News

Legal costs soar as Palo Alto school board begins OCR lobbying

 

The Palo Alto school district spent more than $200,000 in the first seven months of 2014 in legal fees related to its cases and conflicts with the Office for Civil Rights, including just under $50,000 for attorneys to research, develop and follow-up on its June resolution criticizing the agency.

Details of the expenses emerge from legal bills through July reviewed by the Weekly, and include work by four lawyers and a "communications consultant" hired by the district's law firm handling OCR matters, Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost.

Following a Public Records Act request made by the Weekly, the district also released a 12-page document in its board packet for Tuesday's school board meeting restating its grievances against OCR that was prepared in July by attorneys, district staff, board president Barb Mitchell and vice-president Melissa Baten Caswell.

The document, titled "Recommendations: Suggestions to Improve Collaboration between School Districts and the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights," summarizes in 20 sections the board's complaints against OCR, which "have disrupted rather than facilitated" the two groups' "shared mission to safeguard the civil rights of all students," the document reads. It contains recommendations for how OCR should change its procedures.

According to the district, the document has been sent with cover letters to a range of elected officials and organizations, from the local to the national level: Arthur Zeidman, regional director of OCR at the Department of Education in San Francisco; Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary and head of OCR at the Department of Education in Washington, DC; U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo; California Assemblyman Rich Gordon; California Senator Jerry Hill; and officials at the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

The district released one of the letters, dated July 29, from Mitchell and Baten Caswell to Eshoo, asking the congresswoman to "examine OCR's investigative processes carefully and to request active participation in discussions and review of ways those processes might be improved for all." The letter references an August 2013 meeting with Eshoo, which was not known publicly until now, and requests a second meeting with her.

Mitchell said Monday that their request of Eshoo "is focused on requesting support to have these kinds of conversations at the federal staffing levels, which only she could do," whereas communication with Hill and Gordon are to keep them informed and to encourage collaboration "when federal and state policy guidance creates confusion or isn't consistent."

Mitchell said the board has begun to schedule follow-up meetings with some of the recipients of this document.

She said that the delay in releasing this information to the public – two months after the advocacy document was prepared – is due to the fact that the board had no meetings during the summer, that the district was waiting for OCR to respond to two pending appeals of its Freedom of Information Act requests and that the board wanted to give new Superintendent Max McGee "some time to get his arms around the matters."

The legal bills paint a detailed picture of the activities of the district's lawyers and of Mitchell and Caswell as they prepared the June resolution and accompanying documents, as well as the work done after adoption of the resolution on June 17.

Repeated email and telephone conferences were held between the district's attorneys and Mitchell and Caswell from May 22 through the end of July, the last month for which records are available.

The billing records also provide insight into the district's growing frustration with OCR's investigations, as lawyers spent substantial time compiling information requested by OCR, researching OCR's legal authority and developing strategies for how the district might resist the agency's investigation.

The documents show two attorneys spent more than 100 hours in May prepping staff at Paly, Gunn and district administrators and then accompanying them to interviews with OCR investigators looking into the two high schools' handling of sexual harassment incidents.

In a memo to the school board distributed with the board packet for Tuesday's meeting, McGee committed to providing the public with monthly updates on OCR matters, beginning tonight. The memo provides little indication of McGee's opinion about the district's conflicts with OCR, stating only his commitment to "transparent, open, and frequent communications."

But in an interview Monday, McGee, who began work on Aug. 4 after Mitchell and Caswell and district lawyers had started spreading word of the board's resolution and distributing the 12-page summary document, said he wants to "dispel the notion that we're fighting OCR."

"This is not about an adversarial relationship; this about working to benefit our young men and young women and making sure policy and procedures are in compliance."

He said Monday he is "just getting up to speed" on the district's legal expenses associated with OCR and could not yet comment on them.

"If somebody were to ask me how much have you spent fighting OCR, I would say zero. If they asked how much have you spent responding to OCR requests, (I would say), 'We'll figure that out.'"

According to McGee's memo, the district still has two open investigations with OCR at its two high schools, both related to sexual harassment, and there has been no new activity on either since OCR conducted on-site interviews on both cases in May.

McGee also disclosed a new OCR complaint, involving a student's 504 plan and placement, which was filed on Aug. 21, but said that the district "inquired as to the specific nature of the problem and discovered it could be quickly resolved." He said OCR had informed him that the case would likely be closed soon.

Unrelated to the OCR cases, the district has spent upwards of $30,000 since March on its litigation with the family of a student with autism who, after moving to the district in 2013, sued Palo Alto for denying in-home education for the student.

The family of "S.C.," a 12-year-old boy with autism, moved to the district in March 2013 and sought the same type of at-home educational program for their son that he had received in his previous school district, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit describes him as a student with "deficits in the areas of fine and visual motor skills, sensory processing, behavior, and speech and language. He lacks the ability to communicate verbally and has a history of severe allergic reactions to food which is complicated by (his) pica behaviors."

Palo Alto district officials refused to continue the Pajaro Valley Unified School District's program, instead offering the child a classroom placement that it deemed "comparable."

The family initially appealed the district's offer of an in-school program to the California Office of Administrative Hearing, which sided with the school district in a decision issued Dec. 31, 2013.

The family filed a lawsuit in federal court in March, claiming the district violated federal law. The family's lawyer, Brian Sciacca, cited case law suggesting that the "stay-put" provision – meaning the same type of educational placement as before – should apply when a special-education student transfers to a new district and a dispute arises about the most appropriate educational placement in the new district.

In July, a federal judge sided with the family in an interim ruling, ordering Palo Alto Unified to provide in-home services pending resolution of the family's dispute with the district. The judge agreed with the family's "stay-put" argument and rejected the district's position that the it is required only to provide services that are "comparable," not identical, to the student's prior Individualized Educational Program (IEP).

The largest chunk of district money spent on the case was at this time. In the month of July, the district paid law firm Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost a total of $10,395.50 to research and prepare an appeal of the "stay-put" provision.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 23, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Palo Alto is known to be a very generous district in providing aid to kids in need and as a result that has encouraged families to move into the district to take advantage of the situation. It is human nature to want as much as possible for your kids but I would like to hear the School Board candidates describe what they would do about it.

As for the OCR related costs, I would like to read about how Palo Alto became a soft target for OCR investigations. The paper has done a good job talking about some of the OCR related issues, but why has OCR focused so much attention on this particular district. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Sancho Panza
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 23, 2014 at 4:43 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Beam in their own eye
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 4:57 pm

If only the document were: "Recommendations: Suggestions to Improve Collaboration between PAUSD administrators and the Families and Children PAUSD is Supposed to Serve,"

One of the settlements resulted because PAUSD was not extending 504 procedures to families who needed them, and were even pretending like those procedures did not exist. Administrators were alerted all the way to the board, but it was not remedied until OCR made them. The law actually requires districts to identify children who need 504s and to proactively extend protections, but our district doesn't do that still.

These are warped priorities and money down the drain. OCR would never have gotten the 2nd settlement complaint if the district had made even the barest of effort to meet its duty under the law, in the many months they were alerted to the problem. Recall that the districts themselves write the procedures by which they follow the law, and our district had those, they simply were pretending in many cases that they did not exist.

This is egregious. [Portion removed.] If anyone wants to start a recall, we have 4 good candidates to fill the spaces. [Portion removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm

A question has arisen as to whether any of the school board candidates have connections to OCR. With one exception, none of the candidates have any publicly-known connections to OCR. The one exception is Ken Dauber. Ken worked as a consultant for OCR from 2009 through at least 2012 and continues to list himself as a consultant to the US Department of Education. The Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights (the head of OCR) from 2009 to 2012 was Russlynn Ali. Ken served as a contractor for organizations where Ms. Ali worked from 2001 through 2008. Ken’s wife, Michele, attended law school with Ms. Ali and has referred to her as “my dear friend” (see Web Link). The recent series of complaints filed with OCR started when Ms. Ali was serving as head of OCR and Ken was serving as a consultant to OCR. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 23, 2014 at 5:35 pm

PIE enables this by paying for basics that PAUSD doesn't have to. Of course PIE will deny this, but they are enabling the wastage at our district.

Please stop wasting our money. This is taxpayers money that is being spent. I am outraged that the district feels that it is acceptable for them to spend all this money. They are completely unaccountable to the moneys they have been entrusted to educate our kids.

This is our hard end money that we have to struggle to pay our ever rising property taxes that is paying for this. It is totally unacceptable the way they are wasting our money without any regard for taxpayers wishes.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 5:50 pm

@Just-the-facts brings some interesting information to the table, but stops short of asking the key question based on those facts. That question is: if a candidate has being a consultant for OCR on his resume, what are the implications of that candidate having any number of potential conflict-of-interest situations facing him, should he be elected?

[Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by would be nice to know
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Bob,

PAUSD's Conflict of Interest Policy:

"The Governing Board desires to maintain the highest ethical standards...Board members and designated employees shall disclose any conflict of interest and, as necessary, shall abstain from participating in the decision."

[Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 7:16 pm

This OCR complaint is an expensive ego trip for Mitchell and Caswell. It's going to put PAUSD squarely in their crosshairs for years to come.

After the November election, let's hope the new board re-examines the basis for this expensive legal action.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ralph B.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 8:05 pm

In the FFF billings for June 2014, Lenore Silverman billed 4 hours on JUNE 3, 2014 for "attend closed session board meeting on Resolution."

The agenda item for that meeting noticed a closed meeting for " Significant exposure to litigation pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (d) of Government Code Section 54956.9: Two cases. Facts and circumstances of the potential cases are not subject to disclosure pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (e) of Government Code Section 54956.9."

The Board's resolution does not, on its face, have anything to do with litigation. It authorizes not litigation against OCR but efforts to lobby to change OCR's investigation practices and restrict its authority over civil rights in local schools. It does not involve litigation, and does not involve any cases in which the facts and circumstances are not subject to disclosure.

The board has been holding closed meetings to discuss a lobbying strategy, meetings with political leaders, and the creation of a national campaign about OCR. This is not within the reach of this exception.

I would like to hear our board explain how "meeting on Resolution" was "anticipated litigation."

I am really astonished. I have been hearing people suggest that this was going on and thought frankly that they were over-reacting but now I know what is really going on. It is worse than the Weekly suspected, and kudos to the Weekly for sticking with this story.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 8:20 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Bert
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2014 at 8:31 pm

So, the district isn't fighting OCR, but is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars 'working' with OCR? The one thing that seems to be clear is that the school district may very well more dollars than sense.

Sup McGee, please release a clearly written document that spells out in painful detail, why the school bard is spending money that clearly could be better spent on something useful to the kids in PAUSD, like a new teacher, rather than on an expensive legal/political lobbying team that appears to be more of a response to bruised egos on the school board than anything else.


Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 23, 2014 at 8:38 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


1 person likes this
Posted by who is to blame
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2014 at 10:04 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Kent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 23, 2014 at 10:56 pm

The District’s memo mentioned in the third paragraph of the Weekly article is fascinating. Anyone interested in the OCR issue should read it – and anyone posting a comment on the OCR issue should be required to read it. You can find the District’s memo here: www.paloaltoonline.com/media/reports/1411505017.pdf. The memo starts as follows:

“GOAL: To improve collaboration between OCR and school districts on our shared mission to safeguard the civil rights of all students and to include basic due process protections for school districts in OCR investigations that build confidence in OCR's neutral fact-finder role while encouraging effective use of educational resources.”

It then continues:

“Introduction: With this goal in mind, our Board Resolution described ways that OCR's current investigative practices have disrupted rather than facilitated this vital shared mission. The following examples and recommendations are drawn from our District's experience and are offered to improve the working relationship between OCR and school districts. Examples are limited in their specificity consistent with protecting confidential student information.”

The memo then goes on to describe 20 different problems with how OCR conducts investigations. In most cases, the memo provides a specific example of where the problem arose, and in all cases the memo recommends a solution to the problem.

I found the memo very well written and persuasive. It becomes clear as one reads the memo, that the OCR process is not like anything we’re used to in traditional legal proceedings. OCR can, apparently, choose not to seek information from witnesses who are aware of facts that rebut the allegations in a complaint. They can deny a school district the right to review and challenge inaccurate evidence – in fact, a school district is not even entitled to review a complainant’s allegations and evidence. And a school district is not entitled to appeal an OCR ruling. As if that is not enough, OCR did not respond to multiple written from PAUSD about specific concerns even after OCR had encouraged PAUSD to submit its concerns in writing. Wow!

The very last issue the memo raises is a particularly interesting one when it comes to the issue of how an OCR complaint is reported publicly. Once a complaint is opened, a complainant many share information with the local media, but the school district is not allowed to respond. The complaint may be completely unsubstantiated, but the school district has no way to make that information public. As a result, all the public knows is that another OCR investigation is underway, often with allegations that would concern any member of the public. A response from the school district might make it clear that the district has handled the problem appropriately (or that perhaps there wasn’t actually a problem in the first place) – but that is not allowed.

Given all this, and given the multiple OCR cases in Palo Alto in the last few years, it’s understandable why our school district is making such an enormous effort to improve how OCR does its work. My guess is it’s uphill climb for a local school district to get a federal agency to improve how it conducts its business, but perhaps if other school districts (and colleges and universities, some of which have also faced challenges in dealing with OCR) are brave enough to join Palo Alto’s effort, change might come eventually.

I will say that if any other government agency conducted business the way OCR did, people would be screaming for changes. Think of the recent VA scandal on patient waiting times, the recent issues at the IRS on how the agency reviewed applications for not-profit status, and so on and so forth.


3 people like this
Posted by now I get it
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 23, 2014 at 11:03 pm

[Portion removed.] Hey, Weekly, how much did the district pay the lawyers to deal with the 4 OCR cases that the agency closed for lack of evidence of discrimination? How much staff time did it take to deal with those cases? You asked for the lawyer bills for those, too, didn't you?


Like this comment
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2014 at 11:06 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Young PiE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 6:52 am

When you donate to PiE, you create a [portion removed] fund for programs and personnel that should be paid out of the general fund and various categorical funds, making it too easy for the board to burn through extra cash to pay for lawyer hours, which does not help our children in any way. These are the board members that you elected and you deserve them. Next time don't blame the victims for brining complaints to Kevin Skelly and Charles Young. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Brown Act
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 7:01 am

Ralph B. (very clever) points out that the school board met in in secret about the Office for Civil Rights resolution under the "anticipated litigation" exception to the public meetings law (the Brown Act). That is clearly illegal. I wondered if that was a one time only event. I looked at the January bill. Sure enough, there is also a bill there for meeting with the school board in closed session under the "anticipated litigation" exception to prepare for a meeting between Barb Mitchell, Dana Tom and OCR to discuss investigations. Investigations are not litigation.

Let's put it plainly: the school board has been illegally meeting in closed session to discuss dealing with the Office for Civil Rights. That is just as illegal as the serial meetings that the City Council held to discuss the Arrillaga proposal, but even more blatant. [Portion removed.]

Amazing.


6 people like this
Posted by rational thought
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 7:58 am

As more information comes to light, it is clear that the course chosen is the correct one. McGee, having now given access to all the information, has now come to agree with it. What a juxtaposition to the candidates claiming that they will repeal it without access to that information. Fortunately there is one cool head among that bunch.


4 people like this
Posted by Ralph B.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:14 am

What were the odds that Barb Mitchell would agree to hire a superintendent who was not willing to enact the board's embattled view of itself, the federal government, and the press? Most alarming is that McGee is going to spend staff time over the next month calculating the supposed "costs" of responding to Public Records Act requests by the press. Those "costs are entirely the cost of doing business in dubious closed meetings, and of keeping information from the public that should have been public. Attacking the press for doing its job to cover local issues is just so wrongheaded. It is a continuation of a negative relationship with the press that should stop now.

To spend staff time calculating how much money was spent trying to conceal expensive activities such as the lobbying campaign against OCR is very discouraging. It is throwing yet more good money after bad. It is truly the wrong direction. And the timing of the release of the "tab" of October 28 is also nakedly political and intended to influence the election by placing the district "spin" on the "costs" associated with "compliance" immediately prior to the vote.

Attacking the press is just such a wrongheaded move that it is astonishing. Thank goodness for the Weekly staying with this story or the public would know nothing of these fees and costs being spent by our board on lobbying.

I want my dollars spent in the classroom not the courtroom. I will vote for a candidate who agrees.


3 people like this
Posted by plain as day
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:22 am

Thank you PAUSD for not rolling over.

I think the motivation to file the cases against Paly are an issue. No specific accusation, and open fishing to find more of something to accuse the school for.

I'm not a law expert but from TV shows, I believe that's almost like entrapment?


3 people like this
Posted by rational thought
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:23 am

"I want my dollars spent in the classroom not the courtroom."

Unfortunately with the recent encouragement to file OCR complaints against the district that have no merit, as has been seen in all but 2 of the OCR cases, this is going to be an on-going issue.

I prefer candidates that realize this and are willing to make the hard choices to do what is required. Burying your head in the sand is never a good option.


1 person likes this
Posted by would be nice to know
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:25 am

Brown Act poster says above: "Investigations are not litigation."

They very well could be.

This from prior thread: "Closed sessions are OK even if the district has not been sued if a point has been reached, based on existing facts and circumstances, where there is a significant exposure to litigation. CA Gov Code 54956.9(d)(2). The Brown Act says those facts can be as simple as 'a statement threatening litigation' on a specific matter. "

Web Link


Ralph B says: "In the FFF billings for June 2014, Lenore Silverman billed 4 hours on JUNE 3, 2014 for 'attend closed session board meeting on Resolution.'"

Not completely true either and other explanations are as or more plausible:

The resolution related to matters where litigation could have been mentioned or threatened, for example "evidence of complainant document tampering on May 23, 2013."

Per the board, the closed session related to "two cases." Ms. Silverman's other time records that day said she met with Holly Wade to "review cases" so consider that she may have mis-described that time entry in her time records.

That 4 hours included travel time both directions.

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by down with the old canoe
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:49 am



Looking at records to make sure that the district has correctly and fully complied with the law is called oversight, not entrapment.


1 person likes this
Posted by rational thought
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:54 am

@dwtoc
That's true. What would be truly useful is to know why the OCR is investigating Paly when no complaint has been filed. That has never been fully explained.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Charles Young must go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 9:17 am

Charles Young is the compliance officer and was responsible for the mishandling of basic complaints that led to many OCR filings. [Portion removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Paly dad and lawyer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 24, 2014 at 9:22 am

About the compliance review at Paly: the district said at the time that it was due to the "rape culture" article in the Verde student magazine. That article talked about harassment of girls at school as a result of sexual assault off campus. That is a violation of Title IX. Not only was the article in the Verde, the teacher and student journalists did a media tour, including a spot on NPR. It's not hard to figure out why OCR decided to look into that, particularly as PAUSD was one of the few districts to actually be found to have violated civil rights laws in the Terman bullying case.

Add to that the fact that Phil Winston, who was supposed to be ensuring compliance with Title IX at Paly, was actually engaged in behavior that got him removed for sexual harassment. As the father of a junior girl at Paly, I can tell you that I am very happy that the federal government is involved in making sure that Title IX is followed.


Like this comment
Posted by OCR prodding
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 10:16 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by rational thought
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 10:35 am

"the district said at the time that it was due to the "rape culture" article in the Verde student magazine."

That's the reason OCR gave? OCR reads a student newspaper and launches an investigation. That's the level of due-diligence they conduct before starting an investigation? No interviews; no complaints; reads a random article and kicks off an investigation.

And you wonder why the district is challenging OCR processes.


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Posted by William
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

I have no trouble spending district funds to fight the federal government if it is the thinking of the school board that the federal government is in the wrong. Most of the top management of the federal government are political appointees--so it's very difficult to believe that the feds always are right, and everyone else is always wrong.

I also have no problem terminating any school district employees--up to the superintendent--who have not complied fully with all laws.

Sadly .. we still don't know much about the details here--due to all the confidentiality involved.


4 people like this
Posted by Paly dad and lawyer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:03 am

The Verde article said that girls had been sexually assaulted off campus, and then harassed at school to the point where it was interfering with their education. At the same time, Paly administrators and district administrators believed that they had no obligation under Title IX to protect girls from harassment. I remember Skelly saying that since the girls were assaulted off campus, it was not the school district's problem to protect them on campus. That reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the law.

Incidentally, the Gunn incident that was reported in the spring (where a girl was assaulted off campus, and then harassed on campus) demonstrates that the district still has not figured out how to comply with Title IX and protect girls in our high schools.

If the school board spent the $50,000 on educating staff on compliance with law, rather than complaining when the federal government has to step in to correct the mistakes of staff members, we would all be better off -- most importantly our female students like my daughter.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:07 am

This is a terrible waste and a denial that PAUSD let its children down.

[Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Complaint Filed
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:12 am

@Kent
I understand that reading the memo could make someone agree with the resolution. But just because the district wrote about disruptive practices by the OCR, doesn’t necessarily mean they are true. We are only hearing the district’s version.

@rational thought
“Unfortunately with the recent encouragement to file OCR complaints against the district that have no merit, as has been seen in all but 2 of the OCR cases, this is going to be an on-going issue.” - I take offense that I was “encouraged” to file a complaint and that my complaint has no merit. The only thing that encouraged me was Skelly’s incompetence. And you do not have the facts to make judgement about my case’s merit.

I was at the meeting last night. It seemed clear that the board did not really understand the public comments. They kept saying how they are not allowed to talk about specific cases due to confidentiality. Well, we agree - no one asked that they do that. There were also lots of complaints by board members about compliance costs. But if the district had been in compliance from the start, all of this time and money would have been saved. It was disappointing to hear that McGee is siding with the board and the resolution. It was nice to see 2 of the candidates stand up and advocate for the right course of action.


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:20 am

I am very concerned about the idea that the board is going to present some sort of "accounting" with a cost estimate for each public records request. I have three concerns:

A. The public and the press have a right to make these requests. This is the law and it is the public's right to use the law. The school board is retaliating against the press and public and this will have a chilling effect on the exercise of basic free speech and First Amendment freedom of the press. The board is trying to shame the Weekly, the Daily Post, and the public. It must not do this.

The website that lists Public Records filings and the person who filed them is also chilling of free speech. The only purpose of exposing people and of now making up some supposed cost to it is to discourage people from trying to find out what is happening.

B. If the board had not held so many secret meetings (which we now know were not on topics allowed to be secret, thank you Ralph B) then no one would have filed in the first place. These requests were not frivolous at all. They were necessary. We should not call out or blame or shame or try to discourage people from exercising their freedoms and rights.

C. The timing of the release of the supposed cost, which is going to be a post-hoc made up number, is incredibly suspicious and I think it is designed to sway the election. October 28? One week before the election? One week prior, the board just happens to release a supposed cost of how much all these OCR complaints and the reporting on them cost the district? Pullleeezze. This is wrong. The district staff should stay far away from the appearance that they are being used by the board for partisan political purposes.

The district PR strategy clearly involves smearing families who file OCR complaints, the OCR, the press, and anyone who tries to find out what is happening.

Protect the First Amendment and defend the Weekly. Also defend those families who felt that they had to file complaints. They deserve support not shame.


1 person likes this
Posted by OCR
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:32 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Paly dad and lawyer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:41 am

In a certain corner of Palo Alto inhabited by libertarians and school board members (and there seems to be an overlap there) the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is an alien force that does not have a role in our schools. For everyone else (including the people I talk to), OCR is part of how we ensure that our civil rights laws protect our children in our schools. If our school district falls short, as it did at Terman, probably at Paly and Gunn, in a case involving 504 procedures, there is recourse. Our kids' civil rights are not at the mercy of our local school officials.

You can tell the community sentiment about this from the fact that 4 of 5 school board candidates have said they would rescind the board's resolution, and the 5th (Catherine Foster) seems to be turning herself into a pretzel trying to qualify and caveat her support for the resolution.

Spending 100s of thousands of dollars to cook up a lobbying strategy and then to join up with other people who want to cut back on federal civil rights authority (the resolution calls them "education affiliates") may make sense to the school board. I don't think it makes sense to taxpayers of the district. But answering that kind of question is what elections are for.


2 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:43 am

[Portion removed.]

What disclosures has Mr. Dauber made of such prior work for the OCR? If OCR matters come up before the PAUSD board and Mr. Dauber is elected, will he be obligated to recuse himself? Do any current PAUSD board members or any other candidates for the board openings have similar OCR conflicts of interest?


Like this comment
Posted by traceychen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:48 am

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:54 am

The board's attitude, in a word, is stupid.

If Dauber is the only candidate who gas worked for the OCR before, he has the best chance of getting this huge facial wart removed.

He just got my vote.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

@parent who posted this:
A. The public and the press have a right to make these requests. This is the law and it is the public's right to use the law. The school board is retaliating against the press and public and this will have a chilling effect on the exercise of basic free speech and First Amendment freedom of the press. The board is trying to shame the Weekly, the Daily Post, and the public. It must not do this.

I don't see this as retaliation. I see it as being transparent as the public and the Weekly have been asking them to do. Why are you afraid of this? Do you fear what will come out of it? Why would it have a chilling effect on free speech, etc? The people making these requests for information are well informed about their rights and would probably welcome being seen as transparent in their requests.


3 people like this
Posted by The Facts - Strong OCR Cases
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 12:07 pm

The following comment by Rational Thought shows the ongoing lack of understanding of OCR complaints and how they are handled:

"Unfortunately with the recent encouragement to file OCR complaints against the district that have no merit, as has been seen in all but 2 of the OCR cases, this is going to be an on-going issue."

When a complaint is filed that ***is strong enough*** the OCR intervenes, explaining to the District that it cannot do what it is doing. If the District is smart enough, it complies, changes its practice and stops depriving a student of his or her civil rights. Then the case is closed. This does not prove the case has no merit. On the contrary, these are the strong cases that have parents with the resources to fight them adequately.

There is no "encouragement" going on to file complaints. It is a difficult and arduous process that strains the family and the child. But when there is no other way, thank God there is the OCR. The respect for the civil rights of all is what makes this country great.


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Posted by rational thought
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 12:27 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Henry Kissinger
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Well at least now you know what the October surprise is going to be.


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Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 12:43 pm

"... the district was waiting for OCR to respond to two pending appeals of its Freedom of Information Act requests ..."

Does the FoIA mandate a certain response time to such appeals? Where is the appeals process set out within the FoIA?


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Posted by plain as day
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm

down with the old canoe,

"Looking at records to make sure that the district has correctly and fully complied with the law is called oversight, not entrapment."

Last I heard, the Paly investigation was at the interviewing stage. Request to interview students without parental consent and without district staff present.

How weird is that?!

At the end of the day these investigations are not about record requests. Or are they? Maybe they are, since the penalty is to improve education of staff and employees, and probably record keeping.

Too much mixing up the actual cases of Winston and the rape culture article with a generalized problem at Paly. If there were MORE problems why are they not reported?

It should not be up to the OCR to fish around to catch some record keeping error.

Thank you PAUSD for not rolling over.


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Posted by plain as day
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Paly dad and lawyer,

"Add to that the fact that Phil Winston, who was supposed to be ensuring compliance with Title IX at Paly, was actually engaged in behavior that got him removed for sexual harassment. As the father of a junior girl at Paly, I can tell you that I am very happy that the federal government is involved in making sure that Title IX is followed."

Is this what the OCR is trying to confirm?

Is this what the search for evidence is about?


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Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:52 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by now I get it
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:11 pm

@The Facts - Strong OCR Cases, the board materials make clear that of the 11 OCR complaints filed, OCR closed 4 because of lack of evidence of discrimination, and declined to open 2 at all. When more than half the cases have been tossed out, I don't think that suggests that the OCR cases are strong.
[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Just to be clear, at the October 28 school board meeting, PAUSD “staff will provide legal costs and the costs associated with compliance with OCR, policy development, and implementation.” See Web Link. PAUSD will not simply be reporting how much they have spent responding to public records requests from the press or from school board candidates or from other members of the general public. This all appears to be in line with the quote from Max McGee in the Weekly article above: “If somebody were to ask me how much have you spent fighting OCR, I would say zero. If they asked how much have you spent responding to OCR requests, (I would say), 'We'll figure that out.'" So the October 28 report will, presumably, be the result of the “we’ll figure it out” process.

Given all the allegations flying around on just how much PAUSD has or has not spent complying with OCR – or, as some allege, fighting OCR (notwithstanding McGee’s comment to the contrary) – I suspect most people will welcome PAUSD’s openness on this issue. As for whether PAUSD is timing the release of the information in a way to influence the school board election, if they are, they have their timing off. The vast majority of Palo Alto voters are absentee voters and it is likely most people will have already voted by October 28. So if PAUSD wanted to influence the election with this information, they would get it out right now.


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Posted by would be nice to know
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Wondering why no one who spoke about the OCR resolution during Open Forum last night mentioned the New York Times interview and article last month [portion removed]:

New York Times' interview of Michele Dauber:

“'Title IX can’t have teeth when the O.C.R. is not making reports fast enough, is dramatically underfunded, and is not getting things done,' said Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford, where she helped develop the university’s Alternative Review Process, a disciplinary procedure established at Stanford in 2013 to address sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking.

"the office employs 'half the staff it did in 1980, when the O.C.R. received only a third of the amount of complaints as today.'...That means it can take months, if not longer, between a student filing of a Title IX complaint and the beginning of an investigation."

New York Times: Web Link


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Posted by Diem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:42 pm

[Portion removed.]

Complying with the law is free. OCR even offered us free training. We turned it down and elected to hire our own trainer. The state publishes free versions of the UCP. We elected to try to maintain site-based control and write our own custom policy. Saying "yes we will follow the law" is free. Saying "no, we didn't do anything wrong and we will fight you over every detail of your request" is expensive.

Fighting over interviews of students or turning over documents is expensive and pointless. Lobbying is expensive and pointless.
[Portion removed.]


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:49 pm

This was a quote from Michele Dauber in the NYT article: Ms. Dauber says transparency is the single most important change that Congress could bring about. “Absent transparency, we don’t know what problem we are trying to solve and we have no idea how to solve it,” she said. “We are just fumbling around in the dark. When you want to change, you take an honest inventory of your situation.”

I think what the district is doing is trying to be transparent and that includes the things that people are uncomfortable with, including the costs and how they were incurred. I want to hear about this from the district. It's only fair that they should have their say. We only have the OCR's "inventory" and we need to hear the other sides.


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Posted by Truth & Justice
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2014 at 4:05 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by JLS mom of 2
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:15 pm

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

"Unrelated to the OCR cases, the district has spent upwards of $30,000 since March on its litigation with the family of a student with autism who, after moving to the district in 2013, sued Palo Alto for denying in-home education for the student."

It is bad enough that the district expended $30,000 fighting this poor family, who only wanted to ensure that their child was not killed by consuming an allergen and then, due to his autism, being unable to communicate. That number of $30,000 was also surely expended by the family of the student in trying to fend off the district's lawyers from FF and F. As the prevailing party, it is likely that the family will have its fees paid by the district now, bringing the total cost (not counting the emotional toll on the family) to upwards of $60K.

All that, to avoid providing services to a child who badly needed them, as determined by the U.S. District Court.

The most disturbing thing about this story isn't however these fees. It is the extent to which Max McGee seems out of touch with the reality of what is happening with Fagan Friedman, with OCR, and with this board. McGee is really at risk of being used and needs to get hold of this situation and bring it under his control quickly.

He should start by talking directly with the families who filed the OCR complaints, including those who spoke at the board meeting on Tuesday night. He should do that alone, and without any senior staff or board members present. And he should be sitting down.


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Posted by Emma
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Emma is a registered user.

@Paly dad and lawyer
“You can tell the community sentiment about this from the fact that 4 of 5 school board candidates have said they would rescind the board's resolution, and the 5th (Catherine Foster) seems to be turning herself into a pretzel trying to qualify and caveat her support for the resolution.”

Actually, according to the Weekly 9/12/2014, Catherine Crystal Foster’s position was clear: she has not had access to all the confidential information and can’t declare her position without that access to the facts. The other candidates presumably have not had access to the confidential information either. But Foster’s the only one who actually is demonstrating data-based decision making and demonstrates the courage to be an independent thinker.

In heated issues like PAUSD’s relationship with OCR, rational analysis and data-based decision making are critical to effective resolution, not emotions or pandering.


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Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2014 at 1:39 am

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

"can't declare her position without that access to the facts"

Declaring that one would err on the side of employees fighting accountability under a higher authority rather than with families when the full facts aren't known is not exactly data-based decisionmaking.

We try to teach our children to choose their battles and prioritize their resources, time, and energy. We should be leading by example. There is nothing at stake here worth the cost to families; the district administration hasn't shown nearly the same concern or effort to understand its own failings (many disturbingly similar to their stated concerns about OCR) when it comes to serving families and the children of the district.

Even when one is correct in one's assertions, does not make all battles in life worth fighting. This is a stunning demonstration of misplaced priorities.


Posted by George Orwell
a resident of East Palo Alto

on Sep 30, 2014 at 7:52 am

George Orwell is a registered user.


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