together. What a community this is....the streets are in horrible condition, we can't build a library on time, the police dept continues in a facility sadly outdated, and the voters don't really want to fund anything because they don't trust anything to be done efficiently, and the endless Palo Alto process causes anything that is done to take forever and cost more. For all of the intellectual and financial capital that exists within our city boundaries we are woefully inadequate as a community that works together to acheive a common good. I am the fourth generation of my family to call Palo Alto home and I am just so very very sad and disheartened to see what this community has "accomplished."

Posted by Another Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Janet D, I hope you know that you son is still remembered with great affection by his team mates and others who knew him. He was a lovely person and his passing will always be a great loss to this community. I'm very sorry to hear that bullying was part of his experience.

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2013 at 6:19 am

School bullying should be recognized by the state legislator as a criminal misdemeanor. Bullies should be tried in juvenile court. This should reduce bullying by a at least fifty percent. Until then, bullies should be expelled from the school district, permanently.

Posted by article, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2013 at 7:14 am


but one

Suicides. And that negates all other outstanding metrics. The district should do everything in its power to stop suicides. It should therefore bend over backwards to stop bullying, cyberbullying in particular.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2013 at 7:41 am

@Eileen --How can the School Board stand by a Superintendent who did not even have the professional responsibility to inform them of the investigation and subsequent findings?

The lack of transparency is bizarre, particularly when you consider the timing. Tuesday night's board meeting has an item, previously scheduled as a update on "perceptions of bullying in the district" and the very last slide slide contains a bullet point at the end under "Next Steps" that states: "Further student and staff education around discrimination and bullying, particularly around disability." There is no mention of the OCR investigation or findings, just this random bullet tacked on at the end about "further" education. As the Weekly's editorial points out, had the family not come forward with their documents, no one would ever have known the story behind that now-bizarre bullet point.

On the previous slide, staff gives "work to do" as including: "Prevention of bullying based on student disability", and also under reasons to adopt a board policy on bullying, says "Ensure that the district is compliant with federal and state mandates." Board members or community members trying to connect those dots without knowing of the investigation would not be able to do it. After release of the documents it looks very odd indeed. Nobody here but us chickens.

Kevin Skelly is an extremely defensive person who is probably being driven to distraction by all this criticism of staff. But there was a severe staff underperformance in this case coupled with a lack of accountability from the board to the bottom, and a lack of transparency that makes the problem even worse. I urge concerned community members to attend the Board meeting on Tuesday and voice their concern about all these issues and most of all about the well-being of the student in this case who is still not receiving adequate services despite the fact that the deadlines set in the OCR agreement are about to expire.

Posted by parent, a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2013 at 8:20 am

[Post removed due to possible copyright infringement. Please post link to material instead of copying it.]

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2013 at 8:20 am

"Straight Shooter"--With 40 years of teaching experience, kids going through Green Gables (Duveneck), Jordan, and Paly, and numerous contacts in the district, I don't think I'm unacquainted with the issues or the background. My kids had some bad experiences and good ones as well. Both remember the stress, and both had incidents with bullies, who, ironically, happened to be special ed kids. I know firsthand about inadequate responses from school administrators to some situations.

The fact remains that many of the people on this thread are scapegoating and tearing down a district which in general is outstanding. Skelly and the district are responding to the issues in the report--they deserve praise, not blame. Palo Alto residents should be helping change the conditions that lead to bullying, which are not just in the schools, but in the community as a whole. Instead, some people want to tear down and blame, blame, blame whatever is handy, regardless of the true situation.

As for suicides, they are devastating, and they are not just from conditions in the schools. We need to have compassion for everyone involved. We need to work together toward reducing the negative conditions in our community and society.

Please, "Straight Shooter" and others, stop the blame game and get involved in real, compassionate solutions to these very serious and difficult problems!

Posted by More info, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 10, 2013 at 8:32 am

Skelly is the leader and is paid handsomely to be held accountable, but watch the Board meetings to see that he hands off these matters to the Associate Superintendent, Charles Young. While it would be easy to pass him over because he does very little of significance, Young is directly responsible for this debacle. The best description that I've heard about him is that he is simply taking up space. Young is pulling in close to $200K and Tuesday will be his day to step up and definitively lead for the first time in almost two years. In a less dysfunctional district the Board would take action, but they will not make any move not created for them by their handlers, the lawyers. Have you ever thought of getting a new legal team if their advice has led you here? Heidi, please don't just take up space as well. You probably have some insight into this matter and now it is time to lead and not just sit there on Tuesday. Dana has hid his chances. Camille and Barbara, just don't say anything. Melissa?

Posted by Facts, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2013 at 9:41 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2013 at 9:45 am

My heart goes out to the family and student who suffered bullying in one of our Palo Alto middle schools. No student should have to endure that. I must say though, I have had two children with special needs go through the Palo Alto schools recently, from K-12 and I was consistently very happy with the support they got, especially in the area of socializing and preventing bullying. My personal experience was that the teachers, counselors, principals and other staff went out of their way and showed great concern for my children and other kids too. Some spent their own personal time to help my child, and I didn't even hear about this until later through others. I've noticed that many Palo Alto teachers and staff go way out of their way for our children. I feel sad that the remarks in this topic are so negative about the people who love and teach our children, mostly with tremendous success and caring. They also do a lot to raise awareness about bullying, prevent bullying and step in to resolve problems with bullying each day -- I've seen it. How are we treating these teachers and staff right now in our discussion?

Posted by Facts, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:27 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online due to being off-subject.]

Posted by parent, a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Sorry I no longer have the link but will look for it. In the meantime, the article summarized a situation which occured in Poway while Dr. Skelly was there. Poway district sued special ed families for not putting their kids in the special day classes, which families maintained were isolating and not teaching their children in a meaningful way. He obviously does not understand what a financial situation special ed families are in already.

Posted by Data please, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Here is the Poway link: Web Link
Skelly features prominently. One thing you can say about him is that he is consistent in not learning from past mistakes. He told the press back then that 25 lawsuits from special Ed families was not a problem.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 10, 2013 at 2:58 pm

My heart goes out to all the victims of bullies and their familes. Particularly the ones that have disabilities that are easy targets and maybe not be as equipped to defend & represent themselves both physcially and verbally.

The schools and school district should take bullying seriously and send a stronger message for intolerance of bullying and have stricter consequences in place for offenders, particularly for cases where the victims have disabilities. The strict consequences or threat of strict consequences will in themselves be a deterant for bullying. Instead the school seems to want to hide the bullying or actions being taken because they are protecting the "rights" of the student with behavior problems. What about the rights of the victims and the rest of the student body?

In the case that is currently going on at Duveneck, the school did not seem to want to recognize that there was bullying going on or relying on the teacher to make a call. The bully is a good student and athletic and well mannered in front of adults. He is what his mom excuses as "competitive" and can lose his cool and act out with other boys. This "competitive" boy can be very mean and abusive to boys he does not like or is angry with. Particularly if the target is mild and does not retaliate physically. He has already gotten one boy who he disliked to be moved to Walter Hays by his parents in order to get reprieval from targetted abuse.

One of the current Duveneck targets who has ADHD and other disabilies obviously is not as good of a student and perhaps not has favored by the teacher who until recently had both students in her class. The incident where the bully physcially aggressed on the current target was reported by 2 of his friends to their teacher. It took someone coming forward about an incident about the bully losing his temper and beating up his own friend and months of subsequent emotional abuse for stopping play dates, for the school to believe anything was happening to the victim with disabilities.

The school still took their time and only recently, finally moved the victim to another class and told yard duties to keep the boys separate after over 3 months.

The school and school district are of course being defensive because the family engaged a lawyer after a month of no-action or disbelief from the school.

There are still incidents of the bully stalkiing and trying to annoy the victim and his friends for trying to avoid him which the school says they will stop.

It would be great if the school and school system could take the "bull by the horns" and address this serious problem effectively.

It would make sense for parents of bullies to step in to get their children in check instead of making exuses for them, so that they can perhaps get the help they need.

Posted by jog your memory, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Wow, this last account is informative. Duveneck isn't that big - the adults - who are in charge, after all - should be able to monitor such a small setting. I can see more opportunities for bullies at the middle and high school levels, but really, administrators, teachers, parents, and students should all know each other to a degree and be on the same page in a small elementary school!
I have posted before, it is necessary and appropriate for the adults to manage the school setting. Yes, I know they can't be everywhere, all the time, yet there should be a high level of supervision by adults at the elementary level, setting the tone for behavior, acknowledging each child, etc.
We are often lectured by the BoE that PAUSD is a "top" district," so they ought to be following best practices for anti-bullying (it IS a learning process - look at all Anderson Cooper did in recent past to educate the public about school bullying! and plus, whatever is in the public school literature/professional education I am sorry this problem continues to this extent. I knew nothing previously about special ed and we weren't in that system when our kids were in school, but I am sympathetic to the accounts by parents and feel it is often a matter of common decency in managing the education and social life in the schools - that aspect should be modeled by the adults.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm

The fact that we are a "top" school district contributes to the bullying problem caused by being competitive at all costs. Kids who are taught that winning is everything will have much less tolerance to those they view as "less able".

Teaching kids to stand up for each other helps a lot. The class bully when my youngest was in school finally stopped when another kids (who was even bigger) stood up to him. The teachers were actually grateful.

BTW - a long time ago when my kids were at Duveneck, the biggest bullies were a couple of teachers (luckily, they are long gone). But I imagine seeing a teacher be mean to a kids makes it even easier to be a bully.

Posted by Duveneck Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I am happy to hear that the parent who reported bullying at Duveneck was able to get a quick resolution of her child's bullying problem. However, other parents at Duveneck are not getting the same response.

In fact, other parents at Duveneck have already had multiple meetings with the Principal and teachers regarding the physical, verbal and emotional bullying at Duveneck last year and this school year. However, the bullying has not stopped and the bully continues to harass children at Duveneck including the child with disabilities. The District and the School were informed of the bullying that has persisted and continues at Duveneck.

In addition, the parent of the disabled child had repeatedly requested that the school separate her child from the classroom of the bully for months. However, the bully was never moved and the District, from what I perceived, tried to block the move of her child to another classroom.

Parents have come forth to offer suggestions on how to address bullying on the campus and provide a safe environment for all children at Duveneck. However, I believe that training of the Principal, teachers and staff is needed. When you have a teacher stating that he feels sorry for the bully because other children (including the victimized children) are trying to stay away from him, we have a real problem.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2013 at 4:34 pm

As I think the comments posted here amply demonstrate, this is sadly not at all a unique fact pattern. Since we started We Can Do Better Palo Alto in 2011 people have been approaching us with very sad stories of mistreatment of kids with learning differences. Not only those in special education, who at least have some legal recourse, but others as well. And one thing that has struck me in this story and in the dozens of others I have heard is the way that the district treats these families with a strategy of benign neglect.

Families who want to stop bullying are treated adversarially. Families who try to get services for their kids are often treated as if they are "uncooperative" or "problem families" with "issues." Families tend to feel very betrayed by this kind of treatment, then furious, then resigned. Those with resources put their kids in private school. Others suffer in silence. Most are very fearful of being public because they are afraid of not getting services for their kids -- i.e., retaliation. I have been shocked at how widespread is the fear of retaliation.

What is unique about this case is mainly that the family made a complaint to OCR and that they provided the documents to the press. Had they not done that, they would merely be another invisible family with a personal problem.

Another factor that I would like to communicate to the public as a law professor has taught discrimination law at Stanford Law School is how rare is the finding in this case. The law makes it very difficult to establish a civil rights violations against a school for peer-to-peer harassment. There are many hurdles facing planitiffs in such cases. Yet in this case, PAUSD has cleared the bar and with some space left over. In particular the statement of the principal to the OCR investigating attorney that her staff did not need any training on disability rights because of the staff's "sophistication" is about as close to deliberate disregard as one can imagine. The lack of any manual or policy or investigation practice -- the fact that there were dozens of emails that went uninvestigated, that poor records were kept, that the assistant principal was not candid with investigators. It is very unusual for a district to have been found to have violated the law because the law is very very pro-defendant in this area. Yet PAUSD has done it.

How did it do it? It is because of a district-wide, top down lack of accountability or transparency coupled with the general view that this is a great district and those kids who are not thriving are defective and their parents are complainers and malcontents. Another factor is "site-based control" which is not an appropriate way to approach federal civil rights law compliance. The failure of democratic process is another part -- the board is too weak and treats accountability like a slogan not a mandate. All these are contributors. The press is doing its part. The parents are doing their part. The see no evil hear no evil board must change. Barbara Klausner had it right about governance failures in PAUSD and if things don't change on the board then situations like this will multiply -- indeed they already are multiplying as I know of other families who are now taking their cases to OCR as well.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Nancy and Retired Teacher,
Will you please actually read the story and the settlement and educate yourself about what this issue is about and what people are talking about? Just because people are criticizing Kevin Skelly (i.e., "administrator") does not mean they are saying they do not also have many good experiences with the schools or teachers. And just because they have good experiences with the district or teachers does not mean Kevin Skelly and other administrators didn't significantly breach their responsibilities and the law as the government, after much investigation, says they did. This family's experience isn't isolated, either, at that's relevant here. What you are saying has nothing to do with that.

I have years of much good and some bad experiences with the schools, too, and was as, frankly, clueless as you are before we had to access certain services, too. Then it was like stepping into the Twilight Zone -- but it was the first real contact we'd had with district administrators over something like that in all of our years here.

This isn't just about bullying, this is about whether our school officials think the laws of the land -- and their purpose to aid our students -- apply in this district and should be flaunted or followed.

According to the editorial, "school officials are portrayed as not understanding federal discrimination laws, not having good procedures and systems for addressing complaints, not conducting proper investigations and not providing appropriate training to its employees."

This after they have had notice in other cases not related to bullying, that they are failing to follow the law as well. The way they have responded to this is not to try to do better but to lie and manipulate to try to keep families from accessing the services their children need -- to avoid the responsibilities under the law and try to minimize any paper trail. We have witnessed it now, too, and like you, wouldn't have believed it either.

The trouble is that your conflating the justified outrage about this issue and appropriate criticisms with criticism of all things good and bad (which no one above is doing) is at the least not helpful and seems to be trying to deflect appropriate criticism and action in this issue. Please stop. Take the time to read the story and the settlement agreement, and please show some respect for the parents and children who have suffered and deserve better. You're fine, we already know that, thank you. Now let us solve these problems without facing hurtful hurdles from those who project their experience onto everything else, even such a serious problem as this.

Posted by What?, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 10, 2013 at 5:10 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 10, 2013 at 6:12 pm

There is no bullying problem at Duveneck. There may be a bully or two mentioned here, but it's not a school problem. The principal and teachers I have worked with were very concerned. I have also had to work with other teachers concerning my other children and they were always concerned and helpful. Sometimes I had to just tell my children to stay away from the bully, which they did. Really, the school needs to know that you are trying to help solve the issue too.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Parents need to be pro-active rather than complacently complaining. Parents can volunteer at lunch, recess, classtime. They can watch the bullies and document their behavior. If there is overwhelming data, it can be presented to the bully's parents. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Is this some conspiracy? We have been overwhemingly pleased with the teachers at Duveneck. There was a year where a boy was continually sent to the principal's office for hitting, etc. After 6 months, he finally had to leave the school and attend the special ed school in town even though they live almost across the street from Duveneck. There were too many parents who had issues with this boy. Form a parent coalition to get those bullies kicked out.

Posted by Let's do Something, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm

To mom, member of the Duveneck School Community,
you are contradicting yourself, first you start with "there is no bullying at Duveneck, then you go on to say that you have to ask your children to stay away from the bullying", then you say we should volunteer at lunch and document the behaviors of the bullies, but why would we do that. If you say there is no bullying at Duveneck, then why did you asked your child to stay away from the bully? was child seeing bullying ghost? was he lying or are you too like Skelly trying to deny we have a problem. You know already that most schools in PAUSD take volunteers, but not at Lunch time.
And to Parent, Member of the Duveneck community
Are you kidding, Do you seriously think that the Office of Civil Rights would conspire about this issue. I can see that you too, want to denie that PAUSD has not harassment/bullying problem. It is because of people like you that PAUSD does not take it seriously and stop or try to reduce the bullying really investigate these cases.

Posted by facts, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Yes, Parent, it is a conspiracy. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] That the district and this paper takes such note of this SSG is astonishing. Duveneck is now a hot-bed of bullying? What next?
At least this paper had the decency not to mention the name of the middle school to try and avoid identifying the individual. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2013 at 8:23 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Julian asange, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 10, 2013 at 8:26 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Get Real, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Agree there is no issue of bullying at Duveneck and while there may be some bullies (they're everywhere), people here are engaged in a conspiracy of Duveneck defamation. PAUSD would welcome parent volunteers on the playground or in the classrooms anytime. I've been to Duveneck at lunchtime and Jordan at lunchtime. All one has to do is sign-in and put on a badge.

Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2013 at 9:06 pm

The article about Skelly's problems with special ed in Poway before he came to Palo Alto is here: Web Link (Data Please mangled the URL). Makes for interesting reading. Asked to comment on the fact that 25 special ed families had lawsuits against the district, Skelly said, "To have 25 unhappy parents out of 3,000 -- that we have not been able to resolve with -- I think is very good." I guess that's one way to make lemonade out of lemons, like saying that having the federal government find civil rights violations in PAUSD is an "opportunity" to have some good conversations. Kind of an expensive way to start a conversation though. I hope we don't get lucky enough to have 25 lawsuits going.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] People here are implying there is rampant bullying at Duveneck when there is not, nor has there ever been (our family has lived through 4 Duveneck principals)- it's just a few squeaky wheels here. My children had some problems with bullying but we politely and respectfully spoke to the teachers (ie: no irrational behavior or blaming the teacher, just explained the facts) and the bullying ended shortly thereafter. Part of helping to end the bullying is telling your child to stay away from the bully - is that not obvious?
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:32 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:46 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] My children are good students, well-behaved, kind, and well-liked by all and that doesn't make me or them entitled. It makes it easier for administration to understand that my children are not provoking any bullying. If anyone has a problem with those statements, then it's time to check out your issues of lack of confidence. Those are the same people who see a well-dressed person and immediately assume the person is a snob. Sometimes (not always) students are bullied because they provoke others; I've heard the stories. If I had a special ed student who couldn't handle being in a large public school, I'd send him to a smaller school such as Keys or move out of Palo Alto to a cheaper mortgage and pay for a smaller, private school.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2013 at 11:12 pm

@Mom, Calm down and read the article first. This is about a child with disabilities who had a formal education plan and violation of his civil rights. District personnel for schools have responsibilities under the law, and they not only know what those are, schools get to write their own processes. This district nevertheless failed to know them, follow the law, or offer the disabled child the protection provided for in the plan the district agreed to. Certain people appear to have lied to the government when they investigated about what they knew. It doesn't appear to be an isolated case either, in terms of district behavior toward this kind of student circumstance.

If you want to carry on an argument about Duveneck, or otherwise vent your spleen without reading the actual story at issue, please start a new thread.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 10, 2013 at 11:49 pm

@anonymous: Obviously, you didn't read all the comments. People are slandering Duveneck administration, so they have digressed off-topic in attempt to start false rumors.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Dear Anonymous who asked Nancy & Retired Teacher to "stop," [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I've read the article, that is why I expressed sympathy for the child and their family. I am definitely not clueless about our schools - you have no idea what I know and yet you assume I'm so ignorant and you know so much more. It makes me sad to hear not just about this child who was bullied and the bullying was mishandled, it also makes me sad to hear all the dumping on our school district. Public school have a really hard job to do and are under a lot of fire these days. They make mistakes. This was a big one, and serious. Still, I am sad that so many people are trashing our school staff in this forum. I'm not going to be a bystander about this. Please respect those who have a different opinion than yours -- this is what I've told so many children at lunch recesses as I volunteered to prevent bullying in our Palo Alto Schools. We all need to pitch in to prevent bullying. Part of that is listening with respect.

Posted by Palo Alto resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2013 at 12:03 am

Disabled or not, many children are bullied in our children's school - from the top. It hurts the child, the children who witness it, and the community at large. A tactic our principal uses in different situations is the same: A family seeks help from our principal, the person the family trusts because they assume the principal serves the children. That principal turns the responsibility back on the victim and paints the victim as a "flawed child" and suggests the family may be the real problem for something they did or did not do. It is most effective in silencing the parents. These families stand right next to other families of victims not knowing the hurt they share in isolation and yes, the PTA members who protect the principal are not concerned with the victims either. I don't understand why. Under this particularly vindictive and incompetent principal, families & teachers are biding the years until they are out of the school. The district that harbors such a woefully inadequate leader is suspect by association. The reporter will find few families challenge the poor leadership at this school. Bullying, by definition, occurs when the aggressor has uneven power over the victim. I urge those families of victims to anonymously share your documented stories to the reporter now. Make it better for everyone including the victims, their families, and the "bullies".

Posted by Let's do Something, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2013 at 6:45 am

If you want to do something about it,
Come to the Candlelight Vigil today Monday at 6:00 at the school district at 25 Churchill. Also come to the Board meeting tomorrow at 6:30 at the school district. Thanks.

Posted by curious, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2013 at 7:15 am

Twilight Zone is a BRILLIANT description of stepping into the elementary school special ed world in Palo Alto. People you had had some trust in turn their heads and a totally different face appears.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2013 at 7:32 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Platitudes about everyone being flawed so every behavior is excusable do not apply here. District administrators showed a pattern of wilfully ignoring major laws that they not only know they must follow as an important part of their professional duties, but they willfully ignored the processes to follow those laws that THEY THEMSELVES got to write. This was no accident, they didn't just suddenly realize it with this case.

What the report highlighted about the assistant principle lying to federal investigators is not isolated. We have experienced the same pattern of denial and lies from dstrict adminstrators when it comes to similar (but unrelated to bullying) proceedings, and I know many other families have, too. It is NOT anything we have witnessed in our lives interacting with, frequently volunteering for, and otherwise assocating with the schools. Our school psychologist didnt suddenly become a liar because she's dishonest, someone from above (probably bad legal council, as others are suggesting, and poor leadership inclined to follow it even when it means lying and breaking the law) is telling her what to do.

This is really serious business for families whose kids have special needs. It's horrible to be cast in such an adversarial relationship with the schools and people you should be able to trust. The lawyers aren't reducing liability for the district, they are increasing it - all the better for their business if a lot of families end up suing the district like when Skelly was at Poway, right? Worse, they end up continuing the pattern of failing their duty to families to the point of deception, as the report demonstrates.

I think this is shocking, and the board should find us more honest legal council and leadership.

Posted by Different, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 11, 2013 at 8:38 am

What do you do as a Caucasian, when your child is being bullied for not being Asian? The school does not think harassment of Caucasians is a legitimate gripe, but we are a minority in this school, and the bullying of blondes by Asians does happen. What to do when no one thinks it counts?

Posted by Different, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 11, 2013 at 8:40 am

Odd thing is, we had this problem in another district, and came to PAUSD to escape it. I don 't think a blue-eyed blond girl is safe anywhere these days

Posted by jog your memory, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2013 at 10:11 am

I disagree with the poster, "Mom," who indicates some kids are bullied by provoking others - I think this is a drop in the bucket.This sure is a complex subject, but deserving of our and PAUSD employees' thoughtful attention.
While I don't think bullying was rampant in our day (though there was a sort of culture of silence), there certainly is some, we experienced it, received no assistance, "gave up." We lived through it, but it wasn't great and I have seen a lot of educational environents and believe it is possible to attempt to instill a culture of more respect. Some kids and parents are VERY entitled here.
It is varied in nature. There are 3 levels of schools, and the situation is different at each level. Each school is different, each school year is different, administration turnovers, and teacher turnovers make a difference.
I posted earlier about the man who was principal at JLS around 2002 or so (not our school) - I am now recalling his name as Joseph Di Salvo (?) - nobody has responded to my post, but I can tell you he produced a worthwhile districtwide seminar on reducing bullying and all parents were invited over to JLS, and I recall it to this day! Now here was an administrator worth his salt, who exerted himself to improve his school and share with others in PAUSD about tackling an ongoing problem, to a greater or lesser degree, and he did not sit back and rest on his laurels. I gather the district forced his retirement shortly thereafter - sad.
Some kids are raised to be more polite, and some bullies take advantage of their good manners and frankly, their maturity. When it happens more than occasionally, it is tiresome and affects the educational experience of the well-behaved child. This is aside from any physical danger that may occure - I am more familiar with verbal harrassing/female exclusion.
This offends me, when the ADULTS, who are supposed to be in charge, do nothing and are lazy. Yes, it takes ENERGY to tackle bullying but it is part of your job if you work with growing young people.
@Different highlights a bullying problem we experienced in relatively recent past (ours are adults now) - there is some ethnic-related bullying, including speaking in another language to exclude one girl (when all are fluent in English) and yes, we knew students who experienced this in Cupertino, too. A form of bullying - not at the elementary level in our experience, so those parents on this forum with elementary age kids do not realize the spectrum of bullying nowadays...

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

For public schools, PAUSD is perhaps one of the safest districts - just look at all the geeks, nerds, and diversity. This is what made it great to grow up here - geeks and nerds were not outcasts. We don't have students stealing others' lunches or our children fearing being beaten up. Yes, things do get stolen from PE lockers and there is bullying. But people are expecting too much from public schools here. Schools can only do so much. Social media has produced bolder children. Parents need to protect their children if they are being bullied and if that means visiting school each day to protect them or moving out of town, so be it. Continuing to allow it is just plain negligence.

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The editorial is not equivalent to the tablets from Mount Sinai. It's one person's INTERPRETATION of a report that highlighted some serious problems in the district. That person, and many of the people on this topic, appear to want someone sacrificed, as you seem to. Please note that the district entered into an agreement to IMPROVE the situation. Please note that the report did not go nearly as far as the editorial writer, and certainly, for all its prosecutorial severity, was not part of the movement to trash the PAUSD we see in many of these comments. Please note that schools, like all institutions, have flaws and strengths, and no sensible person would ignore the strengths entirely and throw the institution into chaos by tossing out proven administrators and bringing in untested new people on the theory that whatever is newer is better, or whatever vacuous theory you are working under.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Skelly does not have the power to bind the School Board to the terms of the settlement agreement. Only the Board of Education of the Palo Alto Unified School District has that power, but Skelly failed to place the subject on their agenda before he signed the settlement agreement.

Posted by Casualty, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm

When my son attended Jordan several years ago, there was a PE teacher that all the kids called "Buzzcut". He seemed more than a little crazy and claimed he had a metal plate in his head as the result of a motorcycle accident.

Talk about teacher abuse! He called one girl a loser because she had an asthma attack (mild) whenever she ran the mile, and he called my son a wimp because his doctor wrote a note explaining that he must use an inhaler during PE.

It was not until years afterward that he was removed from the school, and probably merely transferred elsewhere. He had several complaints against him every semester during my son's three-year stint at Jordan.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

@ Paly Alum,
Since you seem to have checked in late here on this discussion, it's not actually about the topic of whether Palo Alto has an unusual amount of bullying-- as you say, because of the types of families perhaps we SHOULD have less bullying even if we don't try anything, and if we do use anti-bullying measures, perhaps we SHOULD be getting better than average results -- the editorial was about the behavior of district administrators in a disability/special education situation, and whether or not administrators followed the law. This is not arcane law, this is one of the most important things district administrators are charged with doing. They not only know the law, districts themselves get to write the processes by which they follow the law. The government report said the district didn't know their own processes, didn't know the law, didn't follow the law, and apparently at least one administrator lied to federal investigators when asked about what the district knew.

I love our district and our teachers, and have had great experience here. Until we had to access services in the same realm as this family. And then it was a real Twilight Zone like the above poster said. We experienced the same kinds of behavior: deception, actual diversion from legal processes so we wouldn't know or access our rights, etc. I couldn't believe it. This settlement is actually not the only one Skelly has had to enter into this year from similar complaints.

There are some things that need to be fixed here, some things that are very wrong. I agree with some of the early posters that it probably comes back to problems with bad legal advice the district is getting that ISN'T getting filtered and adjusted through a culture that honestly and earnestly serves families in all circumstances. I do think this is bringing to light poor leadership, and I hope this is a wake up call that we can do better (and no, I am not a member of that group but maybe I should be).

Posted by PAmom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Paly Alum and Retired Teacher,

Some of your remarks seem to downplay the trauma that many of the kids and parents who have been bullied and then not taken seriously have endured. Whether or not all the good things you both say are true, it glosses over their feelings and comes across as unhelpful and lacking in compassion.

It really annoys me when people talk about how great a particular school or educator may be, and then insist that if someone says they have done something wrong, that that means that it is always the person with the complaint that is in the wrong. Sometimes people or institutions have a darker side to them that only their victims see, and when the victim speaks out, no one believes them. That was our family's experience, and the experience of others here as well.

We have also had good experiences in the district, but please don't downplay others bad experiences. Some of us do have serious and legitimate grievances that deserve justice.

Janet Dickens, I am so sorry for your loss and my heart goes out to you and your son. I wish the family that the article is about all the fairness, justice, and compensation that they deserve as well.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Dear Paly Alum,
Thank you for telling us your experience. It is good to have your perspective in this forum. I am all for listening to each other and not putting anyone down, especially not a young person who is chiming in and has recent PAUSD experience to share. Your views are not unhelpful or lacking in compassion at all. Quite the opposite. This is a forum in which one or two people are putting people down who they disagree with. But I think that most of us just want to hear what we each have to say.

Posted by Barron park parent, a resident of Barron Park School
on Feb 11, 2013 at 5:54 pm

To retired teacher: I have watched the board and the administration over the last few years since the suicides and I have concluded sadly that they seem to not be up to meeting these challenges. I wish this latest example were a surprise but it isn't. Its time to get another team in.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Paly Alum, you said "Parents need to protect their children if they are being bullied and if that means visiting school each day to protect them or moving out of town, so be it. Continuing to allow it is just plain negligence."

You are right that allowing the unlawful harassment of handicapped students by other students to continue is "just plain negligence." But it is not the parents who are negligent -- it is the schools. This is not an area where all opinions are equally good. There is a law, and that law determines responsibility for stopping bullying of the disabled. In this case, the law assigns that responsibility to the school district, and the school district was found to have failed to meet that responsibility. In particular, the district failed even to have reasonable procedures that would be reasonably thought to prevent harassment. The district refused to adopt such procedures, stating (through the principal) that our staff was so "sophisticated" that it did not need to know about disability harassment -- a statement that would be funny if the ramifications of her incompetence and arrogance were not so severe.

The district further was negligent in its lack of any direction to staff, such that the US Office of Civil Rights concluded that "every staff member was left to her own devices." This is what is meant by "reckless disregard" for the safety of others. It can also be characterized as "willful disregard" or "deliberate disregared." It means that it is more than mere negligence. It means that the district is potentially liable for damages, where it might normally only face an injunction.

So that is the law of who was negligent, and how they are to be accountable. Now on to the moral failures which also are many. The many adults in this scenario had, in addition to their failed legal responsibility, a moral obligation to care for the handicapped and disabled students in their care. When parents diligently report incidents they have a moral obligation to investigate them and take them seriously. They have a moral obligation to tell the truth to investigators -- a standard not met by the Assistant Principal who was not candid with the investigating attorney and misled her that the student and family had failed to provide student names of alleged bullies.

The district has a moral obligation to provide a free appropriate public education for this student -- an obligation it has not met for years and does not meet to this day. This student is still not receiving services and is not in school at all due to this trauma, a fact that should shock the conscience of every Palo Alto parent.

The district has a moral obligation to stop blaming the victim, as does "Paly Alum" and cease its insidious whispering campaign against this family and against all families who experience difficulties.

The district seems to take the position that there is no role for the district office and this is primarily or solely a site issue. That is obviously not legally accurate (why then was the settlement signed by Dr, Skelly and not by the principal if this is merely a site issue). If that is true, then please furlough the district staff. If they have no meaningful or moral role to play perhaps we can stop paying for them.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I don't understand why people keep mentioning the deaths by suicide in relation to the schools. Yes, they were school age children. I haven't seen any evidence indicating that the schools were responsible. In general, people who die by suicide are severely depressed, have other mental illnesses and are often undiagnosed. School stress may have been related although that has not been proven in any of these cases, as far as I understand. Blaming the schools for all the problems our children face is the easy way out. It is far harder to look at what we, as individuals and as a community, can do to create a better world for our children.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I am really sad to read about the bullied child and the family's frustrations. I'm glad that something is going to finally be done. The district could look at Ohlone for an effective model of how to prevent and address bullying. The staff, families, and students at Ohlone focus on the issue through special presentations and through daily check-ins after recess and in class meetings. The child's social-emotional life is evaluated and discussed with parents along with their academic progress. Children are repeatedly taught conflict resolution skills, how to assertively communicate, and stress reduction techniques. BOth parents and trained staff work during recess to help children who are having troubles, have a happier recess. Maybe many Palo Alto schools do this, I only know about Ohlone and I have seen that the enormous amount of time and effort Ohlone puts into the social-emotion development of children really pays off. It is not at all perfect. There are bullies and conflicts everywhere in life. But at Ohlone there is a tried-and-true model for preventing and resolving conflict and bullying situations. I have also seen a good process and training at JLS, which starts each student out with Panther Camp to prevent bullying and help people fit in and which has a lot of excellent and dedicated staff.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Dear parent,
I'm sorry this response is so long, but I think we all have the interests of our kids at heart and I wanted to take your comment thoughtfully. I put "another community" down even though I am in Palo Alto, because I didn't want to identify our school community and cause a furor.

Yes, you cannot necessarily prove what has caused any given person's depression or suicidal episode, but we do know a lot of things that make depression worse and conditions associated with having depression that we have control over. Mental health issues don't happen in a vacuum, our schools play a decided role in student lives, stress and physical and mental health.

For example, district homework policies and start times can have everything to do with whether kids get enough sleep. According to the Cleveland Clinic "Lack of sleep resulting from another medical illness or the presence of personal problems can intensify depression." Web Link

Thankfully, a lot of dedicated parents working with district personnel brought us a new homework policy designed to reduce stress, and hard work by teachers in schools to coordinate homework to ensure it is meaningful and not overwhelming. It will surely have a beneficial impact.

A second example: district and school culture and policies have everything to do with school connectedness, or ""the belief by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals." The CDC says that "school connectedness was second in importance, after family connectedness, as a protective factor against emotional distress, disordered eating, and suicidal ideation and attempts." So again, our schools play an important role. On this count, we are working on it but we have a long way to go. Those who are the most vulnerable in our district end up in least likely to be experiencing the benefit of connectedness, as the district takes an antagonistic stance when students need those services, as this government report highlights.

Another example: students spend most of their day at school, where poor or compromised indoor air quality can have a significant impact on student health, increasing absenteeism and hurting student performance, which in turn can increase student stress. Asthma now causes more lost days than any other chronic illness. Physical problems from too much mold in environments include increased respiratory and asthma problems, headaches, sore throats, fatigue and DEPRESSION. Not everyone in even a seriously moldy environment will experience symptoms, further increasing a sense of isolation and helplessness in young people who do.

There is a proven link between moldy environments and increased rates of depression, with *moderate* exposure (rather than severe) being associated with the greatest increase in risk. Our district has no indoor air quality management plan, (based on experience) responds slowly and inadequately to complaints about water stains, and complaints by parents of old carpeting causing asthma or other allergy are ignored or worse. (Older slab foundations sweat, because of poor insulation and perhaps poor water barrier, causing inevitable mold growth from moisture. Cleaning does not fix mold in carpeting and can make it worse.)

We had a classroom that had a musty, wet, stained carpet that wouldn't have been replaced had a pipe not eventually broken and flooded it, parent complaints did nothing. One of the kids who committed suicide had been a student in that room some years earlier. One of the middle school student libraries also sets off the mold allergies of several mold allergic parents in a big way, had long-standing unaddressed moisture stains in the ceiling, and has that same older carpeting on slab.

You can't ever connect those students' depression to those environments, just like you can't connect a given hurricane to global warming, and depression is a complex thing regardless. But since we do know there is a link between indoor mold and increased rates of depression based on large studies of adults, and children are more vulnerable, we can reasonably conclude that maintaining good indoor air quality in schools -- which often keeps the buildings healthier and in better condition anyway, saving money -- is a good idea for student mental health just as for student physical health and performance. On this count, I would say the district is doing a poor job and even resisting taking even well-laid out, simple measures that other districts are taking across the country, and mostly the community is unaware of the problem.

There are other examples. I very much agree with you that it is very hard to look at what we as a community can do to create a better world for our children, which would be a much lengthier post as there is much we can do. But that's not mutually exclusive with what we should be doing in schools where children spend much of their day and which have such a focus in their lives. We already have so many things, hard things, we know we can do, many in the school environment and requiring competent, honest, and earnest leadership in the district and schools. I appreciate the efforts of parents willing to ask the hard questions and hold leaders accountable when they fail in their duties as the government found in this case.

Identifying problems isn't the same as 'blaming the schools'. It is the first step out of denial and solving problems to create that better world for our children.

Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Today's Stanford Daily quotes School Board President Dana Tom stating that "the district already has policies in place to combat bullying and that the civil rights issue arose because these policies were not correctly implemented," a statement he also made to the Weekly.

The U.S. Dept. of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) specifically found that the school site lacked a disability harassment policy in the school handbook and that the staff had never been trained in any procedures for disability harassment. There was no staff member designated to receive or investigate claims of harassment. "The School did not respond appropriately to reports of harassment" and the district "did not conduct any organized inquiry into the reports of harassment." In the end, according to OCR, "each staff member was left to her own devices as to how best to respond to the information each received." Consequently, "the District failed to respond promptly and effectively" to the reports of harassment.

So, what policy is Mr. Tom referring to that was not "correctly implemented"? Do we have a policy at all? OCR did not believe that the middle school where the incidents occurred, or the other middle schools, even has a policy on disability-based harassment because it was not in the school handbooks, the staff had no training or knowledge of a policy, and the district office merely kicked all inquiries back to the school site.

The board does in fact have a bullying policy adopted in January 2010 which is currently "under review." Under this policy, complaints of bullying are to be treated identically to those of sexual harassment. The sexual harassment policy (5145.7) states that complaints will be "immediately" investigated and that the principal will take "prompt appropriate action to end the harassment" and then "the principal or designee shall file a report with the Superintendent or designee (in this case the designee is Associate Superintendent Charles Young pursuant to AR1312.1) and refer the matter to law enforcement authorities, where required."

The Board specifically designates the Associate Superintendent for Educational Services (Charles Young) as the compliance officer who is to receive complaints and resolve them within 60 days of receipt. The policy also sets forth procedures for a principal to follow when the principal receives a written complaint from a parent. The regulations detail a clear process of written replies that are mandated within 10 days of receiving complaints, and appeals up the chain of command.

None of this was followed, according to the OCR investigation. In fact, no one seems to have even mentioned the existence of these procedures to the OCR investigator, probably because no one in the district -- from the Superintendent, to Associate Superintendent Charles Young, to Special Education, to school staff -- appears to have been at all concerned with following it. Instead, OCR found a chaotic chain of communication that left a management vacuum.

Some of the responsibility for this failure lies with the Board, including Mr. Tom himself. Board members were directly and repeatedly informed by the family of the details of this case and presumably knew their own regulations. Yet none of them, including Mr. Tom, informed the family of the existence of the regulations or instructed district staff to follow the regulations.

Accountability means more than an apology or a promise to do better next time. It requires a full accounting of what went wrong and how to fix it. We Can Do Better Palo Alto calls for a full, public, transparent and independent investigation of the breakdown in this case, and and what the Weekly called the "systemic" issues it reveals. This process should result in a report directly to the Board and the public, and should be conducted by someone not on the district staff in order to ensure impartiality and objectivity.

PAUSD bullying policy: Web Link
PAUSD sexual harassment policy (5145.7):
Web Link
PAUSD Administrative Regulations governing complaints:
Web Link

Posted by parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I agree with much of what anonymous says. It has been discussed at board meetings that everyone in the community must take responsibility for the welfare of our children. Pointing fingers at each other as causes of stress and depression gets us nowhere. Lack of sleep results in a loss of perspective and sets you up for a fall. Remember - sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 12, 2013 at 1:54 am

We have to be able to do better in Palo Alto.

When I visit my kids' school, most parents I meet are highly educated.
Yet we still have some problems unsolved, hurting kids and losing kids' potential day by day until we adults clear the problems.

When I mentioned some school process was not followed as the PAUSD website describes and asked Skelly how he could check if the teachers and employers actually were doing the process effectively, he replied that he trust them. Then I stopped to talk to school staff since then. I knew things like this bullying case regarding school's malfunction had to surface one day due to his attitude.

Mr. Ken Dauber,

I think you didn't have enough time to prepare for the election last year and didn't follow some fundamental old stuff about gaining votes.
You tried some new tools and ways. But mainly the time was short for general public. I hope you don't take the result personally. I am sure you already analyzed them all.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2013 at 1:54 am

parent - I appreciate the supportive comment but don't really understand your point. A careful analysis of the situation as Ken Dauber has done above isn't "pointing fingers", it is taking responsibility for the welfare of our children, from someone in the community who isn't being paid and often faces a lot of criticism for helping. He had a lot to do with why we actually have a homework policy after decades of just saying we need one. I am glad to have a parent like him willing to do what I know I myself couldn't accomplish.

Posted by Let's do Something, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2013 at 7:30 am

Here is a link to this news
Web Link

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2013 at 8:03 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2013 at 8:31 am

If this is true Charles Young should be fired. I can't believe there was a policy but it wasn't even known to the school. If Young is the man in charge the he needs to take responsibility and resign. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Wildcrats, a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2013 at 9:30 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
This latest failure of leadership is the tip of the iceberg. All systems are broken. Fortunately, the majority of our families are independent enough to be successful in spite of it. It's only when glaring errors are revealed are we shocked.

Skelly and Young: stand up and demonstrate that you take responsibility, and then resign. Your payouts will be generous, your careers successful, but we need new leadership.

Melissa and Camille, you should also resign. You knew about this case, so many of us did, but if you want to claim that you didn't, then resign because you should have known. That this is coming out after the election is suspect and stinks.

Dana and Barbara, do not run again in 2014.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

First and foremost, PAUSD should get rid of their [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] unhelpful legal council that pits adimin aginst parents, thwarts the purpose of education, and increases rather than decreases liability for the district. Whomever they hire next should be vetted for the highest standards of ethics and honesty, and an understanding of the unique needs and goals of education.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

Just adding my two cents --
The children who complain of being severely bullied are a tiny minority of all students enrolled in PAUSD. An important minority, sure, but it's important to realize that the district must be doing something right if so many students (even relative to other districts) don't feel bullied. You also have to consider that it is harder for PAUSD to deal with bullying -- take that recent Gossip Girl case as an example. It occurred after-hours online, was gone in 45 minutes, and if what was posted were true (I don't know if it is or isn't, I never went to the site) then how would you punish the site-creator? You couldn't get them on libel or slander, and even if the truth is painful or embarrassing it is the truth...
I'm a junior -- and for the sake of the person who remarked that blondes with blue eyes are targeted I'll add that I have blue eyes and relatively blonde hair -- and I haven't had any bullying problems at Paly. The closest thing to bullying is probably the not-all-that-badly-intentioned mocking that results from a completely botched chem lab. I haven't witnessed any obvious bullying at Paly as I did at Jordan.
As for bullying procedure, I reported a few boys a year younger than me "bullying" a special-needs student. I reported it, was given photos to identify the perpetrators, and within a week the "bullies" had been suspended.

Posted by Sandy Powell, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 12, 2013 at 1:14 pm

C -- thanks for taking the time out of the school day to post on Palo Alto Online to give us a "student" perspective.
I don't think anyone is saying that the district isn't doing anything right, so that's a straw man. The question is, how serious is what is going wrong? The list is not good: violating student civil rights, not following the district's own procedures, covering up the violation by not telling the school board and the public that a settlement agreement was reached with the federal government, staff giving misleading information to federal investigators, etc.
I am happy to hear that you are not being bullied at Paly, though. Good luck with the rest of your classes today!

Posted by yep, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

And to those who feel that anyone who defends the district is downplaying the pain some students have faced, it's clear to me that everyone wants these serious problems corrected so that the situation for all vulnerable students is positive and supportive. Nobody is downplaying anyone's suffering, and nobody wants any students to suffer.

The fact remains that the voters of Palo Alto supported the current board and the school system. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Now is the time to support the school district as it tries to correct these problems. These unjustified attacks on school employees and board members create a poisonous atmosphere that can do nothing good for the district students, parents, and employees. If anything, these nasty comments are just another form of bullying.

If you want to help, set up community groups to HELP students, rather than just blame everything on our schools and the people who run them.

Posted by Wildcrats, a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Retired Teacher, when you label everyone that doesn't agree with you naysayers, you end up sounding negative. Some of the voters supported the school board, but that was before they knew Skelly was making secret deals. If they did not know about it, then they have failed to live up to their responsibility of oversight and governance. These secret deals, were undoubtedly reviewed by the district lawyers, it could have been the Lou Lozano group. Go ask Joe Disalvo about Lozano. I'm sure he would have testimony against him. I'm a voter and a parent and I'm not going to stand up for four board members who were horribly ineffective with the suicides, with teacher accountability, and with basic oversight of the district's systems. Skelly is a talented person, he just has never been able to run this district. He needs to go. If you take out the nice guy routine, then you'll see that excellence in our district is not a result of his leadership. The Board needs to either cut Skelly, Young for his lack of leadership, and just resign themselves. I absolutely will not vote for another parcel tax, I will not donate to PiE, nor will we be joining or donating to the PTAs of my children's schools. If Dana and Barbara are re-elected in 20-4, so be it, but I will be doing everything in my power to not support it or this district. Understand that all the great things our district had accomplished were eclipsed by that first suicide in 2009. The ones that followed just made us look like we cared more about high test scores and awards than the lives of our children. We failed on the most fundamental level.

Time's up, get out.

Posted by Sandy Powell, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm

@Retired Teacher: I disagree that "everyone wants these serious problems corrected so that the situation for all vulnerable students is positive and supportive." District staff - Superintendent Skelly, Associate Superintendent Young, Director of Secondary Ed Michael Millikin, Special Ed Director Holly Wade - created these serious problems through active neglect. Had the federal government not intervened, they would still be creating them. If everyone wanted a "positive and supportive" situation for these kids, and not only wanted it but worked for it, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I don't think the voters gave the board and the district a blank check in the last election. Maybe you voted for violating civil rights law, but I didn't - and I voted for Melissa, Camille and Heidi.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2013 at 7:45 pm

retired teacher,
Many of us who strongly support our schools, teachers, and kids, and love our district, believe getting rid of inept and dishonest leadership IS the way to support our district. You shouldn't equate deserved criticism of certain people with sweeping criticism of our schools. Conflating those things obstructs solving the problems.

Posted by Watching Meeting, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I'm watching the school board meeting now.

How is it possible that Skelly did NOT make the school board aware of this issue?

How is it possible that Skelly signed an agreement on behalf of the district without board approval? Is this legal? Is it binding? Why aren't board members irate about this issue?

What legal counsel did Skelly consult with on behalf of the district and why wasn't the board kept abreast of the issue?!

Skelly's contract was renewed recently - Is this why he did not disclose to the board what was going on?! If he withheld this information from the board, can his contract be nullified?

Why are school board members OK with the way Skelly is handling this?

Will the school board do an investigation of how this issue developed and how Skelly handled this issue? What sanction, if any, will Skelly and/or staff receive for keeping this quiet?!

Posted by Right Thing, a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Watching Meeting, I, too, watched the meeting but there need not be any confusion. This is failure defined. This is not just a failure of the PAUSD special ed system, this is a failure of the entire PAUSD system. The speakers pointed out the failure of Dr. Charles Young, the second in command and the compliance officer, who failed to address the complaint and then previous issues in a competent manner. He should be fired. He should be shown the door before March 15, just as teachers are pink slipped. The speakers also called out Dr. Kevin Skelly, the man responsible for our district, which just violated the civil rights of one of our children. The board needs to notice this person, too. Get rid of him by the March 15 deadline. How can we have leadership that has violated the civil rights of a child? The community needs to show that it actually cares about all children and civil rights. It cannot be any more basic than that. The speakers tonight have made the district aware of bullying issues for four years yet Dana, Barbara, Melissa, and Camille smiled on and thanked the staff for their good work, which happened to violate the civil rights of a child. Heidi, also, knew about this case for years and all she could do was mimic the behaviors of Skelly, Young, and Dana by reading prepared statements. Dr. Holly Wade has done enough damage as well. She has presided over this special ed debacle for almost three years. Finally, some have suggested that the board hire need counsel. Why should they? This counsel has kept the paychecks flowing and the campaigns running. They have told Skelly what he has wanted to hear as in the case when the Weekly accused him of violating the Brown Act. Of course he violated the Brown Act, but he had a publicly-funded lawyer who told him he didn't.

This is a great district if your kid can navigate the system alone, without district help, but if you are in an at-risk group, it is an utter failure, made worse by then current leadership of Skelly, Young, and Wade. You violated the civil rights of a child. If the board even hesitates at cutting these people loose, then they need to go as well. Hopefully we are past the point of equating blind following with support of our district. I'm supporting our district by moving to remove the leadership. You've had your chance, stop sacrificing our kids for the sake of your career. Thank you to the wide variety of speakers tonight. Palo Alto, you don't need to donate to a cause thousands of miles away, you don't need to attend a rally for peace, you need to look inside your own house to ensure that you are not an enabler of violating the civil rights of a child.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Notable lack of posting while the 15 or so activists are at the school meeting. Picks up once they leave. Coincidence? I think not....

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 12, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Haha, Paly Parent! So true.

Posted by Middle School Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

What really makes me upset it that they did not keep records. How can they say that we have so many numbers of bullying, when they do not know themselves what bullying means. If they knew they would had stopped it. How are our kids going to learn not to bullying if they do not get consequences when they do it? Hope they learn the lesson. At the end of the meeting in the open forum there was another mom who said she was a mother of a child with special needs, and that she too was bullied, and the school said that was not really bullying. Sad :)

Posted by Broader Concerns, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 12, 2013 at 11:45 pm

"Watching Meeting" raises important questions. It is hard to imagine a more serious violation of a superintendent's legal and professional responsibilities than deliberate action to conceal from the board and the public a federal Dept of Justice Office of Civil Rights investigation and imposition of a consent agreement. Skelly's "embarassment" as explanation for his deception would be inexcusable to virtually any other governing body. However, as Barabara Klausner revealed in her last months in office, our board functions in an inverted relationship with the superintendent whereby they are generally subordinate to him.
It is important to remember that Skelly did not ever disclose this consent agreement. The board and the public only became aware of it after the Weekly was provided the information.
Also, while Skelly finally admitted his fault in not disclosing the agreement since December, he did not disclose how long he hid the fact of the investigation. Presumably, the investigation was near completion during the the fall school board campaign. Was his concealment also a political act to influence the election outcome? He made it clear to many people his personal oppposition to Ken Dauber's campaign.
Finally, it seems likely that the investigation was ongoing when he received his performance review and contract extention over the summer. If so, it would mean that he witheld very substantial facts for his personal financial and professional benefit. These are very serious issues.

Posted by Let's do something, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2013 at 12:13 am

Tho those who believe that bullying does not cause suicide take a look at t his video. You will changed your mind

Web Link

Posted by Facts, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm

@Let's do something

"Tho those who believe that bullying does not cause suicide take a look at t his video."

Yes, in extremely, extremely rare cases, bullying does lead to suicide. However the vast majority of teenage suicide is down to mental illness.

Read this and you will change your mind: Web Link

We need some perspective, not overreaction.

Posted by friend, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 13, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Bullying does contribute to, if not cause suicide.
These PAUSD directors are hired to mediate between the schools and the state bureaucrats. If they failed to do that then they failed in their jobs.

They should go.

Skelly is a nice guy, but this is a failure that is reason enough.

Posted by Facts, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm


Bullying contributes to a lot of things but it is unhelpful to equate bullying with suicide as "Let's do something", "Janet" and others in this thread have tried to do.

No one is saying we shouldn't stamp on bullying. However, missing the straight-A popular student because you are fixating on a extremely rare profile is dangerous.

To deal with suicide, we need to educate and recognize mental health issues.

Posted by Jen, a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

Inclusive practices bring us closer to realizing the potential of kids with disabilities. More segregated environments give a place for behaviors to be carried out with fewer people watching, less transparency, and more disclosure as to what is being done behind closed doors. Read the research behind it before bringing into question whether or not people should be included in their communities and classrooms. There is a base of research that exists that shows the benefits for not only the kids with disabilities, but their peers and the teachers who support them.

Not all inclusive environments are rich with understanding of individuals and their needs. That is an issue for more professional development, more conversations and understanding with the students and the staff...the answer is not to put kids back in segregated environments, nor to be afraid to include kids in meaningful ways, but rather to beg the question of whether the culture of a particular school is a healthy place for kids to thrive, and addressing the needs of the context and culture to make it so.

Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 15, 2013 at 9:42 am

Jen - I totally agree that inclusion has many benefits but I feel like we include kids who would have been in special day classes with mainstream kids without giving the teachers and students any guidance besides "include these kids". PE is a classic spot for any kids to get bullied and teased in middle school anyway and at least at Jordan and Paly, most of the teachers are not exactly warm and friendly. Yet we include special needs kids in PE without giving them any support (unless a fellow student happens to be their defender, which happens).

Not to blame the victim at all in this case, but the young person who is the subject of this case had the same bullying experience at two different schools. Was he given any guidance in improving his interactions with other students to help with the problem? Was he given a "buddy" at either school who might have helped him fit in?

Posted by Jen, a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2013 at 10:04 am

Palo Alto parent,
I am just now becoming aware of the specifics of this case, and I don't know if there was a "buddy" or coaching for this student specifically around interactions. It would appear that the answer to that question is "no".

I believe there should be attention given in the ways you mention, and much more. What is needed are individual goals for kids who would benefit from social coaching, more intereactions in the general education environments which are supported and taught specifically based on individual student's needs, and attention to training teachers and students in ways that create more understanding of individuals and their unique needs.

Kids need the opportunity to practice their social skills, as well as their academic skills, in real environments with natural feedback and supports that happen between kids.

If those interactions are negative, then attention needs to be given specific to those contexts - is it a systemic issue? Is it an individual student's needs issue? Is it a teacher training issue? Is it a school culture issue?

Increased awareness around differences, purposeful planning around creating inclusive cultures that support all students, and then individual needs assessments for kids with 504s and IEPs to meet their unique needs across the day are necessary.

My initial point was to comment on how putting them back in a segregated class where they don't get to practice their skills in an inclusive setting - social skills, resiliency skills, academic skills, functional skills - is a mistake. Not only do the students need to have increased numbers of interactions to learn from, but they need to have increased numbers of environments to learn them in, so they can apply what they learn going forward.

Practicing these skills in a segregated special day class limits the transferance of these skills greatly, and sets up a situation where teachers work in isolation, with a possible result of not being transparent and accountable.

Teachers who work together create systems of support for students to work together. Separating the teachers from one another will cause the students to be separate from one another.

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