Parents, school board candidates repeat pleas to repeal OCR resolution

Parent to Palo Alto board: 'Please cease and desist'

As the Palo Alto Board of Education moves forward on efforts promised in its June resolution against the federal Office for Civil Rights, it continues to do so in spite of community members who vehemently oppose the resolution.

A parent who filed one of the district's two still-open Office for Civil Rights complaints, a sexual-harassment case at Gunn High School, spoke pointedly to the board Tuesday night about her disappointment in the resolution, calling it the "final slap in the face" in a distressing, flawed process.

The parent, who asked not to be identified, criticized school and district administrators, who "didn't really have a clue what to do during the situation."

But, she said, "The final slap in the face for me came when the board voted to pass this resolution instead of what I see as working collaboratively with them to fix our broken system."

"I don't see what you're expecting to gain," she told the board. "It's not too late to accept responsibility and correct mistakes."

She said her daughter has recovered from the assault, but is cynical that things will change at Gunn. She didn't want to return to Gunn this year -- and didn't think Palo Alto High would be any better.

"I think if the district puts a fraction of time and effort into my daughter's case as on this (the resolution), she might have felt cared for at school last year and she wouldn't be as cynical as she is today," the mother said.

She said she is still holding out hope that with a new superintendent, the district might still decide to change course.

Parent Andrea Wolf compelled the board: "Please cease and desist."

"The board's stance toward the Office for Civil Rights continues to be disheartening to me," Wolf said. "I'm here to reiterate the request I made to you last June: Please stop spending taxpayer money on instructing OCR on how to do their job."

Legal bills reviewed by the Palo Alto Weekly revealed that the 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 more than $50,000 for attorneys to research, develop and follow up on its resolution criticizing the agency. (Read: Legal costs soar as school board begins OCR lobbying)

School board candidate Ken Dauber, who has said he is committed to repealing the resolution if elected, also framed the argument Tuesday in terms of resources. He said the $50,000 spent on resolution preparation and follow-up alone could pay for 1,700 hours of tutoring at $30 per hour.

"Teachers are paying for construction paper and paperback books and crayons and pencils. Fifty thousand dollars would have gone a long way to meet those needs that teachers are paying for out of their pocket. I think we can all agree that there are needs in our district -- that students have and that teachers have -- that this money would have been far better put toward."

Board candidate Gina Dalma spoke about the community distrust the district's relationship with the Office for Civil Rights has engendered.

"We will not be able to build a relationship with the OCR, that as (Superintendent Max) McGee suggests 'is about working to benefit our young men and women and making sure policy and procedures are in compliance,' with a standing resolution that clearly states that the OCR is 'purposefully confrontational and disruptive and with no regards to instruction,' that it acts 'with the intention to promote confusion and concern,' that 'questions the integrity and honesty of the lawyers of the OCR.'

"These words connote confrontation, not collaboration. I urge the board to change our focus to one of real collaboration in benefit of all our kids," Dalma said.

The community's comments came after McGee characterized the resolution as an effort in the best interest of students and staff.

"We are not fighting the Office for Civil Rights. We are working collaboratively in the best interest of our students to assure that the school district has the appropriate procedures and practices in place to assure that IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and 504 Plans are being met and that our school community is one that is welcoming, safe and supportive of every single one of our nearly 13,000 students and more than 1,600 staff," McGee said.

The board released with its Tuesday agenda a new lobbying document that summarizes the board's complaints against the Office for Civil Rights, 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 the federal agency should change its procedures.

"These are not confrontational (words)," he said. "These are recommendations, recommended reasonable suggestions to improve collaboration and communication."

Board President Barb Mitchell said the board spent a year in meetings and correspondence, written and verbal, with the Office for Civil Rights "without getting clarity on our questions of a procedural nature.

"It was unlike anything I've ever experienced in my 20 years with this district," she said.

She and other board members described the resolution as a means to help the federal agency and other districts learn from their experience.

Members also reiterated that part of their challenge has been navigating a balance between transparency and student confidentiality.

"As I reflect back on our journey here, I wish we could have brought the community along on the path we took to that resolution," said board member Dana Tom. "However, the biggest roadblocks have been our limitations on what we can say about student matters and what we can say when there's ongoing negotiation with the OCR. Also, we were attempting to work very directly with OCR to address our concerns without shining a public light on it.

"Our first goal was to try to work collaboratively with them, resolve the issues and move forward. When it became clear that we were not making any progress, we were left with very few choices," he said.

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1 person likes this
Posted by just wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm

[Post removed; duplicate post.]

2 people like this
Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Since the debate over the OCR resolution never seems to fade, I’ve attached the resolution below. Everyone who is interested in this topic should read it. Note that the resolution does not oppose OCR’s investigations (and, in fact, says “the District will continue to seek to work collaboratively with OCR” – it also notes the District’s commitment to protect the civil rights of all students). Instead the resolution raises a long list of concerns about how OCR has handled the various PAUSD cases, including allegations that OCR failed to comply with its own guidelines, failed to address allegations of evidence tampering, and failed to provide the District with sufficient information about the allegations in the cases. Here is the resolution:

WHEREAS, the Palo Alto Unified School District shares the U.S. Department of Education’s vital mission to provide equitable access to high-quality education and to protect the civil rights of all students; and
WHEREAS, the District community has a distinguished record of exceptional outcomes corresponding to student safety, student learning, student conduct, inclusion, civil rights, and nondiscrimination; and
WHEREAS, the District has worked collaboratively with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is duly authorized to act as a neutral fact-finder and a provider of technical assistance; and
WHEREAS, the District has provided OCR attorneys with thousands of pages of evidence documenting legal compliance with anti-discrimination and civil rights laws in complaint investigations; and
WHEREAS, the District has arranged for dozens of requested staff interviews by OCR attorneys documenting legal compliance with anti-discrimination and civil rights laws in complaint investigations; and
WHEREAS, the District reported substantial factual errors in OCR’s letter of findings on case no. 09-11-1337 to OCR attorneys on May 15, 2013; and
WHEREAS, OCR attorneys expressed willingness to review disputed evidence on May 15, 2013; and
WHEREAS, the District provided evidence of complainant document tampering on May 23, 2013; and
WHEREAS, OCR has not acted on its commitment and obligation to review disputed evidence; and
WHEREAS, OCR procedures provide little or no District review of complainant allegations or evidence; and
WHEREAS, the OCR has denied multiple formal District requests for records of evidence in the disputed case which has further restricted the District's opportunity for a fair review; and
WHEREAS, the OCR has not responded to the District’s appeals of OCR’s denial of requests for records despite OCR’s legal obligation to make a determination on the appeals by September 13, 2013; and
WHEREAS, a faulty negative determination by OCR in the disputed case continues to generate public confusion and damage to the reputations of conscientious educators; and
WHEREAS, the District has nonetheless completed every item of its voluntary resolution agreement with OCR in the one disputed case, except for the third, and last, required year of student and staff training which will be completed in 2014-2015 ; and
WHEREAS, the District must limit disclosure of evidence in individual cases to protect privacy rights; and
WHEREAS, OCR’s practice of opening investigations based only on a complainant’s allegations – without an opportunity for District review of the allegations and without OCR review of District factual evidence – has created a process open to exploitation and placed District staff members at a substantial deficit during investigations; and
WHEREAS, media reporting on OCR investigations and on information received from complainants, to which the District may not respond because of confidentiality laws, has misled the public and burdened District staff with misrepresentations; and
WHEREAS, OCR’s investigations have proceeded toward staff interviews and even student interviews with little or no review of documentary evidence; and
WHEREAS, OCR’s investigations in the District have taken as long as fourteen months from filing of a complaint to a resolution, far exceeding OCR’s stated time line of 180 days; and
WHEREAS, the District received positive compliance determinations in all four recent investigations completed by OCR, the investigations were still costly to District resources; and
WHEREAS, OCR has not followed guidelines in law and in its Case Processing Manual for conducting investigations; and
WHEREAS, the District will continue to seek to work collaboratively with OCR, the District is very concerned that OCR’s current process impedes progress toward goals the District and OCR share, causes public confusion, and excessively burdens the District’s staff and educational programs; and
WHEREAS, the District remains fully committed to building on effective strategies that promote the safety and inclusion of all students and to encouraging parents and students to bring any concerns regarding discrimination, harassment, or bullying to the attention of school officials for prompt resolution;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education will expand its pursuit of a just review and remedy of substantial OCR errors in case no. 09-11-1337 and of fair, prompt, and reviewable investigation practices through correspondence and meetings with elected representatives and education coalition affiliates.

5 people like this
Posted by vacuum
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I've always considered it strange when people take a position that a government agency can do no wrong.

5 people like this
Posted by AttendedTheBoardMeeting
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I was at the School Board meeting last night and heard all of the opinions both from the community and from the School Board. My heart went out for the 3 mom's who voiced their dissatisfaction with how the School Board has handled the various civil rights complaints. I also appreciated how the new Superintendent, Max McGee, said that if he were asked "how much have you spent to fight the OCR" his answer would have be "zero." He even said it twice so that it was clear to those in attendance. Clearly there were no winners in the civil rights investigations and the follow up activities and this includes the families, the superintendent (Kevin Skelly), and the OCR office itself. However, I do believe that Dr. McGee has already been helping to bridge the relationship with the OCR and the community to improve the way PAUSD handles civil rights complaints and more importantly, to proactively prevent such issue to improved training and quick response at the district level. There were a lot of concerns voiced regarding the "closed door" nature of many of the meetings regarding the civil rights issue, but I would imagine that making such sensitive topics regarding students, families, staff public violates all kinds of privacy rules as well. Also, tough to say whether the resolution was necessary in order to get the OCR to work and respond more expediently to the District. Having sat through the entire 3 1/2 hour board meeting last night, I came away with a better appreciation of the difficulties that both sides (families and board/superintendent) have gone through as a result of these issues.

1 person likes this
Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Stanford alum
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2014 at 4:15 pm

thanks for the links! I checked them out and learned that Professor D is a big national expert on on Title IX, that she won the Gores Prize (as a Stanford alum, I know that's the highest teaching award at the university so she must be a fantastic teacher!), and that she also said (in the same article you quoted from the NYT (and how cool is it that someone in our town is quoted in the New York Times? She must be an important expert).

"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.”

That sounds about right and transparency would sure be good here too! Thanks for those links!

1 person likes this
Posted by Truth & Justice
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2014 at 4:20 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Truth & Justice
a resident of Midtown

on Sep 24, 2014 at 4:26 pm

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1 person likes this
Posted by Eileen 1
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Eileen 1 is a registered user.

In yesterday's Board Packet, there was a document entitled, Public Records Requests. This document was with all of the documentation regarding the Board's dealings with the Office for Civil Rights. The entire listing of public requests started in April, 2012 and concluded with the most recent request made in June 2014.

Because this listing was included with all of the OCR documentation the implication is that ALL of the requests have to do with the OCR. I don't understand how this could possible be the case since neither the public nor the Board were informed about our district being out of compliance until February of 2013. Therefore, logically, all requests made from April of 2012 to February of 2013 cannot pertain to the cases brought to the OCR.

I hope that at the next Board Meeting, or at the meeting on October 28th or both, that Superintendent McGee makes clear exactly which public records requests have to do with the OCR and which do not. I have scanned through some of the documents that were disclosed after February 2013, and not even all of those refer to the OCR cases.

I appreciate our new Superintendent's being more transparent and communicative with the public than Dr. Skelley, but I do hope that he will make his intent, in including a list of all Public Records Requests since April 2012 in the board packet, clearer. This information has been available for at least the past year on the PAUSD website. Why is it being highlighted now?

3 people like this
Posted by peppered
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2014 at 10:49 am

peppered is a registered user.

Thus has got to be one of the most insane actions ever undertaken by a public body, right up there with the proposal in the City Council to ban frowning.

That just made us a laughingstock. This makes us look utterly stupid.

Like this comment
Posted by A Parent, Sr.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

A Parent, Sr. is a registered user.

I would like to know the cost incurred by PAUSD to respond to all of the Public Records requests listed in the document. (No, this is not to suggest the public doesn't have a right to make requests.)

1 person likes this
Posted by Left of Boom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2014 at 11:54 am

Left of Boom is a registered user.

Does the current PAUSD even think they represent the voters of Palo Alto in this matter? Do they even care?

1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2014 at 1:24 am

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

@Parent, Sr.

i think the cost of complying with records requests is not a fixed cost, it depends a lot on the systems put in place to handle them efficiently. It has been my observation that certain parties in the district office don't operate that way and put a great deal more effort into complaining about the requests than developing efficient ways of fulfilling them. Given that complying and communicating with the public is part of the territory, my question would be why we haven't found employees who are capable of setting up better systems for dealing with records requests and getting on with things, rather than making such hay out of complaining about it.

That's a very interesting point. Why don't PAUSD families have power equivalent to referendum or initiative at the City level in the schools? The whole reason for school districts is for the power to be vested as locally as possible, in other words, with families, not with bureaucrats who face virtually no accountability from below or above. i guess that explains why this whole mess -- the parents found someone to make the bureaucrats accountable from above and it was apparently too much for some to take. Absolutely power corrupts absolutely, as they say.

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

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