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OCR finds retaliation by San Carlos schools from IEP meeting recording

Original post made by PAUSD Parent, Old Palo Alto, on Mar 15, 2014

A Daily News article reported yesterday that the OCR found retaliation by the San Carlos School District in a case based on a complaint filed by the parents of a child with special needs.

According to facts outlined in the OCR's letter of finding, as reported in the Daily News, the retaliation against the family resulted from a district official contacting the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office and claiming the child's father secretly and illegally taped an IEP meeting with district educators.

A sheriff's deputy went to the family's home, but found no proof of a crime being committed.

The school district's attorney had allegedly advised school staff that under state law, it's illegal to record conversations without the consent of all participants. But state law does not apply to IEP meetings, the OCR's letter said.

The OCR found the call to law enforcement to be caused by the parents' advocacy actions on behalf of their child, and therefore was a form of retaliation prohibited by law due to its "deterrent and chilling effect on parents and their willingness to actively participate in their own children's education and advocate on their behalf." There was no harm sufficient to warrant such involvement by law enforcement.

See the full story at:

Web Link

Comments (60)

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Posted by Frustrated Mom
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 15, 2014 at 10:47 pm

I hope PAUSD is reading this, so they can save themselves some problems. They usually tell us to send a 24 hours notice if we, parents are planning to record the meeting. I guess now that we do not really had to do it. Palo Alto Education Department needs to improve so much. Things went down when Zepecky became the special education director, and now we have touch the ground with Holy Wade, hope that one of these days she gave us the good news before we hear of another suit because special educations students' rights are violated again. She should go along with Huertas, another person who contributed to the violation of the student in the first OCR case.


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2014 at 6:37 am

The paper reports that the parent "had recorded an earlier meeting." The teacher believed that the parent illegally recorded the subsequent meeting.

She was so concerned that she reported it up the chain of authority and the district hired an attorney to advise it. The district reported her suspicion to the authorities and, because illegal recording is a crime, the police investigated.

All the police can go on, without devoting substantial resources to the case, is the parent's word. The parent denied it. Based on the parent's denial, the police closed its investigation. The parent turned to the OCR claiming that the police investigation violated the child's rights.

This sure puts both parties between a rock and hard place. No parent wants the police at his door. But if a school district suspects that a state criminal law has been violated, the police are the ones who investigate.

The OCR says that the district should have just asked the parent directly. Suppose it had and the parent said no. If the teacher still believed the meeting had been recorded and then called the police, the OCR would not have been happy: "a call [to the police] should be made only when the harm is sufficient enough to warrant such involvement."

The message OCR is sending is that school districts must replace CA criminal laws with OCR's guidance: ignore suspected criminal activities unless you can PROVE something illegal happened and, even then, call the police ONLY IF the violation caused "sufficient" harm – i.e., after the harm has been done. That a crime may have been committed is, alone, irrelevant.

The OCR has a very important role to play as a mediation and advisory organization, but it is not a legislator, a judge or investigator/police. The OCR does not have the authority to override, re-write or massage CA laws.

Parents, before you bring hidden tape recorders, become versed in what the federal government and state authorities say.

OCR Letter

"Federal privacy law ...does not give that party the absolute right to [tape record IEP meetings] . ..An individual State may have its own statutory or constitutional provisions that will govern this issue."

"because there are no Federal statutes that authorize or prohibit the tape recording of an IEP meeting by either a parent or a school official, a State educational agency (SEA) or school district has the option to require, prohibit, limit, or otherwise regulate the use of tape recorders at IEP meetings. "


California Law

Penal Code 632. (a) Every person who, intentionally and without the consent of all parties to a confidential communication, by means of any electronic amplifying or recording device, eavesdrops upon or records the confidential communication...shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison, or by both that fine and imprisonment."

San Carlos Board Policy

"Parents/guardians and the district shall have the right to audiotape the proceedings of IEP meetings, provided members of the IEP team are notified of this intent at least 24 hours before the meeting." AR 6159(d)

PAUSD Policy

The same. Web Link


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Posted by Publius
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 16, 2014 at 8:19 am

OCRs determination is that the purpose of the call to the police was to retaliate in violation of federal law. That does not mean that recording is lawful only that districts should refrain from calling the police if their motive for doing so is retaliatory. The weight of the suspected illegal behavior has to be balanced against the chilling effect of the retaliation. If so then federal law is, under our system of government, supreme. Palo Alto has insufficient familiarity with the Supremacy Clause. Also with common sense. It doesn't take a constitutional scholar to know that calling the police to report the suspected recording of an IEP meeting is dumb. The weight of the suspected illegal behavior has to be balanced against the chilling effect of the retaliation.


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Posted by Correction
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 16, 2014 at 8:28 am

"a tough spot for all" says "The OCR has a very important role to play as a mediation and advisory organization, but it is not a legislator, a judge or investigator/police."

This statement is inaccurate. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights law in the area of education. While it does provide mediation and advice, it also investigates and can sanction districts that aren't complying with the law. See Web Link.

As to this case, it's hard to know what actually happened without the underlying letter. It appears that OCR believes that when school staff call the police to report an unsupported allegation of criminal conduct by a parent without evidence and without contacting the parent, that has the potential to unlawfully deter parents from advocating with the district on behalf of their child's rights under federal law. That seems reasonable to me.


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Posted by Palo Alto Lawyer
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 16, 2014 at 9:24 am

The above post (Tough Spot) does not present the whole picture. It is not so tough after all.

First, the actual state law: California Penal Code 632(a) states that "Every person who, intentionally and without the consent of all parties to a confidential communication, by means of any electronic amplifying or recording device, eavesdrops upon or records the confidential communication, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison, or by both that fine and imprisonment."

The term "confidential communication" is defined by subsection (c) as including "any communication carried on in circumstances as may reasonably indicate that any party to the communication desires it to be confined to the parties thereto, but excludes a communication made in a public gathering or in any legislative, judicial, executive or administrative proceeding open to the public, or in any other circumstance in which the parties to the communication may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded."

According to the Daily News report, the OCR's letter to the San Carlos schools said that state law does not apply to an IEP meeting. That's because communication during an IEP meeting is not reasonably considered a "confidential communication" (among its participants and as defined in the Penal Code), and because important federal anti-discrimination laws are in place to protect the interests of the special needs students so that they are not retaliated against by those public officials who would, without proper justification, try to wield the state criminal laws against them.

In applying state law, the key element is whether the communication is of the type that is reasonably expected to be private and not recorded, and thus "confidential." The IEP is not such a meeting.

Under California state law the school officials can hardly expect their communications during an IEP meeting to be private and unrecorded, and especially if they are informed at the time, it is hard to imagine any legal or legitimate reason to deny consent to a recording.

The official school rule (not part of the state Penal Code) is that a parent must provide 24-hour written notice in order to have a right to record an IEP meeting; the value of this technicality is questionable as it operates more often to trip up the unwary parent, and appears to serve no overriding state or school interest.

The parent has a right to record the IEP meeting under the law, as the OCR is making clear. And there are good reasons for this parental prerogative.

Having a recording of a meeting can be very helpful to a parent in understanding the complex issues involving their child, as IEP meetings often involve multiple professional opinions and reports. It can be an important aid to a parent's decision-making and in formulating effective advocacy for the health and education of their child.

For a school official to deny this right to a parent, based upon an arbitrary technicality like 24-notice, is not consistent with the parent serving the best interests of their child. Recording also can keep the district accountable for facts stated, and commitments made. No harm in that.

No school district should seek to use an IEP meeting recording against the parents. State law doesn't prohibit this type of recording under the Penal Code, and to claim that it does, in this context particularly, constitutes unlawful retaliation against the parent. This is what the OCR is saying. It's not so difficult to understand.


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2014 at 10:45 am

Really?

"school officials can hardly expect their communications during an IEP meeting to be private and unrecorded" - There is CA Penal Code 632 that makes recording without consent illegal, so not having the meeting recorded would be a reasonable expectation to have.

"communication during an IEP meeting is not reasonably considered a 'confidential communication' (among its participants and as defined in the Penal Code)" - Care to cite some, any, authority for this?

I can't imagine a communication that should be more private and confidential than one that has to do with a minor's disability, physical or mental. Have you heard of FERPA, the federal law that protects the privacy of "records that schools maintain on special education students, including records on services provided to students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?" Certainly those would be available and discussed at the hearing.

Read the law and my post carefully.

The OCR says that "Federal privacy law ...does not give that party the absolute right to [tape record IEP meetings] . ..An individual State may have its own statutory or constitutional provisions that will govern this issue... a school district has the option to require, prohibit, limit, or otherwise regulate the use of tape recorders at IEP meetings. "

and

In California, it is not illegal to record an IEP hearing IF everyone consents. In this case, San Carlos consented provided that it was given 24 hours notice. There is nothing unreasonable with that request if even the only purpose it serves is to give the district time to get set up to record it too which deters some from cut and pasting excerpts out of context. Anyone who records without that "consent" invokes the criminal statutes and should be aware that the district can have the police investigate.

An OCR rep may not be happy about that but it can't override state criminal laws. It's only authority is to administer the federal civil rights laws. If that law is silent on recording, which it is, it must defer to the state criminal law until it convinces Congress to write federal laws that will preempt all states' criminal privacy laws, which is not likely to happen.

Here the OCR did the first in response to what it called "retaliation." It convinced the school district to let its employees know that it is not OK to retaliate.

Why can't the family just give the 24 hour notice? I'd think an illegal recording would be inadmissible in court.


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Posted by Correction
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 16, 2014 at 11:12 am

@a tough spot for all

You seem confused about FERPA. An IEP meeting is not confidential from the parents. It would violate FERPA for the school district to release information to third parties about a student (as PAUSD did in the case involving the child with the cystic fibrosis gene, for example). It doesn't violate FERPA for the parents to discuss their child's education with the school district, or to record the meeting. Here's a link about FERPA from the US Dept. of Education: Web Link

I wonder what drives school district staff to an adversarial relationship with special ed parents, to the point where they are calling the police on them (as in San Carlos), suing them (as in Poway), or refusing to protect them against bullying or nickel-and-dime kids with extreme disabilities (as here in Palo Alto). Is it resentment that federal law protects them, so district staff can't just do as they wish without oversight?


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm

"what drives school district staff to an adversarial relationship with special ed parents"

Answer: Limited resources and a law that is wide open to interpretation.

Assume a district has $100 million to spend on 10,000 students, 10% of whom are disabled. Normally it would have $10,000 to spend on each but if each IEP student was granted special accommodations such as private school placement, full time aide, etc to the tune of $50,000/year, the math works out like this:

IEP students at $50k each: total cost for 1,000 students = $50 million.

Other 9,000 students' funding gets cut almost in half, from $10,000 to $5,555 for the other $50 million.

Even at half that - $25k/IEP student - funding for the other students is cut 20%.

And that's not factoring in the extremely high cost of educating severally disabled children which can be 4 times that per child per year.

These are what are called unfunded mandates - laws that impose costs on school districts without providing additional funding. Palo Alto CAC: "Section 504 and ADA are unfunded mandates. IDEA, despite what you may have heard, does provide funds for special education, albeit a paltry amount."

If the state or federal governments funded these mandates you'd see districts happy to do more, perhaps even go beyond what the law requires.

Add to that that the standard of "an appropriate education" is nonspecific and so creates sides and strife. What a parent ideally thinks is best for his child can differ significantly from what educators believe is best and even differ from federal law which favors mainstreaming:

Department of Education: "The law requires that students with disabilities be educated along with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the students with disabilities. This means that students with disabilities must be assigned to regular courses or classes if the students' needs can be met there. .. Students with disabilities may be placed in a separate class or facility only if they cannot be educated satisfactorily in the regular educational setting ..."


If current trends continue, this situation will not get any better any time soon. Special education enrollment throughout the US has increased markedly in recent years which means more demand for funds which have not increased with that demand.


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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2014 at 3:00 pm

And here's to a reason to conduct physical search in middle school - $20.
Police????? link - Web Link


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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 16, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Calling special education services an "unfunded mandate" from the federal government misses the point. From that perspective, the state requirement that school be in session 175 days each year is an "unfunded mandate" from the state, since it doesn't come with a check that covers the full cost of complying. Similarly, high school isn't an "unfunded mandate," even though it's probably more expensive per student to run a high school than an elementary school. These are all funded mandates: they are funded by the taxes and contributions we levy on ourselves as local, county, state, and federal citizens.

The real question is, what do we as a community want to do for our children? I believe that we're committed to providing all of the children in the district a free, appropriate public education that serves their needs. Some children need more resources in order to make that happen than others. In my experience, parents and community members in Palo Alto are willing -- even eager -- to provide each child what they need in order to benefit from a public education.

So we are taking care of children with IEPs because we are committed to their education, not because we're forced to by the federal government. We're taxing ourselves at various levels of government in order to fund that commitment. Would we do away with those services if we weren't required to provide them? Carving out some students' needs -- the ones written into IEPs and 504 plans -- and calling them an "unfunded mandate" and an unwarranted burden isn't accurate, and isn't consistent with our community value for each child.

Practically, I don't see evidence that serving the needs of children with special education services is creating material hardship in the district, compared to a situation in which they were somehow absent. On the revenue side, looking at the 2012-13 district budget book (I couldn't locate the 2013-14 version), I count about $10 million in revenue that's tied to special education, of a total budget of around $161 million - see Web Link.

If there are strains in the relationship between the district and special education families, I don't believe that budget constraints are the fundamental source -- particularly in Palo Alto. Based on my conversations, I think it has more to do with working to improve areas such as clear communication, clear and reliable processes for addressing concerns, and accountability for delivering and measuring services.


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Posted by Déjà vu
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2014 at 9:15 pm

So, according to the OCR, state law does not apply to an IEP meeting. That's because communication during an IEP meeting is not reasonably considered a "confidential communication".

However, I fear the result of this ruling is similar to the end of summer school's w/scholarships. Forcing districts to only offer completely free summer schools forced districts to stop offering summer school enrichment programs.

Effectively the OCR is forcing all IEP meetings to be openly recorded since one side can secretly record them. What will the be the result? Probably reducing open communication between district and parents and both sides lawyering up.

And you'd thought dealings with the OCR couldn't get any more adversarial...


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Posted by Déjà vu,
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2014 at 9:24 pm

As you state, Ken, there is a budget. All that money is being spent. What happens when the budget overruns?

Consider the recent request: Web Link
"continued provision of an in-home educational program designed to meet his unique educational needs arising from his disability, including 40 hours a week of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, two hours per week of individual speech and language services and two hours per week of individual occupational therapy services."

Is that already accounted for in the existing $10m budget? Probably not. Should the district just provide these services? That a full-time in-house specialist and significant other resources. Way beyond $50,000 a year.

Do we need to adjust our budgets? Possibly. But you are naive to believe there is no monetary impact on the budget.


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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2014 at 9:30 pm

@Déjà vu - The following is copied from the link listing PAUSD policies. Thank you, "a tough spot for all", for providing the link, above.

"...Audio Recording of IEP Team Meetings
Parents/guardians and the Superintendent or designee shall have
the right to audio record the proceedings of IEP team meetings, provided members of the IEP team are notified of this intent at least 24 hours before the meeting. ..."

And, here's, again, to a reason to conducting physical search in a PAUSD Middle school - $20.
I hope this time the link I list will work - Web Link


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Posted by Déjà vu
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2014 at 9:41 pm

@VP, It was always possible if all people agreed. The OCR's ruling has just made this mandatory.


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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 16, 2014 at 10:24 pm

@Deja vu, My point is that the first question that we should (and do) ask is, What do these students need in order to benefit from their education? That's not just for children with IEPs, that's for everyone. That drives all of our expenditures, from classrooms to athletics to drama programs to TOSAs to journalism programs, and so on. At some point in the priority list, we run out of budget and at the margin have to make some hard choices. But we shouldn't carve out one set of needs, written down in IEPs, and say that those represent an "unfunded mandate" and if we don't see dedicated dollars to pay for them then we're not going to do it, even if the need exists. That makes as much sense as saying we're going to shut down the journalism program at Paly because it doesn't have a dedicated funding stream that pays its whole cost.


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 7:30 am

Ken Dauber,

You make it sound like every child's needs except special education students are met in our district. That is not true. The difference is this. Some parents demand that their child's needs be met and have access to a federal agency and your advocacy group We Can Do Better to help and represent them. Others whose children's needs are not met accept that public education requires trade offs.

Anyway, it is misleading to point to special education revenue of $9 million as proof that PAUSD doesn't devote much to educating our special education students.

Why didn't you share what that report says about special education spending? It shows that PAUSD spent $30 million on special education students which works out to about 20% of the budget being spent on 10% of the students.

You say "parents and community members in Palo Alto are willing -- even eager -- to provide each child what they need in order to benefit from a public education."

How much extra are you contemplating? Are you just pushing for special education students? What about funding the "needs" of all children in our district - English learners, pre-schoolers, those who would benefit from smaller class sizes, minorities and 1st generation students who could use more college support, more vocational electives, math tutoring for kids lost with Everyday Math, more reading specialists, more guidance counselors, organic cafeteria food, a computer for homework in every home, free summer school, more aides on the playground to police bullying, gifted student services and programs, language immersion for global citizenship, iPads for all? The "needs" list is long and quite varied.

Once you have nailed down a dollar amount for all of that and possibly more, where will this support "parents and community members in Palo Alto are ...eager to provide" come from?

PiE struggles mightily to raise just 3% of the district's budget.

Increased taxes? Perhaps you are not aware of this but, unlike schools in Illinois, Massachusetts, New York etc, CA schools are not able to raise the money they need by just setting tax rates. Proposition 13 put an end to that decades ago. Parcel taxes are the only way to raise taxes now and local people already pay $600 more to generate just 7% of our budget.

Are you thinking that PAUSD voters would OK doubling or tripling the next parcel tax so our schools can cover what each parent says their child needs? Parcel taxes hit the low-income community hard so there is a limit to what we can ask so that we don't force those families to move out. Ask the parcel tax committee for the maximum our community said it would support. My guess: the $600/year we get now.

Please don't mention reducing waste as a full response either. All the funds the district spends on PR and legal fees responding to a few parents' complaints and lawsuits demanding that more money be spent on their child's unique needs likely adds up to less than 1% of the budget, which is a fraction of what it would cost the district to do what members from your group We Can Do Better call for - just meet those demands each K-12 year. I don't rubber stamp stuff very often but here, where we have very little public information, I trust that the school board has decided that those claims unreasonable (see mention above of parent suing the district for 40 hours/week of 1-on-1 aides when in-school classes with 1 teacher for 30 students only meets 25 or so hours/week). That is why they are fighting back.

That leaves lowering expenses. Since 90% of the budget goes to salaries, are you suggesting that the district roll back wages or increase class sizes so there will be fewer teachers to pay? I doubt that there is support for either of these since they could make things worse for all students, including those in our special education program.


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Posted by Déjà vu
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2014 at 7:39 am

Ken, you're now hiding behind platitudes.


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 9:05 am

I am not an expert but this from the US Supreme Court might set a floor on reasonable special education students' needs: "sufficient to confer some educational benefit"

And this would be above the ceiling: "To require... the furnishing of every special service necessary to maximize each handicapped child's potential is, we think, further than Congress intended to go. "


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Posted by jam
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

a tough spot for all,

"PAUSD spent $30 million on special education students which works out to about 20% of the budget being spent on 10% of the students."

It would be good to know how this number is spent more specifically. Is it actually serving 10% of PAUSD students? It could be that 90% of special ed kids are getting only a fraction of the budget.

This is reminding me of affordable housing. If you cannot afford to pay for it, how do you decide to sell the family heirlooms, or change everything, to benefit what are ongoing needs that are impossible to fulfill for all.

Isn't there some reasonable standard to work with? The law may ask that students with disabilities should be educated in the school to the maximum possible, but once the student goes to a separate facility, do the schools have to pay the maximum of the cost of the education outside of the schools?

In the case of the family with allergies, the cost of private education at home would be due to a fear that an allergic accident could be more likely in school than at home. This seems more like a medical cost, not an educational cost.


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Posted by jam
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 9:21 am

a tough spot,

"I am not an expert but this from the US Supreme Court might set a floor on reasonable special education students' needs: "sufficient to confer some educational benefit"

I just noticed your post about reasonable, which speaks to my question about a reasonable standard.

It makes sense that the language refers to "educational" benefit. Schools have natural limits to providing high levels of medical or clinical support which would be the case for protecting a student from special conditions related to allergies.


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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2014 at 9:58 am

I don't see any evidence that special education families are demanding large increases in spending, or that the district can't handle the current level of expenditures, or that anyone is saying that the district should provide "whatever parents want" without an assessment of educational need. I think that may be why "tough spot" is offering instead fictional scenarios in which special education services consume half of a district's resources or the parcel tax needs to be tripled, and is citing one case of a child with extreme handicaps as if they were the norm.

As I said in my post above: "If there are strains in the relationship between the district and special education families, I don't believe that budget constraints are the fundamental source -- particularly in Palo Alto. Based on my conversations, I think it has more to do with working to improve areas such as clear communication, clear and reliable processes for addressing concerns, and accountability for delivering and measuring services." Talking about "unfunded mandates" distracts attention from addressing real issues where improvements could happen without much increased expense -- for example, creating an ombudsman for facilitating and coordinating communication with the district, as the CAC has proposed in the past.


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Posted by Déjà vu
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2014 at 10:26 am

"I don't see any evidence that special education families are demanding large increases in spending, "

I posted one above. Here it is again: Web Link
"continued provision of an in-home educational program designed to meet his unique educational needs arising from his disability, including 40 hours a week of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, two hours per week of individual speech and language services and two hours per week of individual occupational therapy services."

With 20% of the budget on 10% of the students you are already at 2.25 X per more expenditure per student. Most people in the district would probably accept 3X expenditure per student and, if you look at all the costs, we're probably there now.

What happens at 4X or 5X? The above student would be getting around 20X the funding a non-special ed student would receive.

Ken, at what level are you willing to draw the line? You can't claim this is "fictional", it's happening now. If you're going to get elected, you need to face the facts.


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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2014 at 10:36 am

There's a relevant saying, hard cases make bad law. Focusing on a few outliers as if they were the norm makes no sense. Or are you saying that suddenly all special ed kids will develop severe disabilities? Ken is right on this one. The biggest problem I see with friends whose kids have IEPs is getting the district to document what services have been provided, schedule meetings when they are supposed to, and generally to have an attitude of partnering with parents. Those are not big ticket items.


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Posted by Déjà vu
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:01 am

The whole point of this thread and the point that is being made is that districts fight because of budget constraints.

Ken's proposal that "we just need to communicate better" will balance the books is a non-starter. The reason for these meetings and all the OCR complaints is that parent's want more than is being offered.

Simple question, PP, how will "partnering with parents" resolve the above referenced dispute so we don't have a budget blow-out?

There's a reason Guantanamo is still open after all these years even after there was the will and timeline for it's closure. Things are much harder to do when you are in office and you have to deal with reality.


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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:40 am

@Deja vu, as far as I can remember none of the OCR complaints have been about more educational services. The first one was about not protecting a disabled child from bullying, another was about 504 procedures not being followed, another was about racial discrimination. The Paly one was about sexual harassment, I don't know the status of it. The district is not in hot water with OCR over money. It is about following correct procedures, investigating complaints correctly, and so forth.


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Mr. Dauber,

According to someone's count, 6 special education families filed OCR complaints. You told the school board that it should meet their demands. Were all of their demands cost-neutral?

Early resolution
1. Disability discrimination 2012

Resolution Agreement
2. Disability harassment, 2012

No violations
3. Disability discrimination, 2012
4. Disability harassment, 2012-13
5. Disability harassment, 2012-13

Pending
6. Disability discrimination, Section 504

In the last month or two alone:

The family mentioned above is suing for 40 hours a week of off-site individualized instruction. Web Link

A different disabled child spoke out at a school board meeting saying that she staying home from school until the board provides her full-time private instruction at the facility of her choosing.

Another's parents picketed the district office on behalf of a student refusing to attend school, demanding one-on-one private instruction too.

Those 3 students alone could add $100,000 plus a year to the district's special ed expenses.

And that doesn't include the Jordan family who is suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the 60 parents the paper reports your wife knows of who attended a special education meeting in November who aren't happy either.

You can see why it is confusing reading your statement claiming that there is no "evidence that special education families are demanding large increases in spending."

"Large" is a relative, waffle word. When compared to the full budget of $165 million, some may not consider it to be large. But when compared to the average $10k the district spends on its other students $25k, $50k or $100k/student times X number of students making those demands now or in the future is "large."

Only people who are advising these families like We Can Do Better members know what's waiting in the pipeline.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Thank you, Tough Spot for calling an unfunded mandate what it is. I know some wonderful families whose students are receiving a great deal of support from the district for their special needs students. This is wonderful. However, it is extremely expensive. Ken Dauber is disingenuous when he pretends the problems are about communications and stuff. The bullying would be entirely preventable if every student who might get bullied were to have a full time aide with him/her while on school grounds. But that costs money. I agree that we have many students in our district whose educational needs are not being met, in spite of it being their right. Special needs students are not the only ones with this right. It is the right of all students. This is why we have so many private tutors. This is why we have so many students taking classes off campus at Foothill or another facility. This is why so many of us are taking up the slack at home. Unfortunately, we do not have a bunch of activists using us to prop up their agendas. Funding is the main issue, and it is being wasted on defense against illogical attacks.


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Posted by Coulda woulda shoulda
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 17, 2014 at 4:27 pm

This could very well have happened to PAUSD. The district, administrators, a few teachers, and a few of the BOE members are known to be vindictive.

Thank God Skelly will soon be history,

Then again, maybe it HAS happened here and it just has not been made public yet!


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Posted by They could Have Done Better
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2014 at 10:52 pm

In the first OCR case, the parents gave thedistrict a lot of chances to fix the problem. The parents where not asking for a full time aide when they found out that the child was getting bullied and it was causing detrimental damage. They only needed a aide for recess, lunch and PE, when there are more children and less adults. However Catherine Baker and Damian Huerta's had made the decision to save the $$ for the district, and by doing this the child got bullied even more, and now the district ended up paying more than what 2.5 hours of aide daily? Instead they chose to ignore and caused a big damage to the child who ended up in the residential placement. The district had to pay the residential placement, the lawyers who helped them to deal with OCR, and even more then had to give Katherine Baker a position somewhere else because not parent wanted her at their child's school as a principal. Now they have to continue paying even more services to the child such us special school. I think Damian Huertas and Katherine Baker made a Big mistake when they tried to same the $ only to spend even more. I was glad to read that Damian Huertas is leaving. He should have never come to here thanks to his lack of judgement this child suffer so much, and no private school or money will fix this. Hope he remembers the little child for the rest of his life. He too should be responsible to pay for the detrimental damage that he caused to this child, but again, the $ would never erase those horrible experiences that the child suffer on the hands of so many bullies.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:09 pm

If those posting about unfunded mandates are truly interested in cost savings, they might consider the money that has been wasted on lawyers. For example, the district has spent upwards of $100,000 on the OCR fiasco. The cost to prevent those complaint situations from occurring by having and following proper policies and procedures is a pittance by comparison. And those costs, unlike legal fees, would have benefitted parents and students. Legal fees are a deadweight loss (unless of course you are Fagan, Friedman and Fulfrost or Dora Dome).

Not getting itself into so many scrapes with the law by having good policies and procedures is a prerequisite to complaining about having to spend money on special education or anything else.


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Posted by did
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:35 pm

"This could very well have happened to PAUSD."

You mean has. I have evidence of serious retaliatory action by PAUSD in our situation and very nearly did file a complaint, but did not because, frankly, Kevin Skelly was trying help (no thanks to anyone else).


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Posted by One of the OCR settlements
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:52 pm

@tough spot,
We had to hire legal help just to protect our rights that cost us many thousands of dollars, and have had other expenses related to accommodations the district did not make and medical expenses we incurred because of extra documentation they demanded. We have not asked the district to reimburse us even for the costs we incurred because of what they demanded, nor even for the ongoing medical care because they have not fully implemented the accommodations. We have paid disproportionately to our means relative to what the district outlaid. We have had to decline school trips because of this (including that it just wasn't worth the battles for necessary accommodations, but cost was an issue as well). We have had to take on debt and make other sacrifices, among other things, like seeing our families over the holidays. We have not asked the district for any reimbursement. We can't give to PIE or the school for the duration, but we feel like it comes out in the wash.

I honestly don't know how anyone with lesser means gets help for their children in this district. We need a sea change in the district office. School districts are supposed to be accountable to the parents. And they should be about working with families to do what is best for the kids. Did you know that federal law actually requires districts to proactively identify students who need accommodations and extend them? Do you know how much more many of us pay in property taxes than it would cost us to send our kids to private schools? The law provides these protections for the kids, even if they cost districts money. Our district is spending more money fighting the parents.

I cannot believe what sacrificial, concerned parents we have in this district compared to other places I have lived. You don't know what you are talking about, you just have an axe to grind about litigation. Please go grind it somewhere else. It's as inappropriate as our district's focus on this legalistic, adversarial relationship with parents.


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Posted by One of the OCR settlements
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Maybe we should give parents in PAUSD the option of taking their property tax money and using it for private schools. Then we might see the district change its spending priorities from expensive lawfirms to working with families.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 12:48 am

The fact is, if every student in the district were to actually receive the education he/she is entitled to, the district would run out of money in a month or two. In spite of the mythologizing Palo Altans do to prop up our real estate values and our idea of ourselves, our schools, along with all California public schools are egregiously underfunded, even without any accommodations for special needs students. Once you start providing for the mandate for an equal education for all, funds quickly run short, exposing the gap. Our administrators try and keep a lid on the runaway costs that result from a blank check promised to special needs students, but the OCR forces their hand. The shortfall is actually being supplied by parents of students with no diagnosis requiring an iep in the form of volunteering, fund raising, donating to PIE, hiring tutors, paying to send students for summer classes so that when they take the same class within PAUSD, and the teacher doesn't teach, the student can still pass the test. I'm sorry, but just because you have a special needs student, that does not mean the rest of the district students owe you a perfect education. None of them are getting one either. Instead of nickel and diming the district, you should join the efforts to improve school funding for all.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 1:06 am

By the way, One of the OCR Settlements, they had to hire the expensive lawyers because suits were filed against them. That's how it works. If we all sued the district for an equal education, not only would it go broke immediately, but it would not even begin to solve the problem. The problem is funding. Prop 13. The problem is not that our district set out to oppress certain individuals out of spite.


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 6:27 am

One of the OCR Settlements and They Could Have Done Better and Ken Dauber for that matter,

I am not asking you to move somewhere else so refrain from telling me that I should.

My posts are not personal, just contextual.

Group 1. Like My Take says, there are plenty of students who are not getting a PERFECT education in public school, Palo Alto's included. Their children are affected but their expectations are reasonable and they deal with it. That approach is challenging for the student and family and often costs the family money, but it is equitable and doesn't cost the district more.

Group 2. Others like you file complaints with the federal government and sue the district so their child can get exactly what the parent wants. That costs the district money from staff time to lawyers to advise it on what the law requires to boarding school placement fees. That approach also is challenging for the student and family and costs the family money, but is one solution for one child.

The pot of gold is limited and there is no easy way to get more money so every dollar Group 2 takes out of the pot leaves less to be spent on the students in Group 1.

Those are the facts.

That does not mean that the cost of educating all students should be equal. It shouldn't be. Some have more needs and are more expensive to teach. PAUSD recognizes that by spending overall 2X the amount on special education students as it spends on the rest.

And it doesn't mean that you shouldn't be a squeaky wheel when it comes to your child's needs. In a large public school students and parents need to talk to teachers and go up the chain if egregious things need fixing.

What I don't understand is the anger by some Group 2 parents like you who won.

Accept that it is the district's job - actually responsibility to taxpayers - to say no to unchecked spending requests. It has an obligation to make sure limited tax dollars go as far as they can so it has to investigate, it has to hire lawyers to see what the law requires, it has to advocate for its interests and it has to offer the least expensive fix.

It isn't personal. It's business. And while it is hard to acknowledge that when the "subject" is a child who is struggling, that is the way underfunded school districts are run.

One of the OCR Settlements, I hear your disappointment. It is a glass half empty or half full kind of thing though. You won. Your child was bullied and in a rare moment the district settled and gave you what you wanted - a residential placement perhaps? That has got to cost $100k a year compared to the $10k that is spent on my child who has needs too.

Why are you so angry? Because you had to spend $1,000, prove your case, and miss a few field trips and vacations to get the district to hand over the $1 million it will end up spending on your child?

It will be interesting to see what approach taxpayers prefer in this next election - meeting every child's needs as their parents have defined them and firing some of the other students' teachers to pay for that OR the conservative fiscal management path the district is on now.

Based on Ken Dauber's post above, if he runs for school board he will be the former - the "eager to provide each child what they need" candidate.

As Ken Dauber's complete silence in reply to my questions on the fiscal management side demonstrates, one cannot be "eager to provide" to all and a fiscal realist too.


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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2014 at 7:27 am

"a tough spot" is for some reason trying to have a debate over a position that no one, including me, is advocating: that the school district should "meet every child's need as their parents have defined them." That's a straw man that doesn't forward the conversation.

What I have said instead that the district should invest some time and attention in addressing its relation with special education families. One such idea is the ombudsman that the CAC, which represents parents of students with disabilities, has proposed. An ombudsman could serve as a vehicle for addressing misunderstandings and conflicts before they become due process hearings or complaints. More broadly, I suggested last fall that the school board adopt a focused goal to analyze whether there are improvements in communication and process that could result in better outcomes. I think that would have been a useful exercise.

As to the OCR finding of civil rights violations in the Terman case, the resolution agreements, and complaints, they stem primarily from failures to follow existing district policies and state and federal requirements. The case that first came to light involved the failure to respond effectively to complaints of bullying of a disabled child. I, along with many other community members, urged the district to engage in an open and transparent process to understand the nature of the problem and to fix it. I also urged that the school board cooperate with federal civil rights investigations, rather than spend time and money on trying to mount a challenge to enforcement of civil rights laws (see my opinion piece at Web Link).

In that op-ed, I suggested among other steps that "the board should reach out to parents of children who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, whether because of disability or other factors, to work towards moving the district towards a more proactive stance in protecting children and responding to issues before they become federal civil rights complaints."

None of that is about spending more money, except for the ombudsman idea. But I would rather spend money on someone to facilitate communication than on outside lawyers to deal with situations that could have been handled more effectively and more cheaply long before that point.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 8:29 am

Mr. Dauber, Once again, it costs a lot of money to keep a special needs student safe from bullying all day every day at school, particularly when that student has a disability that tends to annoy other students. This was the case with one of the OCR cases with which you were involved. The solution to that problem, which would be a literal interpretation to the equal education unfunded mandate, would be to have an aide with that student at all times. This is very costly. It would be great for my child to have an aide all day long to help him/her get an equal education also. My child has to carry around a lot of stuff, and the lockers at school are not useful as they get broken into. How is this a communication issue and not a funding issue? The communication could have been better with these students and their issues with the district, but fixing the problem is not about some vague rule that isn't being followed by a teacher. The teacher has a job which does not allow him/her to follow a special needs or any other child all day long and make sure nobody is mean. It's about the funding, and because you will not admit this, but prefer to fog the issue and encourage these expensive lawsuits instead of working to improve things for all students, I won't be voting for you. I know you have a lot of 'education'. So do I. You have closed yourself off from useful input from your environment. It doesn't make you right.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 18, 2014 at 8:42 am

@my take. [Portion removed.]

The dishonest part: the family did not ask for a full day aide. They asked for an aide during lunch PE and recess when the bullying occurred and there was little supervision. [Portion removed.]

The mean part: we can't afford to keep disabled kids safe from bullying. WTF.


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Posted by PA lawyer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2014 at 8:44 am

The district could use an in house lawyer. Cheaper than paying outside counsel, and more likely to intervene to solve issues rather than get paid to deal with them after the fact.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 8:52 am

[Portion removed.] I do think we should be able to afford to keep disabled students safe from bullying. I have not said any family asked for a full time aide. What I said was, this is what it would take to keep that student safe all day. I think the student should have that protection. However, once again, we do not have enough funding for that, nor for an adequate and equal education for all students. Just because we have a mythology that says so does not make it true. In my opinion, instead of squabbling over the pennies we do have, and draining the district even more, I believe we would all be better served, and our students would be also, if we worked together to improve our schools for all. This means funding. California schools are grossly underfunded. I have said this above if you cared to read my posts rather than make a personal attack. Mr. Dauber prefers to ignore this reality. He would have the district dissolve in an endless series of squabbles over the pennies rather than look at the reason behind the problems. It is funding.


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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

I don't see the issue being funding. When you have a finding that the district violated civil rights law, it's not because PAUSD couldn't afford to protect a child from bullying on the playground. It's because the principal at Terman and district staff didn't follow any procedures at all and allowed the situation to fester. Same thing with San Carlos. Calling the police on a family? WTF, as one poster said.

Some more sunlight would help this situation. I think the school board should have been out front on this. Too close to some staff members who could have used some more guidance.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 9:27 am

Paly Parent, Again, what exact procedures that they did not follow could have prevented this bullying without costing the district money? Effective intervention in a situation like this requires trained professionals on site. The district employees who were found to be in violation because they did not 'follow any procedures at all' were not charged with staying with this student all day to make sure no bullying occurred. What ever the procedures, a solution to the problem would have meant hiring a professional. This blind faith in procedures is a red herring and will have no effect on the plight of bullied students. Yes procedures should have been followed. But that would only be the beginning. You have to have resources to deploy in helping these students. Otherwise your procedures are so much posturing.


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 9:48 am

Ken Dauber,

Better communication is always a good idea but that reply misses the point: what families were asking for cost money.

Just for the children who would benefit from aides to protect them from bullying at recess and lunch, that is 2.5 hours a day 5 days a week per child bullied. If 1% in our schools are bullied, that's 120 students and would cost $3 million or so for extra playground support a year.

The Weekly reports experts say that the number bullied is much much higher than 1% though so multiply the $3 million 10 – 48 times.

- Local Experts: "10 percent as the targets and the remaining 5-7 percent being involved both as the bullying child and the target.

- Weekly: "48 percent reported verbal bullying; 38 percent social bullying; 22 percent physical bullying; and 15 percent electronic bullying. When asked about being bullied once a month (or more) during the past 12 months, the students' response was: 8.9 percent verbal bullying; 6.9 percent social bullying; 2.3 percent physical bullying; and 2.8 percent electronic bullying."

- Your wife Michelle Dauber in response to these numbers: "Palo Alto appears to have much higher rates of bullying"

Web Link

Add more to that total the price tag for private school placements, complex board policies and procedures that require additional staffing to enforce and process, etc.

Again, your claim that you "don't see any evidence that special education families are demanding large increases in spending" is disingenuous.

By my count your advocacy group We Can Do Better has either sponsored or attended at least three public meetings called for the purpose of letting disgruntled families air their complaints and get your help. At least two of these meetings were sponsored and heavily promoted by your group We Can Do Better:

St. Marks Meeting

May 2013: Web Link (The event was co-sponsored by ...We Can Do Better Palo Alto, a group co-founded by 2012 school board candidate Ken Dauber)

November 2013: Web Link ("Michele Dauber, who attended Tuesday's meeting, requested that the state hold a second meeting, saying she was 'personally aware of more than a dozen parents who received no notice'")

Worth underscoring: recently your wife put out a public call for more meetings to reach out to more disgruntled parents she knows.

By these news reports alone, you and your members have personally been in contact with upwards of 200 unhappy parents who think that their child's educational needs are not being met, all of whom are potential claimants.

If all of those needs were met, as you say they can and should be, the cost to the district could be astronomical.

I agree with the above poster that your thinking has you lost in the weeds. It is not a solution to rob one child to pay another and pit parents against each other in a fight for limited education dollars.

What have you and your advocacy group We Can Do Better done to help all students by generating more funds so there is more money to go around?


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Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:10 am

If "a tough spot for all" is a district official or school board member, she is giving a great example of why the district can't seem to get on the right side of the bullying issue and out of trouble with OCR. Is this the story that school board members are telling themselves in the closed meetings that Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom are holding? Is this Mitchell's line for why the district should resist federal oversight of civil rights: it's unreasonable for Palo Alto to comply with the law, because it would bankrupt us? Somehow it would consume the entire district budget?

"tough spot", which parts of the law are you advocating that the district ignore?


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:34 am

Wow,

The thing is is that the law is not specific, so while I am not close to the facts, it is very possible that the school board is complying with the law even though it lands on a different solution than the parents want. That solution may be one as simple as the regular classroom is conferring benefits for your child so no additional accommodation is needed. Or it may be the opposite of that.

See my post above; the US Supreme Court says that schools need to provide special education students "some" educational benefit. What is "appropriate" is subjective.

If any expense gets too high - including special ed costs -- and the education the district can deliver to others suffers too much as a result everyone looses. Families won't buy houses here. Property tax revenues will go down. There will be less money for those who remain. And forget about PiE. The families who raise all those funds will be the first to know when the district's funding situation becomes too precarious and will be the first with "for sale" signs in their front yards.

That is what I am talking about. Not about whether the district should hold assemblies and send home notices telling students that bullying is bad. It should.


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Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 18, 2014 at 11:24 am

@tough spot, that's all a red herring. There are procedures (due process hearings) to determine services when the district and the parents disagree. So long as the district complies with the outcome of those hearings they are complying with the law. The parade of horribles about 10s of millions of dollars to protect against bullying is silly.

OCR is involved in a different question, about whether the district is complying with laws that protect students from discrimination based on a protected class, such as disability, race, etc. In the Terman case OCR found that the district had failed to protect a disabled child from physical assault, and had failed to follow the correct procedure, including the district's own rules.

Trying to make the district's failure to follow the law into a question of dispute with parents who just want everything for their child is a nice bit of misdirection but it's still misdirection. As I said, I just hope this doesn't reflect what Mitchell and Tom are saying behind closed doors.


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Posted by CAC parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I helped set up the OCR information meeting last year, along with parents from multiple organizations. It was very informative, and I believe that Dr. Skelly and some school board members attended. We could not get help from PTAC which was disappointing but the district did help sponsor it.
The meeting in the fall was set up by the California Department of Education as part of a compliance review they are doing of the district. I don't know the status.
I am wondering why this person "tough" is trying to pit parents against each other. Whipping up anger at parents of disabled kids is seriously not helpful and can even contribute to bullying. Please send your kids the message that all students are welcome and valued.


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Posted by One of the OCR settlements
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 3:15 pm

@ take/spot,
I didn't ask you to move somewhere else, I asked you to grind your obvious axe against parents elsewhere.

Just an example:
>"Others like you file complaints with the federal government and sue the district so their child can get exactly what the parent wants. That costs the district money from staff time to lawyers "

That is you grinding an axe plain and simple, and there is nothing in what you said that bears any resemblance to what happened or the truth. You are spewing invective in generalities and don't know what you are talking about. I asked you to stop that, not move. You constructed a straw man and then leveled this long tirade against him, and your points bear no resemblance to what happened in our situations nor the specifics in this district that I have witnessed in the past few years.

First of all, our complaint had nothing to do with bullying, we didn't file a lawsuit against the district, and the district has not had to spend $1 million on our child by any stretch of the imagination.

We filed a complaint because our district did not even comply in the most fundamental way of having procedures in place and publicly available — procedures the district writes themselves — for students with disabilities. This is the most fundamental compliance and virtually all other districts in the country seem to have no trouble doing this. We brought this problem to the attention of the special ed department, the district, the schools, the board, and the administration at 25 Churchill over many months, in helpful and collaborative ways in the beginning, but it was not remedied. Why? I would have to agree with the above poster that:

"The biggest problem I see with friends whose kids have IEPs is getting the district to document what services have been provided, schedule meetings when they are supposed to, and generally to have an attitude of partnering with parents. Those are not big ticket items."

If our district people "generally [had] an attitude of partnering with parents" I believe most of these issues would be resolved simply, to the benefit of the children, and more cheaply.

The fact is, in our case, we bent over backwards trying to work with the district. Our district having an attitude of partnering with parents would have meant no need to complain to the government, and no need to go to lawyers on either side. We never sued the district, by the way, and never threatened it. We never even asked the district to reimburse us for thousands in expenses we incurred because of them, that were reimbursable, nor for medical expenses we incurred because of failures on their end.

Our child not getting to participate in a SCHOOL trip is the least of it (and technically, we could enforce that right), but it only adds to the completely unnecessary disconnection and alienation that comes from our district office having so little ethos of working with parents. I pointed it out because we DIDN'T ask the district to do anything for us or pay, and we couldn't do it on our own because we had to incur legal fees and medical costs last year almost solely because our district doesn't know how to work with parents.

The district is behaving as badly as malpractice lawyers who end up losing multi-million dollar settlements because they won't just learn the lesson of taking responsibility when a mistake is made and apologizing or paying for the damage. People like you blame the public endlessly for litigation, even while studies show that far less than 1% of overtly demonstrable cases of malpractice that result in injury or death result in lawsuits, and other studies show that an apology and taking responsibility for mistakes is far cheaper when suits do happen. Our district could learn from that, since it's "just business" to you -- working with people is ultimately the better, cheaper way -- if it can't learn from the fact that it's a SCHOOL DISTRICT.

My family went through our own little hell with the district last year because of that horrible attitude they have toward parents, and we were trying to make a difference for everyone's children (not just disabled children). If I had been doing what you say, I would have gotten the lawyer to demand putting my child in a private school where they could accommodate, not sacrificing (and, truth be told, not able to spend enough time trying to get my own child's educational needs met) to make our district better for everyone. At one point, I did almost give in and go that route, and my child looked very distressed and said if we did, would I promise to keep fighting to help everyone else? (And FYI, some of the individual accommodations that only affected our child, we offered to pay for in the beginning.)

For families in school districts, it IS personal. But if you want to make it about business, learn the lesson that it's far cheaper to just do the right thing and work with people. And the lesson the school districts enjoy their autonomy for the purpose of being accountable to the local parenting community.

I hope Ken does run, because I'd like to see someone reasonable like him, who deals with the actual facts and cares about families, and doesn't just run ramshod over parents with some ideologically driven [portion removed] like you have laid out there.

And by the way, the government rules actually require districts to proactively identify children who need the legal protections and extend them without even asking! Our district didn't even have procedures in place for the parents who needed to ask, and if they asked, the district played dumb. Do you know why the government has those rules? Studies show it's far cheaper and better for the students in the long run.


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Posted by Franz Ferdinand
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 6:49 pm

I agree that the PAUSD should keep a lawyer on retainer. This may be needed in future, as it has been during Kevin Skelly's tenure. Would have saved a fortune.


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Posted by One of
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 7:10 pm

@Franz Ferdinand,
I agree with you. And I think we should get legal advice that is much more geared to working with parents. I think the legal advice they are getting leads to more legal advice, which is good for the lawyers but not so good for our district and families.


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Posted by Equal Access - Equal Rights
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 18, 2014 at 8:43 pm

What the law requires - and I believe/hope our community believes in - is equal access to an education. The articulation of the rights of EVERY student, no matter their race, income level, ethnicity, intellectual ability, or other special circumstance, came into law as a result of this country's civil rights movement in the last quarter of the last century. In creating our civil rights laws, we felt strongly that separate was not equal. We felt strongly that minority rights should not be trampled by majority voters.

Do you feel differently today? Do you think that some children deserve an education and others don't? That children educated in "special" class rooms with "different" credentials and programs are getting an education equal in quality to that of the mainstream children?

For those of you hyper-focused on budget numbers - how much money does our district spend on athletics? Drama and music? Art? Advanced Placement classes? Electives? Building new facilities for these lovely activities? Is the allocation of funds proportional to the number of students who actually make use of those programs? Do you see families out protesting that the athletes or drama or AP students are getting a disproportionate share of district funds?

I don't. I see our district glorying in all of the fabulous (and expensive) benefits that our students get from going to our rich schools.

But here, in this thread complaining about how much money is spent to help the students with disabilities, I am seeing the ugly side of greed and prejudice. It is ok to spend lots of extra money on the "nice" things we want for our gifted kids. Are we next going to see complaints on how expensive it is to educate children from racial or socio-economic backgrounds different than ours?

Think about what you are saying when you complain about students with disabilities taking school funds away from your kids.

50 years after MLK and we are still struggling to accept that all of us have equal rights.


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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2014 at 9:33 pm

@a tough spot for all - this is not rocket science, either.
LaToya Baldwin Clark spoke at the PAUSD board meeting about bullying after the (first) OCR settlement became public knowledge. You can find a synopsis of what she said and a link of her speaking at the board meeting here - Web Link

It seems to me that quite a few of the faults found by the OCR are not related to $ spent per student.
I listed my suggested bullying polices and guidelines here - Web Link

I think that publicly adopting these guidelines as the foundation for the way PAUSD conducts itself would be a small step towards a better environment for all.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2014 at 8:53 am

I love how so many posters here just 'don't see' how it costs anything to enforce policies. This is denial. If those involved in trying to improve things for students refuse to face reality, students will continue to suffer. And for parents of special needs students, I know the situation is already painful, but if your student needs more services than other students, it costs more money. Although this is painful to admit, pretending it is not the case will not help students. The problem is that the district needs more long term, stable funding. Pie is only a stopgap. Because Pie funds come in once a year, they can not be counted on for long term planning. And in a district with so many students, five million is a drop in the bucket. Once again, school funding in California is a disaster. That is where the effort should go, not squabbling over pennies while pretending the coffers are full.


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Posted by MY take
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 19, 2014 at 10:31 am

My take is saying that we have to give something up in order to pay the cost of making sure that special education students have appropriate procedural safeguards and are not bullied and punched in the face so hard that they have to go to the office in a wheelchair and the police are called.

It's too expensive to handle that, according to my take, so we have to make some tough choices. Apparently my take has an oddly zero sum view of things, a kind of Hobbesian war of all against all. Although I don't agree, I will play the Hobbes game. Here is my list of things we should cut so that we can protect disabled children from being kicked, punched, hazed, and emotionally traumatized while Katherine Baker twiddled her thumbs (evidently thumb twiddling is free!):

1. Eliminate the PR person immediately. Nuff said.

2. Ditto the compliance officer. If you aren't going to have anyone who actually cares about compliance, what's the point. That's 200K/year. We can probably get an intern who would do as good or better for free.

3. Stop taking so many families to due process. Due process costs tens of thousands of dollars per case, often less than the services or evaluations you are trying to avoid performing.

4. Stop paying your lawyers to work up cockamamie theories justifying legal disobedience. Start following Title IX, Section 504, the ADA and other laws that protect our children, stop trying to operate in secret, stop violating the California Public Records Act. Operate with transparency and appropriate respect for the taxpayers of this community.

5. Do NOT provide a million dollar interest free loan to the next superintendent. That is ridiculous. There's Nobel winners at Stanford who don't get that. That's INSANE.

6. Downsize the district staff dramatically. You want site based control? You got it. Push it all down to the teachers and the site and get rid of the district office altogether. In fact, sell the land. It's worth a lot. We don't need a district office at all.

7. Abolish the school board. They are completely useless. Although they aren't paid, operating the board still costs money. It's a total waste, they do nothing and they do it without style, intelligence, or grace.


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Posted by Not a special ed parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2014 at 10:38 am

The idea that PAUSD can't afford to follow the law is just bizarre. We are one of the best funded districts in the state. Many other districts with less seem to be able to figure out how to use the right procedures and respect the rules. I'm amazed by how much money has been wasted on trying to avoid the obvious solution of just doing the right thing.

We have a management and leadership deficit here, not a funding deficit. More money is always nice. Continuing to flout the law until it comes is not an option.


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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Please make up your own name. This one is taken.

Keep drinking the Koolade, everyone. Our schools are rolling in dough. We don't really need any administrators. We don't need any teachers. Why do we need schools at all. Our kids are so smart they practically educate themselves. Meanwhile, California schools are in the bottom five in the U.S. in both funding and achievement. Palo Alto schools are propped up by parent volunteers, local fundraising, costly tutors and duct tape. Still they are outspent by schools in New Jersey and elsewhere. But why don't we all duke it out for the shreds that are left? Clearly it's going very well here.


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Posted by MY take
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm

The fact that you never engage with the vast amount of money being wasted through inefficiency and incompetence speaks for itself. Rather than deal with bad management, inefficiency, and just lighting money on fire and using it for TP over there at 25 Churchill, you would rather float pie in the sky (or shall I say PIE in the sky -- I crack myself up sometimes) theories about repealing Prop. 13. Yes let's all wait for that. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by a tough spot for all
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

"50 years after MLK and we are still struggling to accept that all of us have equal rights."

No one is advocating that less or equal dollars and resources be devoted to students regardless of circumstance. Read my post above where I said that students with special needs need and should get more.

What some are struggling with is whether those equal rights – which for students with disabilities is defined as an "appropriate education" - means public schools must do what is being demanded by parents in our district [portion removed due to false characterizations.]

I suspect that the majority of families in town whose children struggle with physical or mental disabilities are appreciative of the extra help that they get from our teachers and in our schools. It is not perfect but they don't expect perfect and looking around they see that many families, regardless of their child's circumstance, contribute to the education outside of school too.

For those who are unhappy, I wonder if someone intentionally set your expectations higher than the law requires and then took you down the road of costly experts and lawyers that, given the high expectations, ends with disappoint and anger.

[Portion removed.]

For the families who are unhappy, after you've pushed for awhile without success why wouldn't you do the most expedient thing for your child and transfer to a more accommodating school district rather than put your children through a long, expensive, and emotional process which has such an uncertain outcome?

It is easy to keep your house and other children in our district and transfer a special needs child to Redwood City for example. Were you aware that Redwood City schools' funding will soon surpass ours? There are no news reports about Redwood City families complaining to the OCR or suing for services which suggests that families there are pleased with the support they get too.

Quick and certain vs. protracted, expensive and uncertain. Which would you choose?


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Posted by Jumping the shark
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 19, 2014 at 4:44 pm

"a tough spot for all" is finally showing her hand. She seems to have two aims:

1) Expunge special education students from PAUSD, by suggesting to parents that they transfer to Redwood City rather than stay in our schools. I don't know how to respond to that, except to say that it's nauseating.

2) [Portion removed due to referencing previously deleted comment.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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