Another OCR case opened as one is closed

Federal investigators investigate Gunn High's response to sexual-harassment complaint

Federal investigators have closed a disability investigation against the Palo Alto school district, saying there was "insufficient evidence" that district officials failed to follow the law in investigating a family's complaint.

At the same time, the school district disclosed information about a new case, in which the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will examine a family's complaint that Gunn High School failed to "appropriately and effectively respond to notice of sexual harassment at the school."

As part of its investigation in the Gunn case, the OCR has asked the school for copies of "all complaints of sexual harassment or sexual violence involving students at the school" submitted to the school or district since the start of the 2011-12 school year.

The Gunn case, filed in March and disclosed by the district Friday, May 2, is one of three Office for Civil Rights cases remaining open against the district.

The three include final fulfillment of a December 2012 "resolution agreement" in which the agency found the district's mishandling of a middle-school bullying case violated the civil rights of a student with disabilities.

The third unresolved case is an Office for Civil Rights examination of school climate and possible peer harassment at Palo Alto High School. District officials said they expect federal lawyers to visit "in the coming weeks" as part of that investigation.

The disability investigation closed by the Office for Civil Rights last week was the fourth case since last June in which the agency said it had found "insufficient evidence" to support charges against the district.

In the case, a complaint filed last September alleged that the district had failed to implement a written plan to accommodate a student's disability.

After reviewing information provided by the family and the district, Office for Civil Rights investigators said they found "insufficient evidence to support a finding of noncompliance with Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)/Title II (of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).

"While the student did not agree with the district's conclusion, the evidence did not establish that the district failed to provide a prompt and equitable process for addressing the allegations of discrimination," the federal agency stated in a letter received by the school district April 28. The district released a heavily redacted copy of the letter May 2.

In the earlier cases that were closed after findings of insufficient evidence, the Office for Civil Rights in June said it could not support a conclusion of racial discrimination in the case of a minority student who was searched by school officials in November 2012 after a substitute teacher accused the student of stealing $20 from her purse.

In two other cases, the agency said in January it had found insufficient evidence of alleged civil rights violations in the handling of bullying complaints by students with disabilities.

Chris Kenrick


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Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 5, 2014 at 11:37 am

To summarize this story - Seven OCR cases have been opened - One case went against the District, Four cases were dropped (they lacked merit) and two cases are still open. Technically, the case that went against the district also remains open pending completion of the required remedial actions.
Many of us wonder why so many cases have been opened against a single district within a short period of time? Money is being wasted on this witch hunt!

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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 5, 2014 at 11:53 am

I agree with Alphonso given that a frequent poster, who is very critical of the district personnel (unless they happen to agree with her!) mentioned her close friendship with the former head of the OCR on this site. Coincidence?

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Posted by problem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2014 at 11:54 am

OCR probably opens new cases because somebody new has filed a report with them, or can they file without a complaint?

surely Edmund Burke will be on the thread short order to opine.

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Posted by JB parent
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm

@Alphonso, there was another OCR complaint that ended in a settlement agreement, about not following correct 504 procedures. That one was ended before the Terman case, I think, but came out after it. It was one of the two complaints that Dr. Skelly concealed before they came out in the newspaper.

@problem, the Paly investigation is a "compliance review" which isn't from a specific complaint, as far as I can find out. It probably comes from reading the rape culture story. I wonder if and when the district told OCR about Phil Winston which is obviously sexual harassment?

After the finding that the district broke the law in the Terman case it seems obvious why we are being investigated. After I catch my kid lying to me, I tend to pay a little more attention to her stories over the next little while.

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Posted by thought police
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

" After I catch my kid lying to me, I tend to pay a little more attention to her stories over the next little while."

Even after repeatedly finding out she has been telling you the truth? You're some parent!

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Posted by JB parent
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 5, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Funny! I think you're making fun of me. Since the Paly compliance review is still going on, we don't know when the district told OCR about Phil Winston, the Terman case is still not closed, and a new complaint about a sexual assault at Gunn is apparently pending, it seems a little early to say that all is well. Don't you think so?

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Posted by an idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Reality check
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Probably reflects the fact that PAUSD is one of the few districts nationally found to have broken the law, out of thousands of investigations. It would be easier to believe a conspiracy theory if it weren't for that. Unless you think that the district staff is in on the conspiracy? That's an interesting idea! Maybe Phil was just trying to lend credence to a Title IX complaint?

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Posted by barber
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2014 at 4:13 pm

paly is really on the decline, no?

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Posted by just guessing
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Probably also reflects the realization that inability to obtain the services of private lawyer is not the end the line.

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Green Acres
on May 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm

It could also have something to do with the fact that sexual harassment is a high national issue, at the White House, on TV, in the newspapers -- this is a top priority for our country.

I am having trouble with these people who are suggesting that there is something wrong with stopping rape. Is this a Republican Party stronghold? Is it that it's not "legitimate rape" if it happens in PAUSD? What the hell is wrong with you people? This is sexual abuse of our students. Some people are brave enough to stand up for victims. All you can do is wonder why our excellent district is being inestigated?

Here's the reason: because of rape.

Do you like rape? Do you like sexual assault? Do you have some problem with the feds coming to protect our girls? Someone had to do it. [Portion removed.]

Get real. Rape is serious. Dating violence is serious. Stop defending the indefensible.

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Posted by Citizen
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Thank you Mom for pointing out the obvious. I voted for President Obama, I like OCR, I like the fact that he's taking a stand on sexual assault, I'm glad the government is protecting our young women, and I've had enough Tea Party libertarian whining about "how come the guv'mint is in our town".

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Posted by Just Asking
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 5, 2014 at 7:12 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by at least read the article
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2014 at 7:57 pm

@barber, you might not have noticed in your haste to post your comment but the newly open OCR complaint was at Gunn.

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Posted by Skelly is laughing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2014 at 8:31 pm

This is why Skelly is leaving. Not to take a gap year or another lie, just because his superintendency goes down as one of the worst seven years in PAUSD. Yes, worse than Callan. We the taxpayers of PAUSD should be ready to pay out even more for upcoming lawsuits. Don't blame those who are filing the OCR complaints or lawsuits. Blame those who have had the power to stop the rape culture, yet have permitted it by a lack of leadership. Today's news from Skelly, written by our PR hack Tabitha Hurley is good news, that's what she has written, that's what the board and Skelly have approved: "We are pleased with this positive result upholding the District's investigation process and determination under our Uniform Complaint Procedures." But then a little but later, Skelly, I mean Hurley, has to admit that Skelly and Barb Mitchell's bumbling attempt to squash the Paly rape culture OCR investigation was denied by OCR, which will come to Paly for interviews despite the sophisticated superintendent's request. Does that mean Skelly and Hurley has to rewrite the press release to reflect how displeased Skelly is with this negative result not upholding the district? Or is the really negative result the fact that Gunn now has the OCR coming to conduct more interviews? Please, Skelly and Hurley, stop cheerleading for one moment and work to fix systems, instead of attempting to manipulate the facts. It's bad and it's getting worse. I think I get it.

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Posted by Saddened
a resident of Green Acres
on May 5, 2014 at 8:45 pm

I can't believe that no one has commented on the magnitude of the OCR information request. How many district resources are being spent on this constant barrage of cases? How many hours are spent on the constant public records requests? When will this end? [Portion removed.]

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Posted by problem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2014 at 8:48 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Skelly is laughing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Rational is not what I would call Green Acres blaming the victims in these many, many OCR complaints. It's not this phantom, irrational woman who so many rational mothers have filed complaints against, it is a school system where district leadership--superintendent, school board, and the powerful teachers's union--focused on their own financial, electoral, and power needs, and not the needs of our children.

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Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 5, 2014 at 9:06 pm

I don't have a take yet because nothing has been disclosed about this recent issue at Gunn. However, I have to take issue with the assumptions some seem to be making that this regards a 'sexual assault', when the article states that it is 'sexual harassment'. Is the article incorrect, or are some of you jumping to conclusions?

[Portion removed.]

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Posted by Common sense
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 5, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Re "when will this end?" As a lawyer myself, I can tell you that the best way not to be investigated by the federal government is to follow the rules, tell the truth, and don't try to hide relevant facts. Unfortunately that has not been PAUSD's game plan. Barb Mitchell has led the district down the primrose path in believing that defying the federal government is a productive strategy. The reason the district is being investigated is because busy government lawyers have decided that they are seeing credible evidence that things are amiss here. Until that changes, don't expect a different result.

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Posted by George Orwell
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 5, 2014 at 11:21 pm

George Orwell is a registered user.

Bravo! Restrict the thread, silence the discussion!

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Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 9:22 am

Perspectives is a registered user.

Agree with My Take.... Article does not say rape (unless some of you are disclosing personal privileged information). Article says harassment.

I'm not saying sexual harassment is ok. Just saying that rape is a big deal. We shouldn't lump it as same as a broad definition of sexual harassment- which could even mean someone commenting on a student's appearance inappropriately. Big difference in terms of scope.

We really can't judge this particular case. We have no idea what the family/student involved lodged complaint for. We can make observations and have opinions on how many of these suits have been happening in our district (too many!) but we aren't in specific shoes.

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