A new system for anonymous reporting of bullying is among the recommendations of a Palo Alto school district task force on "safe and welcoming schools."
In the last of its three meetings Monday, the task force -- which included parents and school principals -- recommended formation of a permanent "advisory committee" this fall that would monitor anti-bullying and anti-harassment efforts on Palo Alto's 17 campuses and possibly serve as a venue for reporting incidents.
Brenda Carrillo, the district's coordinator for student services, said the new, permanent committee would be a forum for information-sharing, with its quarterly meetings open to the public.
"There's a lot already happening out there and, to the extent we can share more (among school sites and with the community), we can make progress," she said.
The school district's anti-bullying posture has been in the spotlight since earlier this year, with publication of findings by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that a middle school's mishandling of a bullying case violated a students' civil rights. The OCR is also investigating three other Palo Alto cases.
The district is in the process of complying with a "resolution agreement" in the middle-school case -- signed in December 2012 -- and currently is awaiting the federal agency's approval of a proposed new policy on bullying.
The new policy should be finalized this summer and ready to be introduced to parents at a community meeting early this fall, Carrillo said.
While the proposed new district-wide committee on "safe and welcoming" schools will address concerns raised by the OCR, it is meant to go well beyond that, she said.
Carrillo did not recommend a standardized anti-bullying curriculum across the district, saying schools are attached to the wide variety of curricula already in use. She provided a list of 17 different programs currently on Palo Alto campuses, including Steps to Respect, Second Step, Project Resilience, Six Seconds, Core Values, My Digital Tat2 and "talk it out."
But Carrillo said her office could act as a clearinghouse for information on the various curricula and help principals identify gaps in their existing programs.
The district-wide approach to bullying and harassment will continue to be guided by the framework known as the Developmental Assets, adopted three years ago by the Board of Education as well as the City Council, she said.
In addition to the principals of Duveneck Elementary School, JLS and Terman middle schools and Gunn High School, the 21-member task force included six parents, including parents involved in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education (CAC). The task force included two teachers and various other school district staff members.
Duveneck School parent Christina Schmidt, who also is a member of CAC, said the permanent "safe and welcoming schools" committee should consider designating an independent ombudsman to review complaints about bullying.
She also urged parents to organize school activities this October in support of National Bullying Prevention Month promoted by the Minnesota-based PACER Center, which works to enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families.
Spanish-English translator Claudia Quiroga, who attended Monday's meeting, stressed the need for early anti-bullying education, starting in pre-kindergarten.
"If we start to create a civic consciousness early, they'll understand later," Quiroga said.
"These discussions have been mainly about middle school and high school, but if we do more work in elementary school we'll have less work to do in middle school and high school."