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On Deadline blog: Palo Alto getting a crash course on bullying -- yet some prevention efforts go back years

Original post made by Jay Thorwaldson on Mar 30, 2013

Bullying and how to prevent it and deal with both victims and bullies has become a hot topic in Palo Alto schools, spurred by a harsh finding by the federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, California region (OCR).

Administrators at the Palo Alto Unified School District's 17 schools last week underwent something of a crash course on bullying, appropriate responses and how best to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Teachers and staff will be next as the district implements a comprehensive set of steps to which Superintendent Kevin Skelly agreed in December. Parent and community involvement will continue where it already exists and be expanded in a variety of ways, some still on the drawing boards in terms of designing outreach efforts.

Elevating bullying to the level of a civil-rights violation of the person being bullied is rare, but OCR representatives -- referring media queries to a public-relations person -- cannot say how rare.

And most cases where it has been deemed a civil rights issue have occurred in low-income districts. So that makes the high-end, high-performance Palo Alto district a rarity of rarities.

And civil rights only enters the picture when the victim is a member of a protected group, based in the Palo Alto case on a disability. Other categories can include sexual preference, race, ethnic background or physical handicaps.

The district and the PTA Council have teamed up to launch anti-bullying informational programs at all the district's elementary schools, enlisting TheatreWorks in putting on special performances.

And Sigrid Pinsky, PTA Council president, is conducting a survey of anti-bullying efforts at all district's schools.

"Every school has some type of program," Pinsky has found. Her two sons attend Fairmeadow Elementary School, which uses the Steps to Respect program, as do several other schools. Some school-based programs, such as the highly regarded program at Ohlone School, have been developed over several decades, and even involve daily exchanges in "reflection circles" as to what is happening at and around the school.

One program, called "Digital Tattoo," focuses on the dangers of Internet bullying and how young persons must learn that posting something online in a social network or otherwise becomes virtually permanent, much like getting a tattoo -- but far more than skin deep. The program is a spinoff of two women from the Palo Alto-based Parents' Place.

Pinsky disagrees that the "civil rights" case indicates a "systemic failure" in the district, however -- citing the numerous efforts underway.

The focus on bullying has increased sharply in the past half-dozen years, in part due to the attention paid to online "cyberbullying" and in large part due to some high-profile suicides tragedies to which bullying is believed to have contributed.

Given that perhaps this case was not a systemic failure but a slip-through-the-cracks lapse of procedure and district-wide policy support, what can be done? Everyone agrees that bullying can take many forms, from physical to ridicule to exclusionary cruelty. And everyone seems to agree that dealing with the bullies is an important aspect.

The 10-page OCR report, based on extensive interviews of officials, parents and students, outlines in detail the efforts made by school officials to respond to the series of bullying incidents of the child involved. But it still is a blistering read.

It also includes a telling paragraph that pretty much defines the situation on which the OCR based its conclusions:

"OCR evaluates the appropriateness of the responsive action by assessing whether it was prompt, thorough, and effective. What constitutes a reasonable response to harassment will differ depending upon the circumstances. However, in all cases the district must promptly conduct an impartial inquires designed to reliably determine what occurred. The response much be tailored to stop the harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, and remedy the effects of the harassment on the student who was harassed. The district must also take steps to prevent the harassment from recurring, including disciplining the harasser where appropriate."

So promptness, effectiveness, fact-finding, preventing recurrences, remedying effects on the victim and discipline all may come into play -- although discipline alone is being challenged as the best way to change the behavior of an aggressor. Direct involvement in programs that foster empathy and understanding of others seems to be highly effective, according to some research studies.

"He has turned into a really nice guy," Pinsky said one of her sons said of another student who had a reputation as a bully.

Pinsky said she has invited Emily Bazelon, a journalist and author of the recent book, "Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy," to speak in Palo Alto. Schedule conflicts put off the presentation until the fall, however.

The book is being cited as a moving, clear and well-researched exploration of bullying from viewpoint of bully and bullied. A Google search also turns up scores of resources for knowledge and action.

Meanwhile, she is exploring local persons who have special knowledge, from front-line educators to professionals at area universities, to be part of a panel on the subject.

And the Palo Alto Board of Education in early May is scheduled to hear a full update on district actions.

Yet the challenge remains of how best to get the attention of those students (and especially their parents) who engage in bullying, in one form or another. A friend asked me whether students in grade school still have a place on their report cards for "social skills."

Yes, there is a place, and it includes subheads of respect and assuming personal responsibility.

What if repeated bullying involvement were included in that assessment, with the possibility at least of it being reflected in some future academic report or transcript? Not a likely scenario -- but that would certainly grab the attention of grade-conscious Palo Alto students and parents AND result in some quick behavior change. And I'm not even sure I like that "labeling" approach.

But getting one's attention and changing attitude and behavior is the bulls-eye, isn't it?

*Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com with a copy to jaythor@well.com. He writes regular print columns for the Weekly and blogs at www.PaloAltoOnline.com (below Town Square).*


Comments (40)

Posted by palo alto booster, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Hooray for Jay and Sigrid for not being so negative on our wonderful district like the federal government was. That report was blistering as Jay says. But there's two sides to everything and Sigrid thank you, thank you for standing up and saying that it's perfectly fine if Kevin Skelly lies to the public. What else was he supposed to do? People would have been mad if he told the truth so he practically had to lie! And why shouldn't he lie to the board and the public? He's the professional, the board are just amateurs. Why should they get to micromanage and second guess things like a federal investigation? Who is the federal government to put all these rules on Palo Alto anyway. We're a top district and we have top teachers and top administrators. We have a lot going on so if occasionally a disabled child is punched in the face so hard that the police are called and she has to go to the doctor, then so what? Kevin should lie about that and cover it up and Sigrid thank you for finally defending conduct that most of the community finds indefensible. Thank goodness for PTAC.

Jay, thank goodness that you also agree with Sigrid and conclude that "perhaps this case was not a systemic failure but a slip-through-the-cracks lapse of procedure and district-wide policy support." Especially given that there's no evidence for that, it's great to see this kind of faith-based journalism. Yay Palo Alto!


Posted by look it up, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Palo Alto Booster,

No need to bully the PTAC President.

You misunderstand the meaning of "systemic" which means "relating to or affecting the ENTIRE body." If school sites are teaching anti-bullying to their students, the problem is NOT systemic and there is absolutely nothing wrong with Sigrid Pinsky pointing that out.

It's a good thing.



Posted by palo alto booster, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I have no idea what you mean. I feel bullied by your accusation of bullying. If you consult PAUSD's bullying policy (good luck finding it, but there was no "systemic" (which means "relating to or affecting the ENTIRE body") failure, we just don't have a policy against disability harassment, or a policy against bullying. But never mind, it is bullying even to point out that there is no district bullying policy! But consulting that policy that we don't have you would find that there is no definition of bullying whatsoever but if there was one it wouldn't include the public criticism of an adult public figure for her publicly taken positions by someone with no power over her of any kind! Political disagreement isn't bullying under our nonexistent policy that does not bespeak systemic failure.

Great work Sigrid!


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Bullying, or inappropriate aggression, only seems to be recognized in schools in the most blatant sense. Most bullies I have noticed in life soon learn to couch their nastiness in other ways, and there is an epidemic of it these days.

The way people behave on the roads and in public is far worse than I have ever seen, but superficially more "peaceful". I can see why some people seem to go ballistic for no reason. But I think it's sad that no one seems to say or do anything in these kinds of situations ... it's like every obnoxious behavior has gotten too big to do anything about. If we stopped to correct every one nothing would ever get done and people might just go berserk. So these clever people can just torment and steal time and patience from other people ... and I call that bullying, rightly or wrongly.

The other day in Safeway I went to get inline at the cashier, and there was someone in line in the middle of checking out. The customer had not found everything they wanted, and instead of asking a clerk or stocker somewhere in the store they went wandering off with a line of 3 people behind them to find a grocery item. The customer got back maybe taking 5 minutes or so ... and still did not find the item they were shopping for. The checker went back to help this customer eating up more time for all three of us waiting in line. When the customer got back a terse insincere "sorry" with a snide smile was what we got. I did my best to politely mention that a customer ought to be shopping or checking out, but not trying to do both at the same time especially when there is a line.

Or there is the 101 on-ramp at Embarcadero where the more aggressive rude drivers run their vehicles from Oregon Expressway up the right side of the on-ramp all the way up to the last minute and dart in in-front of the other drivers from Embarcadero and 101 who have been patiently waiting in traffic.

People who use the deficiencies in our public infrastructure to cheat are bullies just like kids who pick on others in school are, in fact, perhaps it starts there ... and from what I see we are going to have a society of stressed out bullies competing to one up each other in public while smiling and flinging snide "politenesses" at each other that instead of lubricating interactions make them even more annoying.


Posted by Jay, you really missed it, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 31, 2013 at 11:05 am

Jay,
I've read your columns for years and usually found them to be valuable and insightful. However, you seem to have drifted well off topic this time.
The OCR investigation was very clearly not about our bullying "prevention" efforts. It addressed the severe inadequacy and legal violations of our bullying "response" programs by our sites and district administration. After investigating the lack of proper response policies, programs and training at two different PAUSD middle schools and at the district level, the OCR report makes clear conclusions that this has been a systemic problem for PAUSD and that the severity of our short comings was exceptional. This is not the sort of exceptionalism that our district used to be known for.
Ultimately, our site administrators could not be expected to have their own proper programs when there was such inadequate district level leadership, management and responsibility. At the root of these failures is a perversion of a credo of "site based autonomy". Rather than what was formerly a district that encouraged "site based innovation", with appropriate district oversight
of objectives and outcomes, we now appear to have a libertarian educational philosophy of each school too often determining programs and responsibilities without regard to laws, best practices or even our own district goals. At the district level, this same mindset has resulted in disregard for legal compliance
and institutional responsibility in multiple areas.
Ironically, you site the recently initiated and commendable PTA inventory of bullying prevention programs at our schools. Aside from appearing to accept the administration's tactic of conflating bullying "prevention" with OCR "response" issues, this initiative again demonstrates to serious district oversight and management failures. It begs the questions of why should it be up to the PTA to tally what programs exist at schools why does the district not already have this information? Sadly, this is but one of many important areas where the district has abdicated responsibilities under the "site autonomy" mantra, to the detriment of our students and our district.


Posted by Laughingstock, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 31, 2013 at 11:07 am

Meanwhile, the rest of the Santa Clara County school districts are laughing and smirking at PAUSD ( according to a recent edition of the Merc) because Kevin Skelly is allowed to keep his job here. So, basically, anywhere else he would have been fired long ago.

This is so unacceptable considering that he has damaged the name and reputation of Palo Alto schools and community. Worst of all, in light of all that has been uncovered, what is wrong with a school board that allows him to keep his job?


Posted by Stop the cheerleading, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 31, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Palo Alto has subsisted on the automatic and mindless praise of its school system for far too long. There's nothing wrong with a little school spirit but when officials come to expect high praise no matter how they may fail or what the particular facts are its time to grow up. The relentless praise offered failing practices and the automatic cheerleading provided by Sigrid Pinsky are part of the problem. One thing PAUSD consistently fails to model for our kids is how to accept and learn from failure. One exame among many of this phenomenon is the scandalous misuse of data and the resistance to knowing what data shows about the district in an objective way. Another example is the resolute refusal to compare schools to each other as in the case of high school counseling and the bullying programs.

It is very disappointing to see Jay jumping on the praise the schools bandwagon. This is a time for somber reflection and clear eyes evaluatio not brainless cheerleading. Ball dropped.


Posted by Puppet show, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Don't forget that sigrid Pinsky was hand picked by Kevin Skelly to be PTAC president. She plans to run for school board on a "support Skelly" platform. That's why PTAC has been silent on this civil rights issue. Now they are speaking but only in defense of the district bureaucrats not in support of kids. The last thing that school board needs is another unconditional Skelly-Young supporter.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2013 at 5:18 pm

> What if repeated bullying involvement were included in that assessment, with the possibility at least of it being reflected in some future academic report or transcript? Not a likely scenario -- but that would certainly grab the attention of grade-conscious Palo Alto students and parents AND result in some quick behavior change. And I'm not even sure I like that "labeling" approach.

This is a very interesting idea. Certainly scary because it opens unknown doors, but how else can someone know who they are dealing with?

I think money ought to be labeled as well so we know where it came from and what it has done. Right now, we have no idea how much money there is out there, where it came from, what it has been used for.

Transparency is an all or nothing proposition.


Posted by Laughingstock, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 31, 2013 at 8:04 pm

With all the PARENTS calling for his removal, why in the world is Kevin Skelly still here? Don't our concerns count for anything? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Was Kevin Skelly hired sight unseen, purely on the basis of his Harvard degree. Seeing him in public at meetings, one can tell that he cannot handle the pressure of questioning by parents and other adults. He does not make eye contact, he often pretends not to hear questions, and he is very evasive. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]





Posted by homeless, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Thank you for the article. Letting you all know im not homeless anymore. Im so thankful to Palp Alto on line , police and churches who fed me when I lived behind Cuberly in my truck. The community is so vital and active in social science issues along with high technology. I have not been in any on line groups for a while, last time I was here were the issues like vehicle dwellers, homeless and tall buildings in Palo Alto; I posted some of my own feedback . Tried to contribute. The above article is about bullying in schools. This is a very important topic. There are 5 kinds of abuse; physical, sexual, verbal, mental and emotional abuse. Studies show the worse of those 5 is verbal abuse; how we express ourselves. Bullying often takes this form; even it is not saying anything, ignoring, being silent; basically cutting someone off for example from communication, group conversation etc. Bullying is also making someone feel bad for whatever reason ; it could be body language, turning away, shrugging shoulders , rolling eyes etc at someone. Bullying is cruel, yet it takes place in all levels, and not only in schools; it takes place in offices, public places, and this is a subjective opinion, however ' The bullie' has always someone to support them; an other bullie. I think bullying stems from group behavior/ or just someone who appears to have ' leadership skills' so the ones who are not secure in their own identity; lacking role models; such as a parent, teacher, sports idol; anyone this student or person; young or old could identify with and role model after. The topic is important and if anyone reading this feels; you have been bullied! Your feelings are right, don't be a hostage of this type of behavior, reach out to someone , and let that person know who is or hurt you.
You are special and your feelings are correct. If you are victim of bullying young or old , and you are reading this, let everybody know, don't keep it as a secret and suffer alone. Everyone loves you and the bullying situation will be corrected by proper communication.


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 1, 2013 at 10:21 am

I recommend listening to a short, important and powerful message for parents and students about bullying from Kevin Jennings, former Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education, and now CEO of the nonprofit Be the Change:

Web Link

This message is included as one of the "special features" on the DVD movie "Bully" (available on Netflix), which is where I saw it first. I recommend seeing the movie too, but the movie doesn't make the same excellent points that Jennings does. He is well worth listening to.



Posted by Laughingstock, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 1, 2013 at 2:35 pm

"Bully" is a DVD that Kevin Skelly and the school board would do well to watch in its entirety. Especially poignant since there apparently was a suicide by a bullied seventh grader here last year.


Posted by observer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2013 at 10:45 pm

To me, the most blistering part of the report was finding out that the assistant principal just blatantly lied about what had happened and what administrators knew. I don't blame him, because I think administrators are frankly pressured from above to look at parents as the enemy in special needs situations like this one and their children undeserving of the protections the laws provide, so any means necessary to prevent them from getting such undeserved protections are just the ends justifying the means. Contrary to the portrayal in the report of administrators acting like they didn't know policy, I think they were absolutely following policy, the unwritten policy of delay, deny, and obscure.

This sort of attitude from above is just poisonous to our district. There have been teachers and administrators fired from our district in recent years for far, far less. We really should look for new administrators, and this time we should place a priority on honesty, leadership, and an ability to work with parents and teachers.


Posted by Sigrid Pinsky, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 1, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I would like to add a few parts of my conversation with Jay which were not included in this blog post.
Our District has cooperated with OCR and indeed has gone beyond what was asked. There are areas which must improve and no one denies that. The need for improvement has been acknowledged. Much work is being done to develop a comprehensive anti bullying policy that defines what bullying is and outlines consistent responses. PAUSD is gathering input from different community resources including PASS and CAC. This policy will be accessible and understandable. As a community, we will hold the Board and the District accountable for completing this essential task.
As part of the response to the OCR findings, on March 12th the District sponsored a training session by Dora J. Doma for all school administrators entitled "Creating the Systemic Infrastructure to Support Antibullying Efforts." All teachers will also be trained. PTA Council is working with the District to sponsor and organize training sessions for parents. The goal is to have a finished policy which is accessible and understandable to everyone. Our process must be clearly articulated with a common definition and a well understood set of policies and procedures. We should hold the District and Board accountable for completing this task, which is well underway.
PTA Council regularly surveys different programs at each school so we can share best practices on an ongoing basis. For example, units share practices related to scholarships for underprivileged students, advocacy, scholarships, libraries, technology, websites, PAMF WAY2GO! and one check forms. …to name a few. The information I am currently gathering is from the PTA perspective. Several years ago each PTA was surveyed as to the Social Emotional Learning programs they sponsored at their sites. We are updating this information. These programs include Steps to Respect, Project Cornerstone, Six Seconds, assemblies, parent education and many other activities and events. Our PTA presidents share ideas about programs they sponsor, including costs and implementation. Our units benefit greatly from this shared knowledge.
PTA Council is not doing this survey work alone. The District is tracking important information at the staff and District level. We will be integrating the information so we will have one current and—again—accessible resource list. Recently PAUSD funded My Digital TAT2 training for all fifth grade classes in the District. The District is also working with Project Safety Net and CAC to offer a stigma reduction program in the near future.
There is much hard work to be done in Palo Alto. We know that. However, it is important to acknowledge the dedicated, focused and committed work that is already underway. We must support efforts to address critical issues and areas which need improvement. For several years PTAs have sponsored parent education programs on bullying. Attendance was sparse at many events. I hope, with PTA continued efforts, that parents will understand the need to be educated on this issue. I have been a parent in this district for 12 years and see no reason to hesitate to highlight the things we do well in addition to articulating what needs to improve.

Harassment and bullying are not just our schools' responsibility. This is a community issue. We know these are complex issues with no panacea. We need to take this responsibility as a shared community issue and make sure we understand the frustrating complexities and continue this important work. We must make certain we model the behavior we expect from our children. We cannot afford to be bystanders; we all own this one.


Posted by Thank you Jay!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Without Jay's puff-piece, we would not have an open forum or opportunity to vent our disbelief that Kevin Skelly and Charles Young have not been given formal notice that they won't be back for next year, you know, like an accountability thing for the civil rights violation, so make sure you thank him. Otherwise, Kevin and Charles are hoping that Spring Break helps this fiasco blow over.

All the political players are sitting this one out. It's weird that almost none of the principals have conveniently left a note on a bench like they did with Callan, or that parents have not signed a letter to the board to listen to other parents who are complaining. PAEA? They have shown zero. PTAC Council, well, it was a fail before this, but now it's downright mediocre. Maybe it was because I wasn't interested in a pep rally.

Regardless, with each day that Kevin and Charles are employed, this district sinks to the bottom. An organization is only as strong as its weakest links, and we pay ours quite well to continue to be weak.


Posted by Accountability now, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 1, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Sigrid, the time to hold "the Board and the District accountable" is now, not some nonspecific time in the future. I didn't fail to lead and manage (or govern!) the district and its most basic of procedures, so no, I won't "own this one."


Posted by What now?, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 2, 2013 at 9:08 am

So, with all we know, why does Kevin Skelly continue to work here, and why doesn't the school board take some real action? It is the law that the schools are required to keep students safe while they are on campus. In light of his cover up and ineptitudes aplenty, Kevin Skelly needs to go back to school. Obviously, Harvard did not teach him how to do his job. He is an insult to Harvard, and sure makes Harvard and Harvard grads look bad. He has made Palo Alto ans it's schools look bad. Is that not enough reason to terminate him? At least then, the healing could start.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2013 at 11:37 am

> Harassment and bullying are not just our schools'
> responsibility. This is a community issue.

And how is the community supposed to be "responsible" for matters in the schools that are hidden from public view? Clearly, "the community" can not be responsible for matters over which it has no awareness, and no control.

How many of us have ever seen "bullying" of children on the school grounds? With the exception of Palo Altans working in the schools—then the answer is obvious.

After all of this wringing, and moral outrage over this one incident, "the community" still has no idea how much "bullying" actually goes on in the schools. There has been on poorly-crafted student survey that suggests that there might be more of this behavior than we might like to admit. But this survey fails to establish what "bullying" is so that the students taking the survey might be expected to provide meaningful answers.

"The Community" is not responsible for this problem—and to suggest so demonstrates a mindset that is looking to deflect responsibly, more so than actually solving problems.


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I earlier posted about listening to the recorded message by Kevin Jennings (former Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education, and now CEO of the nonprofit Be the Change), which was included as one of the special features on the movie "Bully" DVD, and can be heard at the YouTube link in the post above.

In case it is more convenient to digest in print, here is an transcribed excerpt of what Jennings says in that message:

"If you are a parent and your child tells you that they are being bullied, what you are hearing is the tip of the iceberg. If the kid is willing to talk to you about it, the problem is probably ten times worse than they're telling you because they have to have been driven to a point of complete desperation to be willing to talk to a parent or a teacher about it.

"So, believe the impact when your kid tells you they are being hurt. Don't minimize it, in fact in the back of your mind, start multiplying it, because whatever they are telling you they are experiencing is probably not nearly as bad as what they are actually experiencing.

"The fact is that there are provisions in federal law which guarantee your right to move your child – it's called the Unsafe Choice Option – and there are organizations if necessary that will litigate on your behalf, including the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, to make sure your kid has a safe school. You should avail yourself of every single resource at your power.

"And I know that fighting the system is sometimes hard. I know that it seems like you can't win. The fact is, for a parent who is desperate, I want you to listen to what I say next: the law is on your side. Do not quit until your child is in a safe place.

"When I think about this situation I often think about the quote by Martin Luther King, which I will paraphrase, which is that it isn't so much the actions of bad people that we remember, it is the inaction of good people.

"We need to break the cycle whereby good people stand by and enable bullying to continue, whether those good people are principals, teachers or students themselves. We will never end bullying if people stand by and watch it happen."


Posted by Which issue?, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 2, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I agree with Sigrid's statement that harassment and bullying are not just PAUSD issues. However, it seems that the conversation is mixing up the broader bullying prevention issues, which will be enduring, with the different and more specific issue of the district's response to bullying when it occurs at school. The law and the OCR are clear about that issue being solely the responsibility of the district. Mixing up the two problems just seems to be part of a persistent effort to divert focus from the problem and avoid responsibility. Although, after getting caught, Skelly apologised for the inexcusable act of concealing the consent agreement from the board, neither he nor the board has accepted responsibility for the legal violations themselves nor even made a clear acknowledgment that they occurred. Rather than holding the administration accountable, as many of us in the parent community would hope, Sigrid and the PTAC have continued to be the chief apologists for the administration while nimbly changing the topic to " bullying prevention", a related, but clearly different topic. At the samt time they always seem to blame the messengers, whether it be parents or the press. I would be less concerned if this was not a consistent pattern by the PTAC in recent years. It seems like Sigrid is acting as an arm of the administration rather than representing the parents. This is not how the PTA should function and it's not how it did function when our district earned the positive reputation that is steadily fading.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm

@former Paly parent - Nice to meet you, again. Thank you for taking the time to post these quotes. The quotes you shared amplify the obvious - nothing will change without serious systemic investigation and change. Unfortunately - seems that this is not about to happen. No "sophisticated" processes, procedures and training are needed to address bullying, for the most part. Your last quote tells that nicely. Just doing the right thing, on the spot. None of us need supporting research to prove that intervening empowers both the one who intervenes and the one bullied. And - in most cases - change the atmosphere, stops bullying from going on.
@Which issue? - Thank you for taking the time to advocate. Unfortunately - it is pretty clear that there is no interest in the action called for.


Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2013 at 12:06 am

It is unfortunate but predictable that Sigrid Pinsky is defending Kevin Skelly and PAUSD's poor performance in protecting the civil rights of the district's children. After all, Kevin Skelly handpicked Sigrid as PTAC president and if Sigrid follows precedent she will run for the School Board where she can continue to defend Kevin Skelly should he continue to work here.

It is predictable that in PAUSD things are so "upside down" in school management as the Weekly editorial put it 2 weeks ago that the PTA president defends the failed and dishonest Superintendent rather than the disabled child who was kicked, taunted, hazed, pushed, and punched in the face so hard that the police were called and a doctor visit was required.

It is so "upside down" that the PTA president defends the Assistant Principal who was not truthful with federal investigators and not the family of the disabled child who desperately tried to obtain help but were repeatedly told by officials and by Board President Dana Tom (whose endorsement Sigrid will doubtless receive for the favor she is providing through giving cover) to go back and work it out at the site level.

It is so "upside down" that members of the PTAC council who liked to talk tall about "advocacy" have been mute on the subject of the principal who told federal investigators that her staff did not need training on disability harassment because they were "very sophisticated." The "advocacy" arm of PTAC does not apparently extend to any real advocacy on behalf of actual minority or disabled children in our actual district but only to the hypothetical ideal of liberal advocacy. This is a good description of Palo Alto at this historical juncture, regrettably and the PTAC leadership is but the most unhappy example.

It is so "upside down" that the PTAC president is calling PAUSD's new "policy" which is a shambling, incoherent mass of more than half a dozen interlocking policies all of which are legally deficient in numberless ways -- which has a two-tiered process that can only be described as byzentine and unworkable -- that only in PAUSD would the PTAC president describe this illegal, inscrutable, and unworkable mess as "accessible and understandable."

Only in PAUSD would the PTAC president feel empowered to use the minority and disability rights community organizations in order to suggest that this ridiculously incoherent puddle of gibberish that the district is holding up as a "policy" is "accessible and understandable."

No one thinks that this mass of policies is either one of those things. It is also not lawful and does not comply with the Resolution Agreement in the OCR case.

California Department of Education regulations mandate that the Uniform Complaint Procedure be used to address and resolve written complaints of discrimination. PAUSD wants to continue its practice of resolving complaints unofficially at the site level with no district level oversight. That is not the law. And it is not what the Resolution Agreement provides.

So much for following the law. Sigrid's untrue assertion that PAUSD "indeed has gone beyond what was asked." That is an utter falsehood, disproved already by the PA Weekly and continuing to be proved untrue as PAUSD refuses to use the UCP for resolving written discrimination complaints as required by law.

The new "accessible and understandable" policy is actualy 4 policies and 3 sets of regulations, all of which conflict with each other, present differing timelines and employee responsibilities, require administrators to determine prior to investigation whether or not the bullying is caused by discrimination, gives no definition or process for making that determination and is riddled with other flaws. It is unadministrable. It is not lawful.

PTAC is making itself irrelevant. Vote against Sigrid Pinsky. You could not do worse than this.




Posted by Kim Bomar, a resident of Nixon School
on Apr 5, 2013 at 9:25 am

I'm glad that the District is seeking feedback on the bullying policy from groups like PASS and CAC, as well as individual parents, as Sigrid Pinsky mentioned. However, although PASS (and CAC) provided extensive feedback, whether any of it will be incorporated into the final policy remains to be seen. I remain hopeful.

I agree with Sigrid's comments that bullying is a community problem. However, schools have a special duty to keep kids safe while at school. When that doesn't happen, it is a school problem, regardless of the community culture in which the bullying occurs.

Kim Bomar-- Co-Chair, Parent Advocates for Student Success (PASS)


Posted by Who knows , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 6, 2013 at 9:24 am

I see from Sigrid Pinsky's comments that the PAT's have been trying to share best practices. That is great and we appreciate their efforts. However, from our direct experience with Kevin Skelly Skelly he does not think it is his job to know the practices of the schools in varios areas and to know that comparable programs are either being implemented or innovative alternatives are being provided. Only when pressured have he and the board accepted responsibility for this fundamental role of district administration. As a parent, I wish our PTA leadership would represent our interests in this area rather always defending Skelly regardless of his errors.


Posted by Site based hooey, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm

It's interesting that PTAC thinks its the PTAs job to figure out what are "best" practices a d which school is using them. With all due respect how do the PTAs k ow what is working well and what is not? Are they systematically studying the issue? What data are they using to assess which practices are best? Have they compared data from various survey instruments in order to determine which are best? Where are the comparisons? Are they reviewing the literature systematically? What is the criteria used by pTAC foe a "best" practice? Which experts are they consulting? Is the district making decisions based on this work? Where is the work product ? Is it open to public inspection? PTAC is you have determined which schools have "best" practices and which do not then share that information with the public. Then there is the question of why the PTA is doing the districts job.


Posted by homeless , a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2013 at 6:16 pm

bullying must stop. First we need to understand what it is and then take corrective steps of intervention. Yes, it is a community issue, it's everyone's responsibility to correct; to intervene , when bullying behavior is observed, by anyone. We need education to learn what it is on a first place, and secondly ; how to respond to it without increasing the conflict ; conflicted behavior. I spent a lot of time in Palo Alto parks and observed in many instances, how small children bullied their parents and baby sitters. Hitting them; the adults, talking back rudely, had tempo tantrums in public. These were small kids acting out bullying their parents, who to my surprise didn't know how to disciplne that child. Parents need education and need to start for example focusing on positive reinforcement in order to eliminate having children to grow up to think they get what they want by throwing these temper tantrums. What is wrong with this world? I tell you what I think it is: couples want kids, yet they don't want to invest time raising them.its just like loving plants, getting them into the house and never watering them. Teachers are supposed teach knowledge and they cannot because they have to deal with these spoiled brats: bullies.


Posted by Duveneck parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Suggestion - Ask your children if they see bullying in their schools. I asked mine and they were quick to report instances of bullying. It led to a great dinner table discussion of what my children could do to stand up for the victim and try to stop the bullying. It also opened my eyes to how much bullying is going on at school.

The OCR report found that PAUSD failed to protect a student. PAUSD needs to fix its process.


Posted by Duveneck parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Another thought - First and foremost, bullies need services and support to change their behavior.


Posted by Barbara Shufro, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 7, 2013 at 10:08 am

To add to Kim Bomar's comments, the CAC Steering Committee also appreciates that the District is seeking feedback on the bullying policy from groups like PASS and CAC. We had the opportunity to provide feedback on the recent professional development training (which was very favorable). The CAC intends to submit comments again on the latest bullying policy draft and I remain hopeful that our suggestions will be included. One of our suggestions is to include a section about the district working systematically with the school community, which has been shown to help decrease bullying.

Barbara Shufro CAC Chair







Posted by Question for CAC, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 7, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Barbara, when CAC (and PASS and WCDB and other groups) have its feedback on the policy draft will you please make it public and share it with the community as I sure we would all benefit from that transparency. I wonder if you would also comment on what was wrong with the old policies against discrimination and harassment and why this new policy will correct that problem, whatever it was. You seem to be in the position of having a lot of inside information not given to the rest of the community and I think we would all benefit from a public process not just you Sigrid and whoever the other insiders are.


Posted by Duveneck parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2013 at 9:39 am

@ Question for CAC, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood
I suggest you ask the district for copies of the old and new policies, go straight to the horse's mouth. Also ask them about:
' what was wrong with the old policies against discrimination and harassment and why this new policy will correct that problem, whatever it was. '
No need to rely on second hand sources!


Posted by Question for CAC, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

The district's proposed new policy is not public -- a few people have apparently been given it and are submitting comments. At least one of those people says she doesn't know whether or not her comments will be considered, though she hopes they will. It would be good for the public to see the comments of CAC and PASS so that the process by which the policy is drafted is transparent. Typically in a public planning process, when a draft plan is produced, the draft is public. There is a public comment period. The public comments are all counted and coded and then released to the public. For example if the government proposes a new highway through your neighborhood, they release the draft plan, ALL of the public can comment on that plan, ALL of those comments are released to the public, and then the process is transparent. Everyone can see everything (hopefully). After a decision, the agency has to produce a Record of Decision that explains which comments were considered and why or why not.

PAUSD utilizes a closed process in which it hand-selects those individuals and groups that it consults. Sometimes it consults others under pressure. Mostly it goes to a few insider, repeat players. There is no open, transparent process for even determining who gets to see draft plans, or how or whether committees are formed, or who is on them, or how feedback is given to the public. It should not take a Public Records Act request to see (1) draft plans and (2) public comments on them.

I hope CAC and PASS and WCDB and PTAC will release their comments to the public on this new draft policy.


Posted by homeless , a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I just want to thank: Palo Alto police department for their kind and loving approach when it comes to us; homeless . And thank you for city council as well. A smile from an officer is worth of million bucks and an offer to help and be there for us who struggle and struggled with homelessness s priceless! Great leadership! Thank you for not bullying or using your legal power over us; the most vulnerable for bullying and abuse.


Posted by Annie, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Banning smart phones on school campuses would remove cyber-bullying from schools. It would also stop teaching, increase concentration and increase physical activity.

Its only a matter of time until the Palo Alto School District gets sued for cyber-bullying at one of its schools.


Posted by homeless, a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Bullying is not only a school issue. It takes place at work, inside companies; offices, departments; at every level in our current life. My heart goes to victims of bullying , because the bully(s) isolate and corner their target. These bullies are most likely in position of power and they are smart on how to pick their innocent trusting persons to tear them apart. Bully can be anyone: lawyer, doctor, wife, husband, student, waitress , etc.
Kids should not have phones during class times. New CA law doesn't allow even holding a phone while driving; not even for GPS if phone must be held. What is the purpose of kids being on phones during school time?


Posted by homeless , a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm

If you are victim of your attorney, who bullied you to gain access to your property and retirement savings; call FBI. They will listen to you and help you. I struggled 5 years from bullie attorney when I filed divorce from domestic violence. Being Christian I forgave him. It took a lot of prayers. I think he scammed people out of 16 properties in Texas. That was 2-3 yrs ago. Next time I go to Dallas, TX I will check if there are more than 16 he owns. He is a bully attorney and I'm still hiding from him bc of he has legal power to write anything he wants in the county records. He created a criminal record for me and as a result I was homeless fo 5 yrs. I forgave him, and just to want to put a word out; bullie can be anyone ; problem is not the school issue instead of community issue.


Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2013 at 9:30 pm

A third OCR complaint this time against Duveneck released today. Another case of a small disabled child bullied and ignored for a condition he or she cannot help. The principal with the consent of the Superintendent and Board (one assumes) has issued a blanket denial and blamed the investigation on an overzealous Obama administration. There is of course no information that has been given the public to support this denial. A student and family have complained and now been called liars by our district officials and board.they can't defend themselves without being public. Is this fair? Is it even smart?

Does it not make more sense to say that a complaint has been filed and no comment is possible until the conclusion of the investigation. It is imprudent and ill advised to comment on an ongoing investigation particularly where as here it is very likely that the district is in the wrong or will be seeking early resolution. Beating up on the plaintiff appears to be the negotiating strategy by Laurie Reynolds. Signalling a scorched earth campaign works for Pfizer. will it work for a school district? Shall welcome out swinging against bullied children Laurie? Who would the well meaning church going defense council beat up on and lie about?

Come come Laurie surely you know better than this.


Posted by Duveneck parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 15, 2013 at 10:39 pm

@ Question for CAC, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood

I suggest you ask the district for copies of the old and new policies and anything else related to this process.

Ask the district for the comments you want, i.e. "I hope CAC and PASS and WCDB and PTAC will release their comments to the public on this new draft policy."

And then, please let us know what the response is from the district.

Until you ask the district, your comments (see below) are just conjecture on your part.

"PAUSD utilizes a closed process in which it hand-selects those individuals and groups that it consults. Sometimes it consults others under pressure. Mostly it goes to a few insider, repeat players. There is no open, transparent process for even determining who gets to see draft plans, or how or whether committees are formed, or who is on them, or how feedback is given to the public. It should not take a Public Records Act request to see (1) draft plans and (2) public comments on them."





Posted by Help us Jay!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Open up a new thread, Jay! Two hours ago, a new thread was posted by a reader, but Edward Burke has replied here because they have closed the comments section. Clearly, Kevin Skelly's leadership and Charles Young's most basic duty as compliance officer are the real issues here. Enough! Fire these two now and bring in two capable people who can provide an effective response to bullying, and the lawsuits and payouts that result from the Skelly-Young utter failure.


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