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District previews 'safe, welcoming schools' plan

Original post made on May 7, 2013

Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly Tuesday proposed a school-board-level committee as well as a summer task force to consider community concerns about bullying and harassment in local schools.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 4:31 PM

Comments (17)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm

And the "lessons learned" from having been found in violation of federal laws by OCR? I thought that was to have been a part of this meeting.

This all sounds like creating the allusion of action and nothing more.


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Posted by Down-The-Rabbit-Hole
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Wow!

Another meeeting to plan a meeting about creating a plan to plan a plan!!

The District does seems to have learned how to pile more smoke and mirrors on top of smoke and mirrors.

Camille Townsend is not the only person who needs a little more "clarity" here. I could use some too.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2013 at 7:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Longtime reader
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2013 at 10:40 pm

I watched the video. This is a poor job of reporting. Why not interview some of those parents? What about the Title 9 issue about the Paly rape culture? Or the questions about whether the Board knew about the lawyer's lies?
Maybe somebody will post a fuller story.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2013 at 11:06 pm

The Title IX issue upset me because Dr. Skelly admitted that there was no investigation, and apparently (correct me if I'm wrong) that is required by law. Evidently, it seemed pretty clear, that if the school knows about harassment like that poor girl experienced, it has to investigate and see if Title 9 is violated. Guess who didn't do the investigation? Charles Young! That guy just should not be a compliance officer, clearly. He's nicer than Skelly but neither one of them is the sharpest Crayola in the box. Dr. Skelly clearly had no idea that he even had to do the investigation. So not knowing the law is no excuse. But what about common sense? When your school is featured on NPR for "rape culture" because one of your students has been bullied and harassed off campus due to retaliation for complaining about rape, you don't investigate? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by hmmm.....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Oh brother. Blah blah blah. Safe and welcoming by committee? How about just the people in charge (quoted in the article) learn about things like "trust" and "respect".

I have a clue for said people in charge: you don't let anything you disagree with enter your consciousness and change your minds or behavior anyway, what's the use of having a committee? You're not exactly fooling the community, and it's doing the lot of you no good either.


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Posted by got it backwards
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 8, 2013 at 7:07 am

Observer,

You said: "The Title IX issue upset me because [the superintendent] admitted that there was no investigation, and apparently (correct me if I'm wrong) that is required by law. ... no idea that he even had to do the investigation. So not knowing the law is no excuse... Are you a total idiot?"

Why cast blame when you don't know the law?

Title IX/Sexual Harrassment -

Sure seems like Paly did exactly what was required.

U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: "Due to the anonymous source and lack of specificity of the information, a school would not reasonably be able to investigate and confirm these allegations. However, in response to the anonymous letter, the school could submit a letter or article to the newspaper"

1. Before Paly can investigate, it has to know who to investigate.

If the girls did not report this to Paly or the police - as the Paly newspaper states – so Paly officials could not start an investigation.

Reporting it to Paly newspaper reporters is not the same. The girls spoke to the reporters on the condition that their names would not be divulged. Laws protect the privacy of sources who speak to reporters; journalists will go to jail rather than reveal the names of their sources.

There was no investigation because the district did not know who to investigate.

2. Assume that Paly still should do something. What would you propose it do? A general education campaign to let students know their rights?

OK.

But Paly did that. They ran article after article about it in the student newspaper, a story that was widely picked up by other media outlets like the Weekly, Mercury and KQED. Hard to imagine a more effective information blast than that.

Web Link

3. In the PAUSD policy guide that parents receive sexual harassment complaints are to be investigated by the school principal, not by the district employees - the superintendent and his administrative staff – who you call out.


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Posted by soccer mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2013 at 7:16 am

The idea of a Board Committee deflects responsibility from the District Administration who is paid to create and manage school environments in a safe manner and to action complaints when they arise. What failed in the instance recounted in the OCR report was that the school administration and Charles Young did not act in accordance with established complaint policies. The family did come before the School Board and was deflected back to the school site. Families experiencing bullying and harrassment should not have to come before a Board committee to "express concerns." "Concerns" should be heard and action taken at the school site by trained administrators and Charles Young should take appropriate action to resolve if the situation is escalated to his office. The Resolution Agreement laid out a clear action plan. Let's follow that first.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 8, 2013 at 8:23 am

Don't worry soccer mom. That "committee" proposal looked really last minute and hacked together. They didn't have a clear sense of what it was going to do, who would be on it, how it would function, and so on. It seemed to those of us observing the meeting that the staff was following Laurie Reynold's sage advice to "break out of the tiresome, distracting loop" of discussing all the mistakes and instead to offer good news about its own positive plan. Unfortunately, the board members didn't take the bait and wanted more information about what they would do and why before signing up to be what would essentially be buffers for district decisions on bullying.

I don't think it was supposed to be a committee where parents experiencing bullying are supposed to complain -- I had the impression it was to be another PSN style free lunch chat session on the subject of bullying. But the fact is it is so ill-defined that it is hard to know. The community members who spoke cited the Homework committee as a model for advisory committees, however that committee drafted policy and in this case, our policy (such as it is) is being drafted (and redrafted, and redrafted, and redrafted) by our lawyers (now on v.2 of that as well) and then sent to OCR to be told that it's still wrong.

But if it was a board/community committee that developed policy on prevention programs that were district-wide in application and uniform, that could be a worthy goal. That was one of Heidi's campaign goals so why doesn't she advocate for it? If this is a committee that breaks the hold of "site based decision making" in an area that the strategic plan survey showed that people think should be managed at the district level, it could be very beneficial. If it's a flackcatcher, then not.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2013 at 8:47 am

@backwards.

The victim referred to in the Paly story as "Tina" was not anonymous to the school. Paly was aware of the identity of the victim. She complained to her counselor, as reported in the story. The counselor was a mandated reporter and reported the assault to the police. The girl declined to prosecute, but not to ask for help from the school. The school was aware of the bullying that occurred as a result.

I do not know what you are citing in your post as being from OCR, however OCR's definitive guidance on this subject is found here: Web Link

"Because students often experience the continuing effects of off-campus sexual harassment in the educational setting, schools should consider the effects of the off-campus conduct when evaluating whether there is a hostile environment on campus. For example, if a student alleges that he or she was sexually assaulted by another student off school grounds, and that upon returning to school he or she wastaunted and harassed by other students who are the alleged perpetrator's friends, the school should take the earlier sexual assaultinto account in determining whether there is a sexually hostile environment. The school also should take steps to protect a student
who was assaulted off campus from further sexual harassment or retaliation from the
perpetrator and his or her associates."

The troubling fact in this case is that the school and district did not conduct the needed Title IX inquiry and that the Superintendent when asked whether the inquiry had been conducted was unaware of the obligation to do so. He stated that he was unsure what the "nexus" was "between the unfortunate incident reported in the paper and the school." He was clearly not aware of the fact that the school had an obligation to investigate or offer accomodations to the student-victim. In this instance it is possible that the law was not followed as the media reported that the student left Paly altogether as a result of the sexually harassing bullying she experienced.

These events are recent and the district should immediately conduct the proper investigation, determine whether a hostile environment was created, and properly remediate that situation for both the student and the school community.

OCR does not care whether school or district officials conduct the Title IX inquiry. However, the district has designated a Title IX compliance officer Charles Young. That is the official who is responsible for ensuring compliance under the law.

"The coordinator's responsibilities include overseeing all Title IX complaints and
identifying and addressing any patterns or systemic problems that arise during the review of such complaints. The Title IX coordinator or designee should be available to meet with students as needed. If a recipient designates more than one Title IX coordinator, the notice should describe each coordinator's responsibilities (e.g., who will handle complaints by students, faculty, and other employees)." See: Web Link

This is another instance in which the district appears not to know or follow federal civil rights law and is another instance of discriminatory bullying that is not being properly addressed by PAUSD. Despite the fact of many complaints, resolution agreements, ongoing negotiations, legal advice totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, and extensive media attention, the Paly Title IX hostile environment case went uninvestigated and unaddressed, and the victim simply left Paly to escape the bullying and harassment.

This situation requires the appropriate Title IX investigation and the sooner the better. The student and her family may realize that her rights have been violated and file a complaint or a federal civil rights suit.


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Posted by Burke fan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 8, 2013 at 10:08 am

Thank you Mr. Burke. I love your clear and cogent explanations. I hope the right people at the school district are taking heed.


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Posted by Burke fan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 8, 2013 at 10:08 am

Thank you Mr. Burke. I love your clear and cogent explanations. I hope the right people at the school district are taking heed.


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Posted by Burke fan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 8, 2013 at 10:11 am

I'm sorry I pressed the button twice I guess.


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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Seems to me that it all goes back to the very urgent need for an impartial investigation about the past. All that enabled any and all occurrences discussed lately, and above. Seems to me that they are all connected to the atmosphere created by many past events/incidents that taught most - survival skills.
Fear of retaliation was mentioned over and over - atmosphere where parents know what is expected for their own kids well being. etc.
Seems to me that kids see, and learn how their parents try to protect them. Kids also see how different segment are treated. Kids learn, know who can be approached (or not) etc.
That was the reason that had me address Ken Dauber asking to form a Shadow Board. I did that way prior to the latest, not tool long ago.
I thought that immediate response is called for, a safe place to share information, until, hopefully, some formal impartial committee will be formed. Seems to me that at this point such committee must be totally objective, outside audit type. I doubt information will be trusted otherwise.
Quite possibly there are other ways. Link to me Open Address: Web Link


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Posted by Bass Ackwards
a resident of Nixon School
on May 9, 2013 at 10:56 am

As usual, Kevin Skelly showed us again how and why he is really not good at anything other than coverups. He simply has not the skill sets, with people or otherwise, to be a Superintendent.

Worst of all, he has tarnished the PAUSD name and reputation. The fact that the board continues to protect him is suspicious in itself. What are they hiding? One would think they would be distancing themselves from this guy.

With all the calls for his removal, why is Kevin Skelly still among us???


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Posted by The Happy Wonderer
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for this article and report on the meeting that most people in our community were unable to attend due to work constraints or child care issues. I suggest that all people in our community and especially parents of school aged children view the comments from the community that you can access through the link in this article.

"I need a lot more clarity around what it is you want the board to do," board member Camille Townsend said. She's not the only one who needs to acquire some clarity!
The public needs a lot more clarity about why the district has been hiding so many things from the tax payers and why Kevin Skelly and his lieutenant are still employed in our district. I think that Camille had knowledge of many things that the public has been kept in the dark about. Had these facts been revealed prior to Kevin's contract extension (he makes almost 300K a year!) he would have been long gone. Dr. Skelly's term should be terminated as he was lying by omission when he had his review last year. I have polled many of my friends and neighbors on whether they think he should have been fired and I haven't met anyone who said they would retain him had he been their employee (many of my friends are high ranking industry management folk).
Please, Dr. Skelly, why don't you do the dignified Nixonian thing and just retire? Do this before more facts his the fire. The truths that will be emerging in the coming months will just make it more difficult for the stonewalling to continue (with or without Laurie Reynolds and an expensive PR person). After you experience the upcoming travails that you and the district will be forced to endure, you will wish you had retired before being fired. The truth will set us all free.
From this article, "Board members said it's important to have clear definitions of bullying and disability-based harassment that are commonly understood among students, parents and school staff members."

With all due respect (or maybe undue) Board Members, Dr. Skelly and other administrators: You have the perfect opportunity to get those clear definitions courtesy of the parent groups that offered to sponsor a presentation by the OCR. Bring those questions on! What I am wondering is why the board, Dr. Skelly and others did not make it a focused goal to get these clear definitions a long time ago. Isn't that part of your job? Especially in light of the fact that our district received a Letter of Finding from the Office For Civil Rights for violating the civil rights of a disabled middle school girl. This is a BIG DEAL and it won't go away ever. I am ashamed of PAUSD to tell you the truth.

"Member Melissa Baten Caswell suggested checklists for use by administrators." Perhaps you can submit a card at the upcoming meeting, Melissa. I am sure that the OCR would be happy to shed a little light on things which you and your colleagues should already have known.

I highly doubt that Dr. Skelly or the any of the Board will show their faces at the meeting and that is a shame. The district was going to co-sponsor this event and then backed out. I wonder why????


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 8:17 am

@ Bass,
Be glad Skelly is still among us, Young would be far worse. Sometimes I wonder how the rest of us may be victims of that group's internal politics.


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