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PAUSD overshoots legal budget by $110k in fight with OCR

Original post made by Curious, Fairmeadow, on Jun 2, 2014

The Palo Alto school board is set Tuesday night to approve a 2014-15 budget of $250,000 for legal services for the law firm of Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost. Fagen is the firm that the district is using to dispute the Office for Civil Rights' handling of civil rights violations in Palo Alto. A resolution seeking to escalate that dispute prepared by Board President Barb Mitchell and VP Melissa Caswell will also be discussed on Tuesday night (see Web Link).

The board approved a 2013-14 budget of $140,000 for Fagen in the spring of last year, but is on track to spend $250,000 in this school year, according to district documents (see Web Link). District staff are seeking the same amount for 2014-15. Fagen's contract with PAUSD was worth $28,525 in 2009-10, but has dramatically increased since and is now slated to hit nearly 10 times the level of 5 years ago.

Attached to the resolution are documents prepared by Fagen lawyers seeking to reopen the agency's finding in a 2011 case that the district violated the civil rights of a disabled child who had been bullied, disputing the agency's request to interview high school students in a group setting about how school staff handle sexual harassment complaints, and arguing with agency staff over PAUSD public document requests.

The district's strategy of resisting OCR's enforcement appears to follow a blueprint laid down in a secret June 2013 memo from then-VP Barb Mitchell, inadvertently released in response to a document request. In that memo, Mitchell asked what could be done to protect the district from "expansive federal requests for information or investigations, and/or protections from subsequently discovered 'violations' unrelated to the complaint, or when there is no complaint at all?" Mitchell responded to that release by demanding that the memo be returned to her and not revealed to the public (see Web Link).

Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost is the firm of Laurie Reynolds, the attorney who spoke at a January 2012 school board meeting on the federal civil rights investigation of PAUSD that resulted in a finding of noncompliance with federal civil rights law. Reynolds gave a presentation that was described by the Weekly as "incorrect, misled the board and the public and engaged in pure obfuscation." See Web Link. Laurie Reynolds was subsequently replaced on the district's legal team with Chad Graff, who has handled the district's dispute with OCR, along with Fagen partner Lenore Silverman. Graff drafted several of the documents attached to the Mitchell/Caswell resolution.

Comments (76)

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Posted by mad money
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 2, 2014 at 6:57 pm

This board is out of control. Thank you Curious. Glad to see you back. We need the extra reportage.


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Posted by Bwahahahaha
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Stop fighting a losing battle and just fix the problem. Stop pretending to be a victim, stop falsely pleading innocence. It is just too expensive, and wastes money better spent on improving the schools.

Besides, pretty much everyone knows that anyone who cries foul that much is probably guilty. Aren't the jails just full of similar people who insist to their dying day that they are innocent?


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Posted by Addison mom of 2
a resident of Addison School
on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Incredibly infuriating. Now we know where our summer school money is going. Let's get back to focusing on kids.


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Posted by Jane Doe
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:11 pm

That's half a million between 2013 and 2015, for nothing meanwhile we are donating thousands to PIE. I'm not giving to PiE until this ends. Also the mortgage loan for the new superintendent.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:38 pm

I'd love to know how much has been spent on Public Records Requests. This vendetta against the district by the Weekly [portion removed] needs to stop. Please lock this thread so this [portion removed] discussion stops. Nobody cares if you donate to PiE or not. The only ones who suffer are the kids.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Please lock this thread so this stupid discussion stops."

There is nothing "stupid" about holding your public officials accountable and you should stop trying to shield them from that accountability.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Here is the budget: Web Link Do the math.


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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm

@Curious: Welcome back, you were sorely missedyou were sorely missed.


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Posted by Taxpayer and parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm

I guess that "parent's" point is that PAUSD has plenty of money so it is fine to spend a quarter million dollars a year on lawyers from one firm to battle the federal government. I don't agree. I have a giant property tax bill that is behind the fact that PAUSD is flush and I am not paying it so that bureaucrats and politicians can blow it on their pet peeves.

How about using a simple test. Does this expenditure improve the education of our students? Yes: good, spend it. No: bad, don't. This doesn't pass the test. Case closed. What is it about Palo Alto elected officials that they can't treat our money as ours, not theirs?


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Retired teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Wasting money on lawyers rather than spending it in the classroom makes no sense. I can't afford a boat and I would rather not pay for one for Mr. Graff. A quarter of a million dollars?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:02 pm

parent's point is that sometimes you have to spend money to protect yourself against attacks from parents and the press because for some reason they have a vendetta against you. There a a lot of unhappy parents across this country because for whatever reason they do not agree with the schools but I've never come across a local paper with such a vendetta.


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Posted by Retired teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:22 pm

The school board is spending our money to attack the government, not the press or parents. Not that that would be a good idea either.


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Posted by Left of Boom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Left of Boom is a registered user.

With the escalation in the 2011 case and new OCR investigations, PAUSD is going to paying FFF more than $250K for years. How has this improved the education of Palo Alto students? It's gravy for lawyers however.


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Posted by Bedfellows
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Why did Gretchen Shipley, partner with FFF, co-write an article in Leadership magazine (Jan/Feb 2014) with Charles Young, and did she bill me, the Palo Alto taxpayer for it? Google Leadership ACSA and you'll be able to find the article which complains about the Weekly-like forum where "online attacks" occur and suggests legal action. Is FFF being paid to click on Report Objectionable Content?


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Posted by a parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 12:44 am

@ money,

We have disabled students in the district, students with learning disabilities, students with learning deficits just from different educational backgrounds, and other special needs students. Some will have more needs than others. We have the money to properly educate everyone regardless and we are morally and legally required to do so. In your own family, if someone is sick or has a disability, do you do nothing for them just because you have to spend more for that child than another? Or worse, do you spend even more money than it would take to care for that child on legal and administrative costs in order to avoid doing so? When you manage a district, that's part of the equation, taking care of the needs of everyone. (The sad truth is that we serve far fewer seriously disabled students now than we once did because Palo Alto is just such an expensive place to live.)

I would much rather see us err on the side of serving every disabled student, every student period, and save money by restructuring our very expensive bureaucracy which seems to have grown so insular, they think they exist to serve themselves and their wounded egos and not the students and families. There's an utter lack of respect for families and public service in that group. If the state of California can have a citizen's commission that occasionally reduces the governor's salary, we can do something to trim off some of this caustic dead wood.

Additionally, this situation with the legal costs going out of control was predictable. Had the board simply acknowledged the mistakes, apologized properly when things went wrong and done what they could to make things right, we wouldn't be in this mess. There are ethical legal firms who would have taken that kind of tack. But legal sharks like FFF wouldn't make their boat payments. That kind of legal advice has people seeing lawsuits in their shadows, and as a result, they end up acting to the imagined potential lawsuit rather than doing the right thing which ironically only ends up inviting legal action.

We should be asking ourselves how it is in this expensive district that so many highly paid employees are working so hard to essentially NOT help our students?

But then, what do you do if you're a bureaucrat making a quarter million dollars and you don't really think you are accountable to the families to serve their needs?


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Posted by mad money
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 3, 2014 at 12:59 am

That Leadership mag thing is incredible. Just outrageous. Charles Young actually wrote and published an article with our lawyers advocating having a communications plan that combats negative press with pushing positive news. District "should have a solid communications plan" that "pushes good news out frequently" and uses allies and supporters to carry that spin. If that doesn't work, they recommend sending out cease and desist letters to the press.

I am astounded. You cannot make this stuff up. Every time I think this can't get any more bizarre and surreal some other craziness bursts forth like the alien out of the astronaut's chest in Alien.


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2014 at 7:39 am

@AParent,

"We have the money to properly educate everyone regardless and we are morally and legally required to do so."

You are getting what you are morally and legally entitled to. However you continue to ask for more and lawyer up requesting it. It's ironic you complain about the district's unpredictable legal cost and put the blame on the district for countering your lawyers.

This is a zero sum game. To give your child "40 hours a week of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy" additional education to which you are not morally or legally entitled to, that money has to come from the education of the other students in the district. The district needs to do and is doing what it is morally and legally required to do.

You can't just argue one side of the equation. 24% of the budget is already being spent on 10% of the students. This isn't enough for you. How much of the district budget is enough for you? 40%, 50%, 90%? You're too blinkered, put a number against it and let's have a discussion.


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Posted by Retired teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2014 at 8:35 am

Your anxiety about affording education for disabled children is odd, but irrelevant. This money for lawyers is about protecting administrators, not budgets. It's taking money away from teaching.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2014 at 8:46 am

I question where "morally" comes into the equation. Does the moral requirement end at our district boundaries? Morally we should be educating every less-advantaged child on the planet. Of course that is impossible, so everyone must look into the mirror and determine for themselves how much of the pie they deserve and how much of their resources to expend on the less fortunate. The alternative we have here is legislated morality and the ensuing legal wrangling.


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Posted by Taxpayer and parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 9:35 am

This isn't about morality or how much money to spend on starving children in Africa. It is about whether the school board should be spending our money on fighting with the federal government about whether our administrators screwed up.

Short answer: Yes, they did. I got soaked once paying salaries for bureaucrats who can't be bothered to follow the rules. And now I'm getting soaked again paying for lawyers playing CYA for OUR EMPLOYEES.

What is it about elected officials in Palo Alto? City council gives the store away to developers. School board can't shovel enough money to lawyers.

Public to school board: It's not your money. It's our money. Spend it on the schools. Get out of bed with overpaid bureaucrats and focus on students.


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Posted by rabble rabble
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 3, 2014 at 9:38 am

It's hilariously ironic that people get their undies in a bunch about the district having to increase its legal fees when the default course of action around here when people feel mistreated is to file a lawsuit against the district, thereby increasing its legal fees.


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Posted by Taxpayer and parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

Web Link

If the school board really thinks that the only way to deal with the rules is to wage a secret war against the federal government, they are dumber than I think. But I doubt it. I think what's going on is some bureaucrats crying about being misunderstood because they really are great even though they got caught, and some school board members spending somebody else's money to CYA those bureaucrats.

But excuse me while I head out to work to pay for this.


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 10:29 am

@rabble rabble,
It's hilarious how you get your jollies spouting complete and total misinformation when when children's health and education are at stake.

I believe we're talking about one lawsuit, that would never have happened had the district behaved honorably in the eighteen months or so that the mother sought help at all levels in the dstrict.

This is going to be like one of those insurance cases where no one would have filed if the adjusters had done their jobs, and the insurance company is counting on scorched earth tactics to make those who sue go away. (And there will be a giant pay out many times what would have occurred because they are trying to scorch a dsabled girl who they aleady harmed through their incompetence and arrogancein the first place - imagine it, you're a juror, and you have Barb Mitchell on the one hand and the disabled girl on the other. ) it's going to be one of those cases where they lose big time because they were so recalcitrant, and the lawyers will be laughing all the way to the bank with our money. Lots of our money. Money spent on behalf of the egos of incompetent people who have been shown repeatedly did not do their jobs for the kids of our district.

Nowinstead of finally saying sorry and doing that job, they want to put us through this expensive circus where they use our money on even more egregious CYA.

These attorneys have been giving bad advice all along that has predictably put us in this situation. It's time we took stock, did the right thing FINALLY, and moved on, i.e., fire FFF, realize we have to follow the laws like everyone else because we are serving children, and (oh so hard) admit we made mistakes. And cut the dead wood at Churchill that thinks this kind of behavior has any place in a school distrct! what a nightmare. Usually, even when there's a suit in any area of our society involvng harm, especially if a child, taking responsibility actually saves money. Lawyers don't get rich, though.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 10:45 am

@money,
Sorry, but I'm not the family of the disabled girl like you think I am. Just another parent who can see how screwed up our district personnel are. What do you think is really going to happen here? The district is going to spend our money on CYA, and the other lawyers are going to try to prove they behaved badly. Do you think that's reallygoing to be so hard? Hmmm. Inviting lawyers to try to prove our district administrators are not as great as they want us to think. If they called me or practically any parent I know to the stand, we'd paint a different picture than the one in their heads. Have you thought this through? Your glass house will be riddled with stones. (Or blown to bits on your own petard.). And lawyers from both sides will be laughing all the way to the bank.

This board should be recalled for even bringing this up it shows anutter dsinterest in serving children and too much arrogancefor their on goods.


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 10:56 am

And by the way, spending the money necessary to care for the disabled among us in our district is legally required of us, even if you feel no moral obligation. Now it's clear how we ended up here. Taking care of the disabled and following the law is not a slippery slope to districts having to pay to feed refugees in foreign lands. (But your attitude IS a slippery slope to ever more gargantuan legal fees, which does hurt OUR kids for no good reason.)

We have responsibilities to the kids in our district, and some of them will take more resources than others, that's what happens. One of the best systems in the world now, in Finland, has a motto of doing whatever it takes for every child and they get results without going broke. And without paying lawyers for your ego instead of education for our kids.


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Posted by who rules
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

I agree with money well spent.

If lawsuits are the rule, the district has to spend accordingly.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 11:10 am

> What is it about Palo Alto elected officials that they can't
> treat our money as ours, not theirs?

About 70% of the PAUSD budget comes from property taxes. The other 30% comes from the State, the Feds, and local revenue sources, like the Cubberley Center, and other leases.

You have to remember that in California, schools are a political subdivision of the State, so local school boards are operating at a political level that is far above that of most local governments. It's hard for people who have been elected by a vocal minority and labor unions to increase education spending at all costs not to spend other people's money without much thought.



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Posted by parent of an autistic child
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

Reading these comments is very disheartening. It is true that special ed programs for kids like mine are expensive. (My school district, which is not Palo Alto, spent about $70,000 on my kid in the 18 months she had an IEP. Even so, we were so frustrated with them that we homeschooled her for 8 years.)

If you think k-12 special ed is expensive, what is even more expensive is a lifetime of group homes for kids who could have been mainstreamed had they gotten the right early interventions. As others have mentioned, providing an **individualized** plan for each child qualified for special education is federal law.

Not to sidetrack the discussion but I have this question: if the special education population keeps growing (and therefore is so expensive), why is no one especially concerned about why that is? I think "better diagnosis" only accounts for a fraction of the increase.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm

This story raises very important implications for the district. The decision to resist OCR, to authorize our attorneys to write lengthy briefs opposing OCR, to challenge aspects of investigations, to wrangle with OCR over whether or not board members could attend meetings with OCR attorneys, and to challenge student interviews -- all of these decisions are decisions that were made in closed sessions.

Most of these actions taken by the Board to authorize these expenditures have nothing to do with "litigation" or "anticipated litigation" which is the exception to the Brown Act used by the board to hold these closed sessions and to conceal these actions -- actions that were not announced to the public in open session -- from the public.

Some of these probably are legitimate, but most are clearly not related to any theory of litigation. For example, one of the actions that was secretly challenged by the distritct lawyers, and paid for in these expenditures, was the question of the attendance of board members Mitchell and Tom at meetings with OCR. The stated basis that the board members desired to attend was because policy was being discussed (Board Member Mitchell evidently advancing a "commandeering" theory of local control against OCR, argues that policy is the purview of the board and therefore the board must be included in discussions of policy).

Thus, by the board's own concession the topic of that action was "policy" not litigation. I do not think much of Mitchell's theory of why she should be allowed to drive negotiations with OCR. OCR deals with the funding recipient, whcih is the district, and Kevin Skelly is the district's chief administrator. However, whatever the merits of her argument it is undeniably about "policy" not "litigation."

Likewise, most of the actions taken by the board when it authorized its lawyers to run up these expenses were related to policy and had nothing whatever to do with litigation.

Thus those actions, including running up this bill, may have violated the Brown Act. A question is raised by these materials as to whether or not the closed meetings held by the board complied with the Brown Act.

If investigated and found to violate the Brown Act it may be that these expenditures that were authorized were outside the law, and would have to be reversed as actions, or re-authorized properly in public following appropriate notice, disclosure and debate. Such public address to this matter would cure any violation, if there was one.


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

@PofAC,

No one is saying the district shouldn't meet your child's needs. The district is legally required to do so. Lawyers are only getting involved when the parents are asking for more than they are entitled. Complaining about district overspend on lawyers is looking at the symptom instead of the problem.

Imagine if you had a school board candidate saying, "I believe the district can pay whatever it takes to give every child whatever you want regardless of need" and provides no thought or plan for where the money will come from. No data, just rhetoric. Oh, and it is just limited to special needs kids. Would you trust such a candidate when they refuse to say who's going to pay when challenged?

AParent is doing just that. AParent has been unable to say where all this additional money will come from. AParent instead relies on emotional arguments, which go beyond need, with no data to back up the claims.

AParent also has the audacity to say "I didn't ask for 40 hours a week of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, that was someone else". Does AParent feel only other parents are asking for too much?


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Posted by A Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm

@ who rules,
"I agree with money well spent.
If lawsuits are the rule, the district has to spend accordingly."

There is only one lawsuit. If you look at how the district behaved that resulted in the two resolution agreements, it's a miracle it's not many, and deserved. That one lawsuit wouldn't have happened if district people behaved in a reasonable manner toward the family and to protect our kids in the first place.

This is an old story. If you choose to be warlike, you end up in battle and paying for war. It is possible to choose to be diplomatic, it not only produces better results in a SCHOOL DISTRICT, it ends up spending the money on the right things.


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Posted by Change Your Attitute
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Instead of discussing the bills of your laywers,have a serious conversation about what are you going to do to stop violating student's rights. Remember everything started by ignoring the bullying of a disabled students. You ignored and ignored the pain that the child was suffering on the hands of the bullies. Parents asked you for protection in many ways, and you just ignored and ignored the pleas for help. Stop spending our students funds trying to cover up your serious mistakes. Time to be responsible. Hope the new super is responsible and accountable.


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm

@ money,
[Portion removed.]

"No one is saying the district shouldn't meet your child's needs. The district is legally required to do so."

You just said that, "money" - You claimed that paying more for children with special needs than anyone else was a slippery slope to paying 100% of our money for those children.

I have news for you. In a school district, there are going to be disagreements about what the kids need. Learn to work with parents, it's the best way in a SCHOOL DISTRICT.

The district screwed up in the case of that disabled girl and now has to pay probably more than it would have otherwise. How long was it that the family tried going through other channels before having to resort to a suit? We're talking about a 2011 case and this went on long before that for the child. In the meantime, the child has suffered with the district more concerned about CYA than about making up for what they'd done. How was this not going to end in a lawsuit? [Portion removed.]

Is 40 hours a week of behavioral therapy expensive? I'll bet it's not costing us parents as much as your attitude, especially since it's getting us lawyers at how much per hour? $300? $400? per hour? How much behavioral therapy would that pay for? So you end up paying a little more on EDUCATION than you think. You know what? You screwed up. Take your lumps and remember that this is a SCHOOL DISTRICT and you serve CHILDREN. If sometimes you give some of them a little more than you think they deserve, I'd rather be doing that then giving the money to lawyers and overpaid incompetent administrators who create an environment where this kind of thing happens.

As one of the many parents whose property tax bill pays for that ABA many times over just in my own bill, I am telling you, I think this whole path is wrong and a demonstration of poor values and a bad job for this district. When you get down that road, of getting into that fray and the government trying to prove wrong what you have claimed in that letter, how many parents do you think they'll find to dish about what's really happening when there are problems? From where I sit, it will be a lot.


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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Is there anyway to know whether the new superintendent is currently in the know/agrees/approves of any non routine actions should such be instigated during this time, any action that may have long term implications?


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Posted by Transparency
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 3, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Mr. Burke is talking about the right issue: transparency. How did the district adopt a $140k budget for this law firm in public, and then overspend it by 75% in secret without returning to a public session to appropriate more money? How is it legal to plan and pursue a strategy in secret of fighting against a federal regulatory agency, while not saying a word about it in public? The school board is a public agency, subject to our state open meeting law, the Brown Act.

Fortunately some of this leaked out. The most informative was the memo from Barb Mitchell that Curious quoted from. The full memo with Chad Graff's reply is online at Web Link

It makes it clear that Mitchell was proposing exactly the strategy that the board apparently agreed to in secret, in a closed meeting almost a year ago. It's also clear that Mr. Graff is going along with it. Now that we see the legal fees that his firm has collected and will collect as a result, it is pretty clear why it was appealing to Mr. Graff.

The school board should find a different law firm, set a reasonable fee level (something like the $25,000 it was five years ago, not the $250,000 it is now), and provide an accounting to the public for the missing $110,000 that was spent over the $140,000 that was authorized.


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Posted by who rules
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 1:27 pm

A parent, Paly

"There is only one lawsuit. If you look at how the district behaved that resulted in the two resolution agreements, it's a miracle it's not many, and deserved. That one lawsuit wouldn't have happened if district people behaved in a reasonable manner toward the family and to protect our kids in the first place. "

There are two sides to every story. There was a recent story about a student requesting education at home because of various complications including allergies. To the parents, it was reasonable to request home schooling on the district's dime, and for the district it was reasonable to suggest to provide instruction in school. If the precedent is set to accommodate every request, on the basis of what is reasonable to the family, the district would be broke.

My handle is "who rules" because in the absence of clearer guidelines and funding to provide for varied reasonable needs, the lawyers will rule.


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2014 at 1:34 pm

No, AParent, you'll note that I have never stated that we shouldn't meet the child's need. It's the parent's wants that are in dispute.

I have always said the district needs to meet it's legal requirement. The lawyering-up only happens when parents, such as you, ask way beyond what is legally required.

For you to then complain about the cost of lawyers is disingenuous.

For you to further claim the district shouldn't dispute "40 hours a week of behavioral therapy" that isn't required and just pay up shows how far from reality you are.

If you want to increase the budget for these extras that aren't legally required, stop hiding and please state where the money is coming from. Quite obviously you can't, you haven't thought it through. Let's make it simpler. We're already at 25% of the budget, when do you start bringing in the lawyers?


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Posted by correcting the record
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Curious,

If you read the board packet you would have discovered that:

PAUSD is not "fighting the federal government" or "seeking to reopen the agency's finding in a 2011 case."

PAUSD is, among other things, trying to save taxpayers money by sensitizing OCR to the direct and indirect costs of its delays, etc.

PAUSD is imploring the OCR to respond to its outstanding requests so it can move forward.

The district has been asking the OCR to correct the record (below) for a year now. Despite OCR employees promising to get right on it, the OCR hasn't.

The district is also waiting for some information from the OCR. It is now 8 months beyond the deadline that OCR Washington DC set for its regional offices to respond.

As allowed by the OCR rules, the district is asking the OCR to correct the 2011 resolution agreement's statement of facts. It is NOT asking the OCR to revise what it wants the district to do in that agreement.

It turns out that lots of facts were omitted and lots of misstatements of fact were contained in the resolution agreement the OCR prepared. The district cites example after example. Most omissions relate to the district's attempts to help the student and family.

For some reason the OCR, contrary to its custom, did NOT share its draft findings with the district so that it could be certain that the findings were complete and accurate BEFORE publishing its ruling. Misunderstandings and factual mistakes can be made by even the most diligent investigators which is why allowing the record to be reviewed and corrected is a common practice.

PAUSD is not "disputing the agency's request to interview high school students in a group" either. Far from it; PAUSD said it would HELP the OCR organize this. As the OCR manual allows and the district's policies and state laws mention, the district asked the OCR to first let the district and the children's parents know what would be discussed so they could make sure it is "age appropriate" and then get written consent. The district is waiting for the OCR to get back to it on that.

PAUSD is also waiting for, not "arguing with," agency staff to give it documents or provide it with specific reasons why those documents cannot be shared.


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Posted by A Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm

@ who rules,

"There was a recent story about a student requesting education at home because of various complications including allergies. "

You're not proving anything. As far as I know from reports in the paper, that child had anaphylactic allergies (the kind that kill you from small amounts of the wrong thing), and was too disabled not to get into danger without proper supervision, which the district wasn't willing to provide at school. I recall the family was willing to work something out. My own observation is that our school district is really behind the curve when it comes to allergies. You want to argue that one? I know someone whose child almost died from a reaction from exposure in a classroom a few years ago because the teacher didn't take due care. You didn't hear about it because they didn't sue -- and they didn't bother to pursue complaining to the district because they had complained about circumstances to the school to no avail -- they were wealthy enough to pull their child out of our district. You're not making your point with that case.

@ money,
" stop hiding and please state where the money is coming from"
Let's start with - how many millions are we spending on administrator oh what was that, enrichment? $8 million, $3 million? it had seven figures, that was bad enough. How about all those salaries for assistant this and assistant that in the district office? When's the last time we reviewed and restructured our administration to save money? That's a big, fat target you will be painting in bright red with that letter.

You want to talk money? The quarter million you just threw down the toilet on FFF is penny ante money. Just pursuing a lawsuit, you'll incur $50 - $150,000 in deposition transcripts easy. Copy costs? Trial costs? You could pay for that ABA for the next 100 years. I predict $1million - $2 million in legal costs alone. And the harder you push this, the more likely it is the family will pursue it into court than settling, because they'll have to pay their attorney, meaning, we'll have to pay their attorney, along with punitive damages we will pay out at the end of this sick journey.

And you said, "The lawyering-up only happens when parents, such as you, ask way beyond what is legally required."

Again, you are talking to one of those parents who is paying for all this. As for whether anyone is asking for what is beyond what is legally required, if you think that, LEARN HOW TO WORK WITH PARENTS SO THINGS DON'T GET TO THIS POINT. IT IS A WASTE OF MONEY TO GO DOWN THIS ROAD AND CAUSTIC TO OUR SPIRIT AS A DISTRICT. Lead by example, and learn how to negotiate conflicts. From where I sit, it's the parents who have been doing all the compromising.

I mean, really, when IS the last time we had a really good audit of our school district? You want me to find the money? You're on.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Does anybody care that the LATEST minutes of the PAUSD Board meetings that are posted on the PAUSD web site are for the January 28, 2014 Regular Meeting.

Web Link

How in the world can an interested citizen find out what is going on?


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Posted by How shall I compare thee
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:21 pm

"If you get negatively blogged, get the essence, reflect on your practices, the[n] move on: you have more decisions to make. Don't get caught in paralysis by analysis, and focus on the rest of the important work that you need to do for students who show up in our classrooms every day." This is the advice from the article co-written by Charles Young. See Web Link



It's too bad that our school board did not subscribe to this advice. That would have saved our district a lot of money in legal fees and staff time spent fighting compliance with federal regulations because of bruised egos.


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Posted by correcting the record
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Curious,

As to costs:

The legal work asking the OCR to reply to these matters is all of two letters and a resolution that just summarizes those letters. That cost $5,000 max probably, none of which would have had to be spent if the OCR had followed its customary practices and responded by its own deadlines.

Think about it. Isn't it possible that the legal fees you write about have more to do with the District getting advice on:

- The OCR actions filed? It takes someone all of 10 minutes to file an OCR claim that, once filed, starts a detailed investigation that likely consumes thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees – whether the claim is valid or not. Do the math on the claims 7 families filed, all but 1 or 2 which BTW were dismissed AFTER the costly legal fees were incurred.

- The lawsuits a few parents have filed against the district that the courts eventually threw out?

- The stream of Brown Act violation claims that followed the Weekly's 2012 claim, with the dueling lawyers who had to be hired, which in the end showed the district doing nothing improper? (Per Town Square, all that cost and outrage was because of a guess on how a judge would interpret one word - "information" - in the Brown Act. In the end, folks report that both lawyers said that the district was right.)


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm

"PAUSD is, among other things, trying to save taxpayers money by sensitizing OCR to the direct and indirect costs of its delays, etc."

Oh please. I'm the taxpayer. Save me money by focusing your time, energy, and money on caring for our kids.

Someone appears to be using our district as a piggybank to whitewash their professional record.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Burke's argument is nonsensical, and a mess of logical inconsistency.

1. Of course the discussions involving OCR involve litigation.

2. Choice of who best represents the District in litigation-related discussions is a litigation-related decision. The OCR wanted only non-elected officials, with no basis in law. The Board objects to that. Indeed, if the Board was involved from the get-go much of this entire issue might have been avoided.

3. The Brown Act meaning of "policy" involves any potential vote that Board members might have, with the explicit carving out of litigation related issues.


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Posted by Lady MacBeth
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:26 pm

They doth protest too much ( to paraphrase Shakespeare).


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm

@correcting,
" The lawsuits a few parents have filed against the district that the courts eventually threw out?"
Which lawsuits? Really, what are we talking about here? This idea that there were a bunch of lawsuits is like a zombie that won't die no matter how many times it should have.


"It takes someone all of 10 minutes to file an OCR claim "
Show ANY evidence that anyone went straight to the OCR without trying to work with our schools and district first. The first two resolution agreements didn't just show our district had stopped doing its job for 10 minutes, or a year, or a few years. I'm sure if you asked the parents in those situations, they'd give you an earful about things the district did wrong that didn't end up in those documents either.

The first agreement was after the family tried to go through dealing with the district for almost 2 years to no avail. Apparently they even went to the school board. Our district should have had process available so none of that would have been necessary.

Even I understand that there are good people at our schools who probably tried to help. But I also believe it when I hear that people lied and tried to cover up at the admin level, because I have witnessed that, too.

What is this letter trying to accomplish? Getting the OCR to ? Go away and leave us alone? Apparently, many of our parents disagree with you, because district people are not doing their jobs and have a self-centered rather than family-centered approach. We are paying them far too much that they want to put us through this in order to justify their continued presence here.


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:37 pm

@ Edmund Burke,
You seem knowledgeable. Please can you post for us a list of admin and bureaucratic expenses that you think we could cut in order to better pay for student educational services? Please list any admin people you think we could replace with someone pulling a lower salary who could do the job far better. You also seem to do your research - please list the amount of time and money pursuing this will cost our district and what that will probably buy us for that money.

Let's at least give the paper something concrete to think about.


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Posted by who rules
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:43 pm

A parent,

"Someone appears to be using our district as a piggybank to whitewash their professional record."

Well, speaking of litigation, it has crossed my mind how employees of PAUSD are attacked for their competence without any particular rights.

After you black out all the documents, what is left are stories flying around, and the hatchet has been more squarely placed on select district employees. Some say the schools are fine, even the district is improving, it's just this one character or another who should be fired. They did it, it's all their fault.

It's all very biter at such a point, and you wonder why lawyers are needed?

I'm not a lawyer but to "whitewash" a professional record would probably cost more than $250,000.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Nothing to do with negotiating with OCR is "litigation." Litigation within the meaning of the Brown Act includes actual lawsuits, and it includes administrative proceedings before a judicial or quasi-judicial body. It cannot be speculative but must refer to actual litigation.

OCR is not such a body. The district is not in litigation or anticipated litigation of any sort, type, or activity with OCR. OCR can, if it chooses, instigate administrative proceedings to revoke the district's federal grants. However, that has not happened, has not been threatened to happen (yet), and has not even been discussed. OCR has worked cooperatively with the district, and has entered into Resolution Agreements in two cases with it. Those agreements are the best evidence that there is no lititigation with OCR since the district itself settled the complaints against it voluntarily.

The Compliance Review at Paly and the Gunn sexual harassment and dating violence complaints will likely both yield findings of fact against the district as well as Resolution Agreements, should the new superintendent determine to enter into agreements rather than face consequences for failing to do so.

It may be questioned whether this board resolution is merely posturing ahead of what are sure to be bruising Letters of Finding in those cases. In the Paly case, the district's alleged failure to cooperate fully with OCR's document requests by not disclosing the Winston situation, and its highly sexualized environment will likely lead to findings and a detailed Resolution Agreement. At Gunn, there is no defense. All the administrators who were responsible for that debacle appear to have been removed, resigned, or replaced. This tacitly indicates that the district knows it will be in for rough sledding there.

Rather than maintain some discretion ahead of that, the district appears to be trying to use its law firm to gin up some material for its public relations efforts. I notice that the materials accompanying the board resolution for tonight hint that in the Gunn case the district merely made one "small mistatement" concerning court orders. Informing the family, as is alleged, that the district does not follow court orders, but merely obeys "the spirit of the court order" in the case of a teenage victim of dating violence, for several weeks is not a minor mistake.

Failing to call the family or open a Title IX investigation after a neighbor called to report an incident was one of the chief failures and one that every parent in Palo Alto can understand. If your daughter was being stalked by her ex boyfriend and the school official knew about it due to a neighbor calling to report it, but that official never called you nor did she open a full investigation into it, and then as a result your daughter was savagely attacked in broad daylight, I believe you would file an OCR complaint too.

Many people would do more than that. Filing an OCR complaint shows admirable restraint.

So this "board resolution" is merely a spin effort ahead of the sideshow that may be about to begin when the sexual harassment investigation reports are issued. Perhaps the district will be fully exonerated in the Gunn case. Funny, but I do not hear the loud district defenders on this thread saying that they will be.

Perhaps you would like to weigh in on the Gunn case, those of you who believe that the district is the victim in this case. You are oddly quiet on that subject, preferring to focus on why PAUSD is being investigated, or on the closed cases at Duveneck and Jordan.

I think that it would be well to comment on the merits of the Gunn case. I would personally be very interested in your defense of Gunn and PAUSD.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Burke is correct, the Brown Act was not intended to permit closed sessions to discuss OCR compliance.

What the lawyers are doing is hiding behind their twisted interpretation of this section in the Brown Act:
" (2) A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the
legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal
counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a
significant exposure to litigation against the local agency."

If you are paranoid enough and are willing to ignore every other section of the Brown Act then this is where you hide - but to do so is a powerful statement in itself.


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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Mr. Carpenter, I share your concern about the minutes not being up to date. I would like to be certain the community is aware the meetings are taped and are available, on demand, at the following link. Web Link Community members are always welcome to call me regarding meetings, packets, or with any other questions. 650.329.3737


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Huh. No takers to defend Gunn.

Another possible abuse of the Brown Act is the decision to use the law firm to prevent OCR from interviewing our high school students about the climate at Paly and Gunn. This is an outrageous abuse of the district's position and an outrageous abuse of the litigation exception.

Please remember that these are not elementary school students. These are high school students who were exposed, by the district itself, to a wide-ranging and highly offensive streaking epidemic. They were exposed to an exploitative and sensational "Rape Culture" cover photo on the Verde. They were exposed to Phil Winston's verbal outbursts which although I cannot repeat here for fear of being censored [portion removed.]

It is simply absurd that it would be harmful to the students to be interviewed about school climate.

It would however likely be harmful to the district's brand, and for that reason the board has authorized Chad Graff to spend our money to interpose himself between students and the federal lawyers assigned to help and protect them.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm

@EdmundBurke: How is it you know so much about this? You state you are not a lawyer yet I find it difficult to believe that a non lawyer would be able to surmise all the "facts" you do based on what is available to the public. As to what happened at Gunn, yes the employee screwed up by not calling the parent. However, I don't know the backstory on the child or the parent. Is it possible the child was afraid to let her parent know that she was dating someone and the district knew this? I have no idea and without all the facts from both sides, not just the Weekly's, I don't feel competent to comment on this. Glad you do.

Streaking has been going on for years. Where was your outrage years ago? Why just now? Date rape has been going on for years? Again, why the outrage now? They were "exposed to an exploitative and sensational cover"? Yep, nothing they haven't seen on the internet. That's what it takes unfortunately to get anyone's attention, including parents, nowadays. If parents could hear their teenagers talking, they'd understand why there is a rape culture at high schools. Let's focus on educating parents and not on punishing the schools because there is a lack of parenting.

Find me a school district that doesn't have these same behaviors going on from students, parents and staff. Find me a school district where there is 100% satisfaction. You won't be able to. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by who rules
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:37 pm

E. Burke

"Perhaps you would like to weigh in on the Gunn case, those of you who believe that the district is the victim in this case. You are oddly quiet on that subject, preferring to focus on why PAUSD is being investigated, or on the closed cases at Duveneck and Jordan. "

How and why would anyone be able to weigh in on any case without a conclusion and full report on the facts? It's anyway in good hands. For the Gunn case, the parents have complained, the district has responded, the OCR is investigating, the press has reported. Lawyers are looking at the situation. For Paly, it is unclear that parents complained, maybe the OCR is investigating because of the general situation, it makes the Paly case more important for them to nail.

You can't take our anonymous posts seriously. We're like idiot spectators.

But if you must know, I will scrutinize the Paly finding because the investigation was lodged by the federal government, not a parent or student. Piggybacking the Winston issues on the original complaint is already looking strange to me.


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Posted by Burkean
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:46 pm

A compliance review covers the broad topic of sexual harassment. Phil Winston was found by the district to commit sexual harassment at the school under review during the relevant time window. That is not "piggybacking" any more than if the police have a warrant to surveil for "narcotics" and expecting to find cocaine trafficking they find meth and cocaine. Narcotics are narcotics and sexual harassment is sexual harassment, the district erred in trying to conceal the Winston issues from OCR if they did do so and they will probably be made to pay a price for that.

You cannot argue the Winston was out of scope. Furthermore, The principal who sexually harasses sets the tone for what else happens at the school and is directly causally related to other harassment and response to it.


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:59 pm

@AParent,
"You want me to find the money? You're on."

You seem to think that any spare money is for you to have for your child even when they already have what they are entitled to.

Whatever. If you wish, go for it. Then justify why you think the district should spend any money you happen to find on your "wants" rather than your child's other children's "needs".

You still haven't stated what % of the budget is required before you agree the district should lawyer-up. In fact you comments indicate that the amount should be unbounded.

"LEARN HOW TO WORK WITH PARENTS SO THINGS DON'T GET TO THIS POINT. IT IS A WASTE OF MONEY TO GO DOWN THIS ROAD AND CAUSTIC TO OUR SPIRIT AS A DISTRICT."

This goes two ways. The district is working fine with the vast majority of special ed parents and the majority of the parents are satisfied. It is this minority of parents lawyering-up and asking for way beyond what is required by law where the district is responding in-kind. Stop blaming the district.





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Posted by who rules
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Edmund Burke

"These are high school students who were exposed, by the district itself, to a wide-ranging and highly offensive streaking epidemic. They were exposed to an exploitative and sensational "Rape Culture" cover photo on the Verde. They were exposed to Phil Winston's verbal outbursts "

Is OCR investigating all of these? together, separately, or they are throwing in anything related to the original complaint?

1. Streaking: Pre-Winston streaking was not properly dealt with. During Winston, it got bad. Post-Winston, streaking was immediately dealt with. Done, over with. If only "epidemics" could be dealt with so smoothly.

2. Cover photo of the Verde: Can you please send a link? I missed it. You, the OCR and the entire country has probably read that article more than your average student or parent at Paly.

3. WInston's verbal "outbursts" - is the OCR looking for more than the 2-3 bad ones documented in his disciplinary documents? What does this have to do with the original OCR investigation?

I'm not trying to be dismissive of streaking, the Verde articles, or Winston. I want to know how these very different events will be treated jointly. And how they will reflect on the Paly community.


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:11 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by who rules
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Burkean,

Thank you, you have answered my question.

The OCR will add up everything that is relevant for their finding of a rape culture/streaking harassment/inappropriate leadership failure by the district, to find Paly guilty.

I expect the findings on Winston to be very clear and substantiated. Oddly enough Winston alone could be to blame for everything, but I doubt that would be as interesting as attributing all of the concerns to the entire Paly community.



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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:16 pm

"The district is working fine with the vast majority of special ed parents"
You forget, I have read the settlement agreements and am a parent. The district is most certainly not working just fine.


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Posted by Let me count the ways
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:22 pm

@correcting the record

You state: "The stream of Brown Act violation claims that followed the Weekly's 2012 claim, with the dueling lawyers who had to be hired, which in the end showed the district doing nothing improper."

I'd like to correct the record on this misstatement. PAUSD was in fact found in violation of the Brown Act on at least two occasions, one that was uncovered by PR requests and one that surfaced later. The editor of this paper clarified this in an online posting in response to another comment on a November 2013 story about the elusive bullying policies:

"Anon,

Thanks for bringing this point up. We informed board chair Dana Tom and Superintendent Kelly last week of the Brown Act problem, and Tom acknowledged that the committee is a Brown Act body and said that it was an oversight that the meetings were not noticed or open to the public. As a result, the meeting of the {Board Policy Review]committee that was planned for this week and that had not been properly noticed was cancelled and all future meetings presumably will be handled in accordance with the Brown Act. Had the district tried to maintain the committee was not a Brown Act body, the Weekly would likely have sued and asked a court to enforce the law, but resolving this without expensive litigation is much better.

Regarding our Brown Act dispute with the board a year ago, your recollection isn't quite right. Our Brown Act concerns were over the confidential emails that were going back and forth between the Superintendent and school board members about issues that were, or would soon be, in front of the board for action. The law does not allow members of a governing body to utilize emails to convey their thoughts on an issue to their chief administrator (or each other) and allow him to essentially "poll" the body, all without the public having any idea of what's going on. As a result of our objection to the practice of these confidential emails, while the board did not believe it had done anything to violate the law, it agreed to make future emails public. In addition, at our request, the District Attorney's office reviewed several of the emails and advised us that there had been one clear violation and that other emails were probably not advisable but also probably not illegal."
Web Link


Over the past years I have seen a pattern of this district's disregard either by intention or omission to follow state and federal laws. For example PAUSD illegally charged for summer school fees for more than a decade. The CA Dept of Education issued Fiscal Management Advisory 97-02 to all school districts in October 1997. Web Link The advisory reminds school districts of their legal obligation in regards to student fees.

"The Opinions of the Attorney General indicate that charges may not be levied for the following…

III. C. A tuition fee or charge as a condition of enrollment in any class or course of instruction, including a fee for attendance in a summer (see Section V below) or, vacation school, a registration fee, a fee for a catalog of courses, a fee for an examination in a subject, a late registration or program change fee, a fee for the issuance of a diploma or certificate, or a charge for lodging."

While most districts complied with this advisory which often resulted in reduced or discontinued summer school programs; our district continued to charge by employing the city as a fiscal agent to collect summer school fees. When they finally got caught with their fingers in the cookie jar the district misled the public by claiming they were refunding fees in response to a new regulation.

Similarly the district chose to ignore the legal advise opined in the OCR's Dear Colleague Letter dated April 4, 2011 regarding Title IX compliance Web Link and the Dear Colleague Letter dated October 26, 2010 regarding bullying of protected classes Web Link

We could have ignored these letters if we had just kept up to date with policy updates recommended and provided by the CSBA of which we are a subscribing member. Remember when our board said that they would provide a model bullying policy for all school districts to follow? Then in private they fought with OCR and ultimately approved the standard CSBA template except that they stripped it of the recommended provision to include non-protected classes.

Finally if our district had read the letter regarding Title IX which advised districts to use the manual provided for school administrators in 2001 Web Link we might have avoided the Title IX compliance review. The manual states:
"[I]f, because of the lack of a policy or procedure specifically addressing sexual harassment, students are unaware of what kind of conduct constitutes sexual harassment or that such conduct is prohibited sex discrimination, a school's general policy and procedures relating to sex discrimination complaints will not be considered effective."
In reading the Verde article it is apparent to me that students were not aware that peer harassment of the victims was a violation of district policy. It makes sense to me that the OCR would want to interview students about this. In February 2014 the following section was added to the district's Sexual Harassment Policy:

"Instruction/Information
The Superintendent or designee shall ensure that all District students receive age-appropriate instruction and information on sexual harassment. Such instruction and information shall include:

1. What acts and behavior constitute sexual harassment, including the fact that sexual harassment could occur between people of the same sex and could involve sexual violence
2. A clear message that students do not have to endure sexual harassment
3. Encouragement to report observed instances of sexual harassment, even where the victim of the harassment has not complained 4. Information about the District's procedure for investigating complaints and the person(s) to
whom a report of sexual harassment should be made
5. Information about the rights of students and parents/guardians to file a criminal complaint, as applicable

The above policy language was copied verbatim from the CSBA template.

If our board and administrators had implemented these recommended policies in a timely fashion perhaps outcomes would have been better for the students who came forward and for countless others who have suffered in silence and we wouldn't be in this mess today.









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Posted by A parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:27 pm

@money,
You ask me when you decide to lawyer up. The point is, if you change your adversarial attitude towards parents, you don't have to. Your problem is that you think any parent who stands up to you must be unreasonable for advocating for their child.

The idea that doubling down on CYA instead of apologizing and seeking transparency is wrong. "Sorry works" - ever tried it? (Rhetorical question)
Web Link


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Here's a different link (there are thousands on this issue, chosen at random) to a food poisoning case in Canada:
Web Link

"In dealing with a crisis by taking responsibility for it, Maple Leaf Foods may well have saved its brands and saved the company's reputation. By telling consumers, "sorry, it's totally our fault and we'll fix it," despite what lawyers might have advised, there was an appreciation that someone was prepared to take responsibility for the disaster rather than weaving, dodging and bobbing to avoid legal liability"

That says it all.


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm

@AParent,
So you're now asking the district to say sorry when they have done nothing wrong and simply give you whatever you ask even when you aren't entitled to it? How do you even consider this a reasonable option?

At least that gives an insight into what the district has to deal with.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

money well spent clearly did not even take the time to read the cited article which stated:

"Lunchmeat manufactured and packaged in Toronto under the Burns and Maple Leaf brands was infected, and there were nine confirmed and 11 suspected deaths attributed to eating the tainted meat. Others who ate the meat but recovered are still putting their lives back together, as are friends and families of all those affected."

AParent is absolutely right "despite what lawyers might have advised, there was an appreciation that someone was prepared to take responsibility for the disaster rather than weaving, dodging and bobbing to avoid legal liability."


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Peter, I agree, there is a great appreciation when you get something that you aren't entitled to. Free upgrades for everyone, hey? Of course someone has to pay for it...hmmm.


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:54 pm

@ Money,
The district HAS done something wrong. They were caught with their pants down over not providing disabled children due process. Two parents filed complaints, which resulted in settlement agreements, but many others suffered. The district admitted they did something wrong by signing resolution agreements. One only has to read the agreements (and live in this district and talk to parents -- which the press and feds will do if this letter is authorized) to realize the district did a LOT wrong.

"..and simply give you whatever you ask even when you aren't entitled to it"
What I am asking for is what you CLAIM you want, which is to spend our money -- my money -- well and not waste it, NOT on BMW's for FFF attorneys or even bigger CYA for Charles Young and company. How do you even consider this a reasonable option? Especially since all the evidence now in virtually every area of liability shows that owning up to your mistakes, apologizing, being transparent, and working to make things better ends up being a lot cheaper.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Retired Teacher is a registered user.

Hello, fake Retired Teacher,

It's pretty sneaky to post views contrary to the ones I have consistently advocated using my online name. I'm registered; you're not. Please cease and desist! Maybe the Weekly should restrict this thread to registered users as well!

Now I've got to say that I support spending this money to defend the district against an out-of-control federal agency, the Weekly, and a group of vilifiers of the district, its leadership, and of sound educational and disciplinary practices. It's great that our leaders are finally standing up to all this bullying by these three groups.

None of this would be necessary if a small group of naysayers hadn't pursued a destructive path in the media and by demanding an unconscionable amount of public documents about every conceivable topic. We have a fine district, fine leadership, and a fine Board of Education. We don't deserve this sort of viciousness!

For the record, I have never taught in this district, but my kids went through PAUSD schools. Were they perfect? No. Were they great? Yes!




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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 3, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

money well spent simply does not understand simple English.

No one has proposed that anyone receive something to which they are not entitled.

money - please do a better job with your homework.....


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

"For the record, I have never taught in this district, but my kids went through PAUSD schools. Were they perfect? No. Were they great? Yes! "

We have had a superb experience with Palo Alto teaching staff, and for the most part with school-level admin. Our experience at the district level has made it clear why they are writing letters like that instead of taking responsibility and doing their jobs. Next election I'm voting only for people ready to come in and cut the dead wood that creates this kind of terrible and expensive adversarial climate.


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Posted by money well spent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 3, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Peter, you need to go back through this. From the beginning this has been about Parents asking for more than they are entitled to and lawyering up to get it. That is what the district has been countering and resulting in the cost overrun.

Try this: Web Link

n this case, the family is seeking "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."

The district provided the necessary services but the parents weren't happy with it. Should the district now just bend over because the parents lawyered-up?

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

Here's an appropriate news story from just this past November:
Web Link

NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit Channel 4
Public Schools Delay or Deny Special Education Services for Most Vulnerable Students

"The Investigative Unit exposes strategies used by some districts to delay or deny public education to students with learning impairments; NBC Bay Area calculates how much the Bay Area's biggest school districts pay outside lawyers to fight parents"

In strikingly similar statistics to any other kind of liability case:
""There's disagreements between families and school districts, and less than 1 percent of families request a due process hearing, and only 3 percent of them actually go to the hearing," parent advocate Ann McDonald-Cacho said, citing CLA [California Legislative Analyst] statistics. "The numbers show that most families…don't have the resources, they don't know where to find a lawyer, they don't know how they could possibly hire a lawyer in order to work out these disagreements," McDonald-Cacho said"
...

"These legal battles don't just affect students with disabilities; all students are affected when districts have to pay legal fees that may otherwise be spent on providing students with the services they need.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit requested records showing the amount of money spent on outside attorneys from 2010 to May 2013 for the three Bay Area districts with the most special education cases: Oakland Unified, San Jose Unified and San Francisco Unified.

The reports show Oakland Unified spent more than $850,000, San Jose Unified spent more than $551,000 and San Francisco spent more than $440,000 on outside counsel to deal with special education lawsuits.

Compare that to the roughly $22,300 a year it costs to educate a special needs student. The districts could have provided services to 83 students in that time period.

"I think most of the situations that end up in court are cases that could have been resolved earlier and much cheaper," Mayerson said."

Ditto here. Especially since I see a lot of families in Palo Alto just taking their kids out and sending them to private school so they don't have to fight with the district. Maybe that's what the district wants, but it's illegal and it creates and horrible modus operandi for those who can't afford to do that.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Edmund Burke is a registered user.

The board discussion on this was depressing. I had the same feeling that a firefighter might have when he or she arrives at the scene and finds a baby at the bottom of a well. First, how did the baby get down there. Second, how can one even begin to make a plan to get it out?

Some of the high (low) lights of this discussion included:

Camille Townsend cynically using the death of Audrey Potts to ask why the dead girl at Saratoga didn't provoke an OCR investigation. After all, Phil Winston only sexually harassed staff and students. Our student magazine only published [portion removed] a series of stories about rape and sexual harassment of our students. No one DIED like at Saratoga. Call us back OCR when someone DIES. That was about as low as it goes, for the conduct of public officials. Look no further than that shocking performance to understand why the Weekly declined to endorse her twice;

Heidi Emberling, who sought and received the endorsements of progressive Democrats endorsing this resolution to attack the OCR;

Dana Tom lecturing the OCR on how it needs better procedures. This from the man who was president of a board of trustees in a district that itself had NO procedures at all for 504 cases, no uniform complaint procedures, and whose high schools to this day use handbooks that contain incorrect procedures;

Chad Graff who somehow has managed to wrangle his client into a terrible position for them, that they clearly have no comprehension of (witness the repeated statements by Tom and Caswell and Emberling about how this resolution would now lead to increased cooperation with OCR). But it's certainly good for his billables and good for the bottom line for his firm, which doubled its billings to this client in the past 12 months.

As theater it was riveting. As governance it was a mockery.


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Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

@ Edmund Burke,
Which endorsements? Emberling is friends with someone in Rich Gordon's office. Who else? (I'd like to at least know whose primary vote I need to regret...) Gordon gave money for the rezoning at Maybell. If you tell me he was for this, he's lost my respect and my vote...


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Posted by frustrated mom
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2014 at 11:29 pm

frustrated mom is a registered user.


I would not mind if they challenge OCR using their own money, and not our student's education funds. Int he first place, why are they mad about OCR coming to do their investigations? they are the ones who made them come to our town. In the first OCR complain..they never do nothing to stop the bullying of the disabled child, and they also underestimated the education of the parents in this case. They are now complaining that OCR is unfair and that they do not answer e-mails, but that is exactly what they have done in the cases that parents have file complains. The only reason these parents have turned turn to OCR for help is because PAUSD administrators were not being fair, and did not reply to the pleas for help when the students needed it immediate protection. Now why complain? PAUSD, board members and administrators put themselves into this big mess, and by trying to get out of it by fighting OCR is not a smart idea. They are digging their own grave. If they are not violating students' rights they should not be afraid of OCR doing investigation. But in fact they want to keep them out of PAUSD because there a re a lot of bad things going on behind close doors, and they are afraid that more things will come out to light. They are not challenging the OCR cased that they have been found wrong doing. Only because those parents do not want to make them public, as it is the case for sure of couple of cases. They only make it public when there have not been enough evidence to sustain the claim, and yes it does not mean it did not happen, only means that the parents did not have enough documentation in writing because most dealing was done verbally.

To all administrators: Please use your own money from your paychecks to challenge OCR, perhaps Katherine Baker, former principal at Terman should start paying the lawyers, at least now she makes more money with ner new position so that way she can afford the legal fees. Perhaps parents who brought complains to OCR should go directly against those administrators who violated the student's right, and not suit PAUSD, but the people who failed the students. Only then they will learn from their mistakes.
I find that PAUSD is making a big mistake in bringing the lawyer at tonights meeting so he can say yes and reply in PAUSD favor. Of course he is going to make PAUSD happy, he is getting paid. Bring a neutral lawyer and asked them some of the questions, and then I will believe you. Plese use other tactics to try to convince community members that your are the victims of OCR. Do not use our parcel tax on this no nonsense fight.


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