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How often does bullying happen in Palo Alto?

Original post made on Jun 17, 2013

"If someone says bullying is not a problem in Palo Alto, I'd say: You need to look again," said Juliet Melamid, a marriage and family therapist and former director of FriendSmarts, a psycho-social treatment program for school-age children and teens located in Palo Alto.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 14, 2013, 8:26 AM

Comments (18)

Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 7:56 am

This story reports the systematic under-reporting of bullying and discriminatory harassment by principals. This may in part be because school principals are evaluated to some extent on the safety of the school. There are many incentives to report low rates of bullying to the public.

One example stands out:

During the first half of 2012-13, when the "rape culture" sexual harassment was alleged to have occurred, this story reports that "Paly recorded four incidents under bullying, harassment or sexual harassment." The sexual harassment reported in the Verde involved dozens of incidents and resulted in a student who had been sexually assaulted and subsequently harassed by peers in retaliation for her report. That student was so harassed she ended up leaving Paly. Yet during that period there were only a total of 4 incidents of any bullying or harassment reported. This suggests that perhaps the Paly sexual harassment incident was never reported or recorded as such.

This conclusion is bolstered by the fact, reported somewhere in this series but not tied together here, that PAUSD's Uniform Complaint Procedures log is virtually empty for the past 7 years, suggesting that the Paly sexual harassment episodes were not recorded as such.

Paly's principal, Phil Winston, by way of explanation, says ""I like data, but I think that data can really skew what is happening." This statement is nonsense and that is in part why the district must follow state law and use standard criteria and use the UCP as required to create a log and paper trail so that parents can track incidents at their schools, and compare schools to each other meaningfully.

Uniform, district wide reporting is required by state law in accordance with the UCP. One of the chief reasons for the use of the UCP is to prevent this kind of book-cooking by principals and schools with incentives to try to report low rates of bullying to the public.


Posted by Burkean, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

Thanks EB. I appreciate you pointing out important nuggets from these stories because there is too much information at one time in all this to really grasp and some things are in one place. But I think describing the under reporting as "systematic" might be giving the schools too much credit. It's more like random. And I guess that either way that's why we need this UCP. Thanks again.


Posted by Look at the Data, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:21 am

I don't understand this community. We have people demanding ZERO bullying/harassment in our schools?! Name a public school district of our size which can claim zero bullying/harassment. It's not possible! And the OCR complaints are only because we have intellectual parents who are capable of filing such complaints. Think of Oakland, San Jose, etc. districts - I'll bet those parents don't file OCR complaints when they should.

The article states a program had 60 students per week who were victims of bullying. There are approximately 11,000 students in PAUSD.

And for the questionnaire to ask middle school students if they have been "bullied" in an entire year?! And post that it's 48%? I too, can think of at least one rude comment/behavior towards me in this past year.

I have an LD child and we have had issues with bullying 4-5 times and have been pleased with PAUSD administration.

This whole "bullying in PAUSD" is overblown and people are demanding unattainable goals.


Posted by Former Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

Look at the Data,

I think you are misunderstanding the comments and controversy. No one is saying achieving zero bullying is a realistic goal. In fact, I don't hear anyone saying that the schools aren't doing great things to try and teach kids about bullying and try to keep it from occurring.

The issue is what should be a school's response when serious bullying DOES happen. That is where the district has let us all down and the focus needs to be on improving the manner of responding, keeping good data on these cases, and then evaluating how we did. There is simply ZERO accountability because there is ZERO transparency. That is the culture of PAUSD and has been for at least the last two administrations. Sad but true.


Posted by Seema, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:50 am

According to a lot of anecdotal evidence, Jordan has had a bullying problem, including bullying by some teachers, especially those who teach PE, since 1991.

In spite of the fact that it is anecdotal, and in light of the fact of what is happening there now, I think there is much, much more bullying in PAUSD, especially at the middle school level, than is reported.


Posted by paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:51 am

What concerned me the most about this article is how many different programs we have at our schools and how many different definitions there are for bullying and for recording issues.

PAUSD needs ONE centralized, consistent program which includes consistent reporting, consistent language with one program, one support group and one way of measuring it.

Site based decision making should not be allowed for this topic.


Posted by paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:56 am

Seema - I had two kids go thru Jordan, one under an old principal and one under Dr. Miliken, The whole school atmosphere was totally different and much more positive under Michael Miliken. Less bullying including by teachers (although there are still a few). Before Miliken, the kids were "guilty until proven innocent" some of the administration seemed to enjoying catching kids misbehaving. That changed and kids were expected to behave and generally rose to the occasion. The other big difference was the visibility of the staff, including Milliken, during lunch time. Kids are much less likely to misbehave in any way if there are visible adults nearby.


Posted by Look at the Data, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Former Paly Parent: The other threads have posters [portion removed] that "our children are suffering" and imply they want zero bullying.

Paly Parent: I completely agree. Milliken was a fantastic principal and when we reported bullying, he clamped down. Belmont is fortunate to have him as Superintendent.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

We've been really happy with Jordan administration and staff and I've had two children recently attend Jordan who are now at Paly.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 17, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Our kids were at Jordan 6 years ago --- even going back that far may not be an accurate portrait of the campus climate. Many faces have changed both at the school, the BoE and PAUSD. Don't want to minimize the issues of the past, but I think going beyond 5 years isn't going to be an accurate measurement of the issues of today.


Posted by parent of LD student, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Ymmv. I lobbied hard to get my second child into JLS, so he wouldn't have the same miserable experience my daughter did under Miliken's leadership, with Chris Grierson as her teacher. I wasn't able to get him away from Jordan, as we are neither well-connected, nor wealthy enough for private school. As it turns out, Gregory Barnes is now principal, and under him the whole tone of the place has changed for the better! More relaxed, friendlier, more helpful.

The only bullying issue my son had was once when he was cornered by a group of bigger, older boys in the gym, and taunted with homosexual epithets, as they moved in to attack. He handled it himself. I'm not going to say how because something tells me this crowd is unlikely to approve:) I wouldn't have advised him to handle it the way he did but it worked, as he hasn't been bothered since. Unfortunately, it is hard to get middle schoolers to go to adults for help, as being labeled a snitch just gains them worse bullying. So, when a child is brave enough to tell, as the children did in the OCR cases, they need to be helped, and it has to apply to the children of ALL families, not just the right, well-connected, insider families. That is what surprised me the most about the recent article on bullying -- that they mentioned the taboo subject of Palo Alto's insider families. I should know. I used to be a Palo Alto insider mom, by virtue of lots of volunteer work in the schools but lost my insider card when I had to go back to work. Dealings with the school sure were rosier on the other side.


Posted by Not True!, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 17, 2013 at 7:43 pm

No, one does not need to be an "insider" to get help from the schools. That's complete B.S. I'm no "insider" and the staff and administration has helped our family plenty. Milliken was good, Barnes is better.


Posted by Not every teacher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 7:48 pm

You don't have to be an insider, but it sure helps. Having a lawyer helps as well, that much has been proven.


Posted by MyKids@jordan, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Michael Miliken was a fantastic Principal @Jordan. He invited parents to join his "Coffee with Me" meeting at least once a month. He always stayed outside to watch kids getting onto buses after school. He is a highly visible and responsible person while he was @Jordan.


Posted by Dad2Luke, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Dear Look at the Data,
Parents in San Jose Unified School District file OCR complaints. At least I have. Schools have problems with the bullying of disabled kids, and it is far easier to look the other way than to stop the Lord of the Flies that happens at recess.


Posted by Not every teacher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:42 pm

And now we are San Jose. We are Palo Alto, we are special.


Posted by parent of LD student, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 18, 2013 at 8:28 am

@Not true: as I said, ymmv (your mileage may vary). That's nice for you that you got such help at Jordan. That does not make my experience untrue. When I was an insider, I was able to use that to learn the ropes about "how to" get many things done, and not just at Jordan, so I didn't have to be lucky. As to the specifics given about how "fantastic" Milliken was, the principals at other schools my children have been to also held monthly coffees, and yes, were seen outside watching kids get on buses. (My daughters memory of being "welcomed" the first day to Jordan by Mr. Milliken was him standing watch that no one get on the grass but not actually greeting anyone:/) Perhaps he was better than the previous principal. I wouldn't know as we had no kids there then. My experiences with him were mediocre at best. LOVE the climate changes with Mr. Barnes!


Posted by If he's so great..., a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

If mr Milliken was so great as a principal at Jordan, why is he still referred to as "Mumbles Milliken"?


Posted by Not so great, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I don't know about the mumbles reference, but no, Michael Milliken was not so great. He was pretty good, though.


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