Already dealing with two new active investigations into whether it violated the civil rights of a Duveneck Elementary School student and a middle school student, the Palo Alto Unified School District was notified Friday that a third case has been opened by the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
The latest case involves a special education middle school student who is alleging discrimination based on disability.
The district released the notification letter from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) yesterday.
The letter does not contain details, but a copy of the complaint submitted by the parent to OCR obtained by the Weekly alleges that the district failed to provide the student with educational services equal to those afforded mainstream students, did not ensure a safe and secure school environment and did not properly carry out the student's individual education plan (IEP.)
"This has been an ongoing issue that I have been trying to work through the school channels since the beginning of this school year," the complaint states.
The complaint also says the family has been working with both an educational advocate and an attorney to try to resolve the issues with the district prior to filing the OCR complaint.
In an April 28 email to Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the school board, obtained by the Weekly, the mother of the student made a final plea for a resolution.
"[This process has dragged on all year, is now relatively time-critical, and I am beyond frustrated," the email said.
The mother said that in addition to not receiving appropriate education services, her child has been the subject of ongoing bullying.
She outlined a series of specific steps she was seeking, including remedial services to help her child catch up between now and the start of school in the fall.
"I am hoping that you and/or the board are as interested as I am in reaching an acceptable solution and moving forward constructively without further legal assistance/intervention. Perhaps you have other options we have not yet explored?" the email concluded.
Skelly responded the next day: "I wanted to let you know that I spoke to Holly [Wade, director of special education for the school district at length about this issue. My sense is that we can work through these issues. Everyone I speak with has very nice things to say about your [child."
The mother replied fifteen minutes later: "That's great. [Omitted IS a wonderful kid. [Omitted deserves to feel safe and to get the same education offered other kids of [omitted intelligence in this district. How are we going to make this right for [omitted? I put forth my position very clearly. What is your proposal? Incidents continue daily. I am VERY tired of advocating and ready to turn it over to professionals."
According to the mother, there was no further response from Skelly and none from the board, and no substantive proposed resolution from other district staff.
The Office for Civil Rights is the arm of the federal Department of Education that protects the civil rights of children in public schools receiving federal funds.
It responds to complaints of discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, race, disability, sexual preference and nationality.
As long as complaints are filed in a timely manner and pertain to federal civil rights laws enforced by the Office for Civil Rights, an investigation will be conducted to determine if any violations of law occurred. According to the OCR's letter to the district, "opening allegations for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to their merits."
Under Office for Civil Rights policies, if an investigation concludes the district was out of compliance with civil rights laws, the district has an opportunity to resolve the matter by negotiating a resolution agreement prior to formal findings being issued by the government.
The new complaint comes as the district is in the process of carrying out terms of a "resolution agreement" in a bullying case dating back to 2011 involving a special-education middle school student.
In that case, the Office for Civil Rights conducted an extensive investigation, including on-site interviews of more than 30 students, teachers and administrators. It issued findings that the district had violated federal anti-discrimination laws by failing to respond properly and stop the bullying behavior, allowing a hostile environment that interfered with the student's rights to an education.
Skelly entered into the resolution agreement on behalf of the district last December that admitted no violations of law but pledged to undertake trainings, adopt new policies and procedures, modify handbooks and communicate with students, parents and staff as specified in detail by the Office for Civil Rights. He failed to inform the school board or public about the findings and agreement until the Weekly published details about the case provided by the family.
Some of the required trainings have already taken place, and the district is awaiting feedback from the Office for Civil Rights on new draft policies on bullying, discrimination and harassment. The student received a placement in a special school five days after the story was published.
Coincidentally, various school groups are sponsoring a public meeting tonight where a representative from OCR will explain and answer questions on the law and the role of OCR in working with school districts.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Ohlone Elementary School, 950 Amarillo Ave.
New civil-rights complaints filed (April 16, 2013)
Feds rebuke district over email to parents (May 6, 2013)