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District struggles to develop policy for handling bullying

Original post made on Mar 13, 2014

Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he will rewrite a proposed school district policy on bullying after his latest version was criticized Wednesday by parents as well as members of the Board of Education's Policy Review Committee.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 13, 2014, 12:45 PM

Comments (24)

Posted by more poor reporting, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm

"But parents in the audience complained that the draft lacked sufficient guidelines.
"The procedure (in the draft) is almost entirely illusory," Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber said.""

Describing Michele as a "Parent", while literally correct, is misleading. Michele is not talking as a parent of children attending schools in this district as none of her children attend schools in this district. "Resident" would have been a more appropriate description in this case.


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm

I'm not sure why this matters but for the record, my children have attended Nixon, Terman, JLS, Barron Park, and Gunn. My youngest child currently attends a private middle school. He may or may not attend a PAUSD high school -- that is not currently decided.

Let's start by all agreeing that there are a lot of people involved in the schools who don't currently have kids in the schools including members of the PTAC board, the PSN steering committee, and members of the school board. Let's next agree that some people without kids currently in the schools might be in the best position to work on some of these issues because they have a longer-range perspective, and because they don't fear retaliation against their children.

I have noticed that some people have tried for a long time to delegitimate my views because of this fact. I have actually heard all kinds of things in this vein, including Dr. Skelly's interesting comment that our kids who attended Gunn were not "typical Gunn kids" presumably because one had an IEP and another didn't like all the homework. I did not ask him what he meant by that, but I'm sure I am about to find out.

We all mean well and we all have our own views on what would be a good bullying policy. We may disagree about what the specifics of that policy should be, but that does not mean that we are disqualified from offering our views. I think a focus on the substance of my comment, which is that there should be a timeline, a written decision, and an appeal to the district would be a great conversation.


Posted by parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2014 at 2:03 pm

What do other school districts do? Surely, ours can't be the only district with this issue, and we needn't necessarily reinvent or create something entirely new, when there must be some successful examples available!

stopbullying.gov has policy recommendations (notably, including cyber-bullying, which seems pertinent, considering recent cases) as well as a US Dept. of Education's nation-wide survey of 11 key components, and the CA Dept. of Ed. also has a sample policy (Web Link). Timelines are not specified (since these are guidelines) but community discussions on what is "reasonable" are encouraged.

"Repeated" comments against "legal requirements" for "non-protected classes" by the lawyer seem adversarial. Developing a good policy would help everyone--not only the kids, who should be first priority, but also the school district.


Posted by more poor reporting, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm

The article implied it was parents of children in the district that were critical of the proposal. You've confirmed my comment that you aren't a parent of a child in the district.

I said nothing about your views, my comment was about the report.

It should have stated "residents" and not "parents". The article is sloppy and there is no excuse for such poor reporting.


Posted by Duveneck parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 13, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Thank goodness that Heidi Emberling is now on the BPRC. Heidi is an expert in the field of bullying; her contribution will be very valuable. At the meeting yesterday, it was clear that Dora Dome was approaching the policy from the viewpoint of only addressing bullying as defined in the Ed code; she stated as much. The Ed code only defines bullying as the most egregious behavior with the remedies of suspension and expulsion.

I am very hopeful that the next policy we see will be more in line with the community's values.


Posted by Addison parent, a resident of Addison School
on Mar 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm

This is a very interesting article, thank you. I hope that Ms. Emberling stays involved in this issue. She sounds very sensible. Thanks also to the parents who have taken their time to track this policy and to try to make it better for all the children of the district.


Posted by School parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Editor: This story probably should be listed in Town Square under "School and Kids" not "Around Town." Thanks for looking into it.


Posted by Lame duck, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 13, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Skelly is pretty much a lame duck superintendent at this point-- a powerless figurehead. He should. to be allowed to write or say much of anything for the remainder of his time here.


Posted by Educator, a resident of Woodside
on Mar 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Educator is a registered user.

Why is the Superintendent writing policy?

The CSBA (California School Boards Association) provides appropriate versions of policies, which can be tailored specifically for each District. They also provide full review of existing Board Policies to ensure they are Ed code compliant and appropriate. Let the trained professionals write polices.


Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2014 at 9:50 pm

The reason that the district is not using the CSBA model bullying policy is that the CSBA strongly recommends that districts use their Uniform Complaint Procedures to resolve complaints of bullying regardless of whether or not they involve bullying based on a 'protected class' like race, gender, sexual harassment, or disability:

"Though some bullying incidents may not fall within the provisions of Education Code 234.1, CSBA strongly recommends that districts use their uniform complaint procedures when investigating all bullying incidents to ensure consistent implementation by district staff."

Here is a link to the CSBA model bullying policy: Web Link

PAUSD does not want to do this. PAUSD wants to have its own unique policy that maintains site-based handling of bullying without any procedure or accountability.

The other reason that PAUSD seems to want its own unique policy is that it wants to define bullying in an incredibly narrow manner. Instead of defining bullying consistent with educational and social science research, PAUSD wants to define it based on the Ed Code defintion of extreme bullying that can justify suspension and expulsion.

This means something that people do not yet fully understand. It means that nothing will be covered by the district's policy unless it is so violent or otherwise extreme that it would justify a suspension or an expulsion. It must be causing serious damage to a child before it would even be covered. Even after that, parents of a child who has been thus damaged would have no procedural rights at all. No timeline, no appeal from a principal's action or inaction.

Here are some questions:

1. Why is the district deviating from CSBA's "strong recommendation" to use the UCP for all bullying?
2. Why is the district allowing Dora Dome, whom PAUSD hired as a consultant to do disability harassment trainings for staff to play such an outsized role in policy formulation? It is surprising to anyone with any legal training to see her so strongly advocating for her opinion that PAUSD should not have a bullying policy that provides even a modicum of rights to parents and students who have been bullied when CSBA (a school-board trade association, with a general counsel) strongly recommends the direct opposite view.

Why should PAUSD listen to Dora Dome rather than CSBA?


Posted by Skung, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2014 at 7:24 am

Save the praise that two of you are posting for board member Heidi Emberling. The assertion that she is an expert on bullying would be laughable if this latest revelation of district dysfunction wasn't so serious. Heidi has had over a full year to demonstrate any competence as a board member and I would assert her performance has been a cringe-worthy failure. I more than welcome opposing viewpoints in this matter. As for the other expert, Dora Dome, she is indeed an expert. I know this because she has self-promoted this label without actually having to say it, you know, lawyer-style. And lawyers are what Heidi, the board, and superintendent Kevin Skelly have spent the last six years buying and spending their time with. Every educator knows that the focus must always be on children, but the folks at 25 Churchill have appeared to not do that. And now Kevin Skelly is going to attempt to save the day by writing a policy after years of whining that this is hard work or that he is sorry that he messed up and that he wants to get better [portion removed.] Mr. Skelly, you have hired dozens of administrative folks in six years and what has happened is that a bunch left, some fled, and the ones you have are the ones who are supposed to have handled this latest mess, but really all messes. Skelly and all his friends at Leadership Associates (this is a fact, Weekly, confirm it by asking him) know that the superintendent leads and directs. Sure, it's a good symbolic show he is putting on in these last three months, but copying and pasting an existing CSBA policy or the UCP is supposed to be done by Brenda Carrillo, and if she fails at it, it gets kicked up to the assistant superintendent, Charles Young. As always, I await Skelly's reply from his Weekly Communication, which he did not complete last Friday.


Posted by Self dealing?, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 14, 2014 at 7:53 am

Skelly is going to be working for Leadership Associates as a superintendent headhunter after he leaves PAUSD.


Posted by protect whom, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2014 at 10:53 am

reading this story and posts for months has led me to the conclusion that the district wants to protect the bully and only the bully. meaning they want to make sure there are no written reports or files or actions that could be traced to a specific student who is repeatedly bullying others. so perhaps the district can be said to protecting at least one (and seemingly only one) class of student.....the bully. I am confused as to why they would chose this route but it is pretty clear this is the group of kids they want to protect.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2014 at 10:55 am

Bullying is bullying regardless of the district, town or state it takes place in. Why should the CSBA model be tailored specifically to PAUSD? This district's reluctance adopt the CSBA policy is a result of the district's refusal to be accountable to bullying or to do much of anything about it. We are special, our little darlings don't really bully other students.


Posted by Powertrip Observer, a resident of Addison School
on Mar 14, 2014 at 12:13 pm

What I loved most about the meeting was having Camille stand up and stomp her foot in fury that she wasn't in control of the meeting. She pulled an Al Haig "I am in charge" tantrum and told Skelly off for trying to respond to a parent question. If that isn't bullying, I don't know what is!

Even more hilarious was her trying to assert that her behavior was an example of how everyone should be treating each other as we counter bullying.

Better than reality TV


Posted by bobgnote, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm

bobgnote is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

Bullying is going to happen, folks. Since our US Constitution was written, by slave-owners, for the exploitation, of virtual slaves, by bureaucrats, which are virtual slave-owners, and the religious-media-affected have failed, to sufficiently cross-breed, corruption and stupidity have married, many times, since ratification, of the flawed Madison-Mason media, 225 years ago.

[Portion removed.]


Posted by Ellen C., a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 14, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I found it curious that the proposed process had 4 forms that were perceived as burdensome to fill out. My guess is that much of the information on the 4 proposed forms was the same and with a small does of some of our silicon valley technology, a web based program could be written that would duplicate the duplicate information into all the forms, leaving only the fields that are unique to a particular form to be completed.

Perhaps our administrators are overburdened with paperwork and alternatives should be investigated to help them comply with a process that both lightens the administrative load while ensuring a proper paper trail and accountability to protect our students from bullying. Simply eliminating the forms without considering how to keep them but make it easier to fill them out doesn't seem like the right path (apologies if that was considered - the article didn't say).


Posted by Roger, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 14, 2014 at 2:11 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 15, 2014 at 6:47 pm

@ Ellen C

Here is a link to the four "bullying" forms that were provided to the principals last fall: Web Link


Posted by Forward, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 15, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Thanks to the Weekly for an informative story. It's too bad that we can't watch a recording, it sounds like it was a very interesting meeting.
Heidi appears to be stepping forward with a balanced perspective on this issue. The public will need to let the rest of the board know that that they support her position if she is to have success on the final policy.
I am sorry to hear how Skelly was treated by Camille. I have not always agreed with him, but he is still the superintendent and should be treated accordingly by the committee chair.


Posted by Skung, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Camille is not mistreating Skelly. Despite warnings for years,she has rewarded him with pay raise after pay raise. This little bit of theater means nothing, perhaps less than Barbara Klausner's 2012 faux-outrage that preceded a pay raise and contract extension. And the latest public relations praise for Heidi Emberling? Kind of weird because just because she is no expert on bullying and her membership on the board has been a mistake.


Posted by Camille not a good model, a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Camille just gave us an example of how bullying takes place at school and workplace. She was very rude to Skelly, who actually deserves to be treated like that, but not in public. If I was Skelly I would eel very embarrased. For the first time he was to respond to a parent, and Camille told her I am in control, shut up. Hmm! I am wonder why our kids behave like that. By the way she also treated other parents at the same meeting like dirt, except that the parents were nog getting paid almost $300,000 per yera. I guess with a pay like that, I will shout my mouth too. May be there is nothing wrong with Dr. Skelly, but with our board members who wanto to be on control. Time to get new board members too.


Posted by Hurricane Camille, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 16, 2014 at 8:40 am

I would like to see a video of this meeting. I heard from one of the parents who was there that Camille was inappropriate to the Superintendent to the point where several people afterwards said they felt like bystanders. Ironically, similar to the feeling after Barb Mitchell shut down the middle school girl at the board meeting a month ago. Skelly sat through that episode without interrupting. Maybe objecting would have been a better idea.

I guess a decade on the board is causing some of our neighbors to have delusions of royalty.


Posted by Dorky, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Kevin Skelly should just keep,his hands off of anything and everything and keep his mouth shut for the remainder of his term here. Do not let him cause anymore trouble. His legacy is rotten enough without it.


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