School board hopefuls split over OCR resolution

Two urge board to reject bid against civil-rights agency while two defer comment

Four hopefuls in this fall's Palo Alto school board race have split over a resolution -- to be considered by the Board of Education tonight -- challenging the practices of a federal civil-rights agency that has launched multiple investigations of the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Two of the likely candidates, Gina Dalma and Ken Dauber, said they would urge the board to reject the resolution, drafted by board President Barb Mitchell, Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell and Superintendent Kevin Skelly, that seeks to highlight "significant concerns" regarding investigative practices of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

Two others, Catherine Crystal Foster and Terry Godfrey, said they do not have enough information to weigh in on the topic.

The resolution, up for a final board vote tonight, states that the Office for Civil Rights has refused to correct alleged errors in its investigation processes, which board leaders called "purposely confrontational and disruptive." It resolves to seek redress of the alleged errors through meetings with elected officials and other organizations. All five board members indicated support for the proposed resolution when they discussed it during their last meeting June 3.

Dauber, a Google software engineer, has urged friends and supporters to ask the board to reject the resolution.

The Office for Civil Rights' 2012 findings against the district in a middle school bullying case presented "an opportunity to improve how our district handles harassment and discrimination against young, female, disabled and minority students," Dauber said.

"Behind each complaint are parents and students who sought help from district staff and, for whatever reason, felt that they ultimately had to seek aid from the federal government -- whether the complaint was ultimately upheld or not.

"We should be inquiring about what lies behind those experiences and how we can fix them rather than criticizing OCR or seeking to revisit closed cases."

Dauber urges the board to refrain from committing to a course against the federal agency until incoming superintendent Max McGee starts on Aug. 1 and has a chance to familiarize himself with the situation.

He also questioned the wisdom of the district allowing itself to be "enlisted as an example in pushing back against civil-rights enforcement nationally, which I think is a very real possibility given our national prominence."

Dalma, who is traveling in Asia, also urged the board to reject the resolution tonight.

"The past two years of our district's involvement with the Office for Civil Rights have provided an opportunity for self-reflection, community conversations, renewal and growth," Dalma said in a statement to be read to the board tonight by her friend Lisa Antillon.

"The proposed resolution closes the door to this constructive dialogue and instead places the district on a defensive stance against OCR, deflecting time, energy and resources from our students. All this to fight an organization dedicated to social justice."

Dalma, who works as a senior program officer in education for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, said it is in the school district's interest "to welcome OCR's oversight, not fight it."

Foster, former executive director of the Peninsula College Fund and now an education-policy consultant, said she had read the board's resolution and supporting materials but had "no independent way to verify what did and did not occur, and so much of what transpired isn't public.

"Commenting on it would, invariably, involve a great deal of speculation on my part, which I believe is inappropriate and also potentially unfair to all those involved," Foster said in an email.

As for waiting for McGee's arrival, Foster said, "This resolution ... is a board-level issue, not a superintendent issue. I am not going to second-guess their decision without all the facts."

Godfrey similarly said she does not have enough information about the background of the board resolution to comment.

"I know in my corporate life as a senior manager at Intel I was involved in my share of private conversations relating to personnel and/or legal matters to which others weren't privy. Some of those conversations were very difficult and, at times, the speculation surrounding was rampant and never productive," Godfrey said in an email.

"I haven't spoken to any of the board members or Dr. Skelly about this. Much of the decision-making that got them to this point seems to have happened in closed session. I really can't comment and, like the rest of the community, will be watching the board meeting to see how this goes," added Godfrey, who has chaired the Palo Alto PTA Council as well as the board of Palo Alto Partners in Education.

Over the past two years the OCR has conducted at least seven investigations in the Palo Alto school district. Two of those remain open. Four have recently been dropped for insufficient evidence. In an open case involving Terman Middle School, conditions of a voluntary "resolution agreement" signed by the district and the federal agency are expected to be completed in the next school year.

Dalma, Dauber, Foster and Godfrey all have said they plan to run for school board in the Nov. 4 election, though none has officially declared. Incumbents Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom have indicated they will not seek re-election to the five-member board.

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Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2014 at 10:21 am

The current PAUSD board needs to get its head into the daylight. Its hubris is breathtaking.

Like this comment
Posted by what?
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2014 at 10:44 am

Basic fact; PAUSD FAILED to resolve a bullying case so that is why the parents and students sought help outside the district. So now the district doesn't want anyone to get into their affairs. What about fixing why it wasn't resolved in the first place? Bullying is in the national spotlight and PAUSD IS presenting itself, just like Stanford in its student rape case, as defending itself instead of RESOLVING the problem of bullying. If it had happened to YOUR child...

Like this comment
Posted by #1
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2014 at 11:14 am

So after Dauber promoted filing OCR complaints, when the complaints were found to have no merit, he wants the district to ignore the findings. It looks like he's finding himself on the wrong side if history and doesn't like it. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm

> It looks like he's finding himself on the wrong side if history
> and doesn't like it.

Since this guy is running for the Board, we ought to be cataloging everything that he has said, and hold him to his statements. It will be very interesting to see how often he was right in his views, and how often his views just didn't pan out.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2014 at 1:01 pm

The complaints were not found to have no merit. The first two found serious problems that the district needed to correct, and resulted in the two resolution agreements which the district signed. This in and of itself is unprecedented, for a district like ours to have such serious procedural problems that there would be two resolution agreements.

Those resulted in changes to process. The remaining complaints were not taken because of "insufficient evidence" that the school district did not have procedures in place to investigate, not because of anything to do with the merits of the cases themselves.

Note that the OCRs role is not to decide each case, and that they explicitly say that except in very extraordinary circumstances, they do not get involved at that level of individual student accomodations. Their role is to ensure the district has the procedures to decide for themselves, and properly provide students due process.

In the later complaints, there was insufficient evidence that the district didn't have processes in place that the earlier cases highlighted. This is hardly clearing the district or giving any evidence in the cases. The fact that some keep trying to further that pernicious myth against vulnerable students is shameful.

From the Weekly story about the cases that weren't taken:
Web Link
"... 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 ..." [emphasis mine]

Well, at least this has my decision of which candidates to vote for along with Ken Dauber an easy one. To everyone voting: even if there are multiple slots, remember that you do not have to vote for every slot, that favors incumbents. Vote just for those you really think will do a good job. Thank you, Ken Dauber, for putting students first.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I can't believe Dauber, who came in last in the previous school board election, is running again. [Portion removed.] He has this attitude that everybody is a victim and needs the government to protect them. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 17, 2014 at 1:27 pm

"As for waiting for McGee's arrival, Foster said, "This resolution ... is a board-level issue, not a superintendent issue. I am not going to second-guess their decision without all the facts."

This makes sense. I'm glad, and hope that the new Superintendent is not weighed down by these ongoing and exhausting spats.

I'll vote for those who can get past this, and work constructively with leadership instead of constantly attacking.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2014 at 2:14 pm

@Midtown Mom,
Actually, Dauber was quite close.

The election was for 3 slots, not one - between 2 incumbents and 2 serious newcomers, 4 candidates for 3 slots. Incombents always have an advantage, and if you look at the different combinations of three, Dauber was actually pretty close to Emberling.

This is why these multi-person elections can be so problematic for new candidates - so many people are inclined to just include the incumbents in their slate. I would strongly recommend people vote only for those candidates they believe strongly in, even if it's fewer than the number of seats. Only if lots of people do that can an incumbent be unseated in such a race.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 17, 2014 at 2:31 pm

How can candidates want to be on the school board and claim to have no opinion on an important issue that is being voted on by the board? There is a resolution, a letter from board members, supporting documents, dozens of news stories. Come on, that's just not credible. If you aren't willing to say what you think you should probably not be running for office.

Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Re Parent:

4th in a four person race, by approximately 1000 votes, is not close.

This is despite the strong - some might say relentless - support by this newspaper.

Numbers are numbers.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2014 at 3:49 pm

It is imperative that we get to know how the prospective candidates feel on any issue and if they do not have enough information to form an opinion, then how can we have enough information to know whether they deserve our vote.

It is crucial that all candidates run a campaign based on issues, not on how they have volunteered in the PTA, how they did in their business career or which elite university they graduated from. I think it is about time we knew how they would vote so that we can see what we are choosing between.

Like this comment
Posted by Stand up
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm

I agree with Paly mom that there is enough information in the public domain to make an informed decision on this board resolution. Heidi Emberling stated publicly that the only board discussion of the resolution took place at the public board meeting on June 3rd where supporting documents Web Link
were provided.

A large portion of the board comments and the letter from Dr. Skelly and Trustees Mitchell and Baten Caswell in support of the resolution focuses on case 09-11-1337. This was the first OCR case that reported on by the local press about middle school bullying. Dr. Skelly entered into a legally binding Resolution Agreement Web Link
with OCR on December 14, 2012 without notifying the board because he told the board he was embarrassed. See Web Link

As Terry Lobdell has reported,with supporting documentation, the recipient of federal funding has no right of appeal once a resolution agreement is signed. Furthermore if a district does not wish to receive a negative finding they have the right to an early settlement agreement. Dr. Skelly chose to waive that right without informing the board. Terry’s reporting also reveals that the district’s lawyer Chad Graff incorrectly stated that the OCR has not responded to the districts FOIA request. OCR did respond to deny the request on legal grounds that the case is still open. The appeal is now with another agency, not the OCR. For a more in depth analysis of the issues raised by the resolution see Web Link

Aside from the holes in the legal challenges with our specific OCR cases, what is even more concerning to me is that the board is now set to align us politically with a right wing conservative attack on civil rights. Web Link This resolution that thrusts us into the national spotlight is not trivial. If I am going to vote for a candidate I expect an honest answer as to whether they are for or against this resolution.

Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Your comment on "imperative" suggests that it might be imperative right now.

By my calendar, the election is almost 5 months from now. I'm sure there will be plenty of time to investigate positions of prospective candidates. It is actually wise for candidates not to immediately spout off on every issue - and to do the due diligence required.

Like this comment
Posted by Simplified
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 17, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Dalmatia and Dauber will bring change, Foster and Godfrey will not. I'm not making the Emberling mistake again [portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Simplified
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Sorry Dalma, autocorrect wanted to call you something else.

Like this comment
Posted by Stand up
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 17, 2014 at 4:28 pm

@PAUSD resident

The time to stand up is now. The vote on the resolution is tonight, not in 5 months. There has been ample time for due diligence.

Like this comment
Posted by Ashamed
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 17, 2014 at 5:05 pm

I never imagined that our district would stoop to the depths it has in the past couple of years.

I am hopeful that there will be a groundswell of Palo Alto citizens who still value things like civil rights. I, for one, appreciate the fact that there are still people like Ken Dauber in our community who are compassionate enough to want to care for all of our students (not just the students who are well on their way to the Halls of Ivy). I have watched Ken over the years and appreciate all that he brings to the table. Thank the Lord that we have somebody who will speak out for those who many would not.

I hope the Board votes this resolution down. Don't saddle the new superintendent with the job of continuing the combative and confrontational style that has recently reared its ugly head amongst the board and Skelly. My hope is that Max would set a hopeful and new tone that has been greatly needed.

Like this comment
Posted by call a spade a spade
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 17, 2014 at 5:41 pm

This resolution is a retirement gift for Dr Skelly. It is a face saving measure for Dr. Skelly and the current board. That is why it cannot wait for the new superintendent or the new board members. The district policies and procedures were deficient. Own that and stop placing the blame on the media and OCR. To say that this confrontational stance against OCR is about improving OCR's mission is disingenuous.

Like this comment
Posted by Ken and Gina for board
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I'm glad that Ken is finally not the only one out there saying things that make sense. I don't know who this Gina Dalma is but if she is willing to criticize this board I like her. This is just a clown car of Charlie Foxtrots. Please, save us Gina and Ken.

Like this comment
Posted by The Bare Facts
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 17, 2014 at 7:28 pm

The truth is that most schools, especially PAUSD, do NOT want any higher authority telling them that they are being negligent and unfair when it comes to their students' safety and well-being. They want to keep every problem to themselves,,so they can be lazy and do nothing about the problems to the point of denying that there is a problem!

They are also quite fond of telling parents, OCR personnel, and even lawyers that they know their job and how to deal with childhood problems and traumas better than anyone because that is what they are trained to do ( I doubt it). [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Cut the Mike2
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2014 at 12:29 am

I agreed with Call a spade a spade.
The district is doing this as a goodbye present to skelly out of pitty, just like Skelly promoted katherine Baker to assistant superintendent even if she had no experience as a assistant superintendent. He did it too out of pity because the thinks that her reputation has been damaged, and now the board is doing the same thing to try to fix things for skelly. [Portion removed.] I imagine that this news will give a little big of help to skelly when he goes to another school district looking for a job. He would be able to say that the OCR investigation that he kept in secret has been appeal and might have better chances of getting hired. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by ho hum
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 18, 2014 at 12:36 am

Well, even Ken agrees the OCR complaints were found in the districts favor: Web Link

"There's no urgency to this resolution, as most of it deals with cases that have long been resolved, some in the district's favor."

Thinking about changing your vote now?

Like this comment
Posted by Mom of freshman
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2014 at 6:24 am

@Ho hum, I don't understand why the school board wants to spend any time or money at all on cases that are already done. Including the first one where there was a violation. It seems that it's about egos now.

Like this comment
Posted by Simplified
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 18, 2014 at 7:15 am

We were duped two years ago but didn't find out until after the election, and I suspect that this latest effort is a another Skelly-board smokescreen, which we'll find out more after this election. The excuse is already prepared for McGee because he is new. I regret voting for Emberling in 2012. I have been unable to find one helpful comment, idea, or any evidence of board leadership in two years. I am embarrassed of her. I won't be making that mistake again in November.

Like this comment
Posted by interesting board meeting
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

Last nights Board meeting was very uplifting. Many people stepped up to say their goodbyes to Dr. Skelly. I was surprised by how many people stated they appreciated the work he has done over the years and the many programs he supported. After always reading the Weekly, I've been tainted by Dr. Skelly but last nights Board meeting showed me a different side. And it was nice to see Dr. Skelly's smile.

Also the Board unanimously voted in favor of the resolution even when several got up requesting the opposite, some quite adamantly. Some of the issues they mentioned in regards to supporting this resolution is that the process comes off as something bad before it is even investigated and that it takes a long time to investigate these issues. So during that time the teachers or staff feel this negative draw (especially from the media) even when the results eventually are in their favor. They reiterated that the best results from the OCR is "insufficient evidence to support discrimination". That's their highest rating even though this doesn't sound as well as "not guilty". And that the teachers, staff, board and even OCR is not allowed (for confidentiality) able to correct the facts when media and blogs get it wrong. So the news is very one sided.

They also kept mentioning about tampered evidence. I'm sure whoever tampered with the evidence does not want this resolution to go forward. Does anybody know anything about the tampered evidence. Was wondering if this is the real reason PAUSD wants to proceed?

Like this comment
Posted by Mil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2014 at 11:13 pm

I was at the School Board meeting last night and I found the position taken by the school board as being idiotic and shortsighted. The board members surely felt good after the resolution, but taxpayers like me felt the pain. The district has spent more than $250,000 in legal fees already and counting. So the school district is squandering taxpayers money and posturing and pretending to be standing against the federal government to teach them a lesson. Well Palo Altans, now it is your time to get all the current board members out of office. I am not a prophet, but I worry about how many lawsuits the district is going to face in the future. All the board has done until now, has been to amplify an issue that should have settled with evidence. I see no point for the board defending its virtues. All I see is vices. Stop wasting taxpayers money. I am still paying my mortgage.

Like this comment
Posted by Mil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2014 at 11:29 pm

It seems to me that the school district is looking for a scapegoat. Therefore if a candidate has a different position he or she must be in collusion with the federal government fueling that investigation. That's hogwash. I would rather see a school board with a divergence of opinions than what I had witnessed last night. After all a city such as ours deserves board members with some intellect with the faculty to see both sides of the coin. That sheep mentality surely stifles debates and takes us in one direction, the wolf's mouth.

Like this comment
Posted by Follow da rules
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 18, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Mil, it's been pointed out above that they were settled by evidence. OCR found there was NO evidence to back up the complaints. Stop blaming the district when OCR found they did no wrong.

Like this comment
Posted by volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2014 at 12:27 am

[Portion removed.] Is the district perfect? No, no one is, but by and large the district does the best for all of our children. [Portion removed.] The resolution is the only way the district has to vocalize the harassment they have endured and the one - sided coverage of these issues. People move to this district specifically because of the reputation it has for it's high quality special education. [Portion removed.] As for legal fees and wasted time, lets talk about the incredible time and money sunk into all the Freedom of Information Act Requests that the district has endured for the last several years [portion removed.] As " Interesting Board Meeting" reflected the Weekly has done everything in it's power to slant readers in a certain direction.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2014 at 2:29 am

[Portion removed.]

"but by and large the district does the best for all of our children."

That was clearly not true, as the first two resolution agreements found the district was not following even the most basic processes to protect children with disabilities and special needs, processes which they themselves write in order to follow the law, and which the vast majority of the many thousands of school districts around the country have and can follow without having to be told. The law even says they have to identify children who need those protections and extend those protections to them, notifying parents of their rights, not simply waiting to be forced to follow such procedures. Because evidence is that earlier intervention is cheaper and better for everyone. Our district was not doing this and to my knowledge, continues not to.

The first complaints - the ones resulting in the resolution agreements - had nothing to do with the Daubers. In both cases, the families tried for months to just access due process and were told at some points that it didn't even exist. Not even knowing what a 504 is or what the process is to write one hardly qualifies our special ed department as doing the "best" for the kids who need those protections.

For lack of procedures, our district personnel wasted far more of the time and energy of those families and had a far greater negative impact on them than anything OCR ever did to our district. This whole thing is a red herring intended to deflect from the extreme incompetence and poor attitude toward serving families of certain district admin people that resulted in our ever getting to this point.

Instead of examining what they did wrong and figuring out how to fix it for our parents, our admin people are blaming the victims just like a bad tobacco company or insurer. The fingerprints of that law firm are all over this thing. We need to fire them and hire a firm that understands things like the benefits of diplomacy.

Believing we're the best all the time without constantly working for it ultimately makes us not the best.

Like this comment
Posted by Max we need you
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 19, 2014 at 6:39 am

We really need a leader who will take responsibility and push back against defensiveness and complacency. No more scapegoating.

Like this comment
Posted by Patsy Mink
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 19, 2014 at 7:32 am

Patsy Mink is a registered user.

The truth is that only the incumbents knew about the first OCR case during the 2012 election. Blaming it on the Daubers does not hold water. I have often wondered whether the cover up was politically motivated.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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