News

Palo Alto school board sticks with law firms

Renewed contracts come with conditions of more frequent reviews and search for alternative legal services

The Palo Alto school board opted Tuesday night to renew the district's contracts with its primary law firms, including one that provides special-education services and has been criticized by community members and one board member in particular for high legal bills and contributing to an "adversarial" relationship with families of children with special needs.

The board voted 4-1, with board member Ken Dauber voting no, to continue contracting with its four main law firms, but with three conditions recommended by Superintendent Max McGee that would establish a process for potentially searching for new firms in the future.

McGee recommended that the board's policy review committee draft a policy that commits the district to issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for legal and other contractual services every three years or sooner based on staff recommendation; that a new general counsel, whose hiring was also approved Tuesday night, review within the first 100 days on the job all of the district's legal services and recommend either keeping or terminating any of the four contracts, as well as timing for future RFPs; and that staff to be "judicious" with their use of attorney time, particularly using only one lawyer within the special-education firm, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost.

Dauber, who brought the initial proposal to the board to issue an RFP with a critical eye for Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost's performance, made two failed amendments Tuesday night -- first, to not move forward with that firm's contract, and second, to direct the new general counsel to issue an RFP for the district's special-education services within the first 100 days on the job. Neither amendment was seconded by any of his colleagues.

Dauber pointed out that legal fees from Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost have skyrocketed in recent years. Since 2012, the school district has paid the firm more than $900,000, according to monthly district reports on payments made to vendors. This is compared to about $830,000 paid to Dannis Woliver Kelley (out of bond funds, not general funds); about $490,000 paid to Lozano Smith; and about $61,000 paid to Dora Dome.

The district estimates $250,000 will be paid to Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost in the 2015-16 school year, according to a staff report. McGee and staff said Tuesday that this amount will likely be lower with the hiring of a general counsel, whose position McGee expects to be revenue neutral. He also said that expenses for both general and special-education services have declined from last year to this year.

Staff and other board members attributed Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost's high bills to the district's need for extra support during a "confusing" and "strange" era dominated by numerous U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigations, many involving special-education cases.

"The experience that we went through when the large amount of OCR reports were filed had been unprecedented in the district for the people who had been here, and we all felt very confused in terms of the roads to travel," board Vice President Heidi Emberling said. "Our legal team was attempting to advise us as best they knew how to do. Having said that, they felt over and over again that the feeling in the community, the press, everything that was going on around – this was just something they had never experienced in 20 years of doing this work."

Board member Camille Townsend similarly described this era as unprecedented and happening to school districts across the country. She criticized the Office for Civil Rights' investigative practices in Palo Alto and said that "legal counsel really helped direct us in a very difficult time."

Dauber responded that the federal agency's findings in a Terman Middle School case was one of only 15 disability harassment findings made out of 1,500 complaints during the first four years of President Barack Obama's administration.

"Only 1 percent of districts found themselves in the position that this district did of having reached a finding and the responsibility for that was not OCR's," Dauber said. "Ninety-nine percent of districts didn't find themselves there."

Townsend remained the sole board member opposed to the hiring of general counsel but did, however, support McGee's recommendation to conduct more routine RFPs.

Dauber stressed that the board has a responsibility to evaluate Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost's advice, which he described as costing the district not only financially but in its relationships with families of children with special needs.

Parent Andrea Wolf, the mother of a child who received special-education services in Palo Alto Unified, told the board that she saw a connection between the rise in legal fees and an "adversarial" relationship between the district and families of children with special needs.

Dauber said, "There was a path forward in terms of cooperation and rapid resolution of those issues that wasn't taken, that could have been taken and I think would have left the district and, in particular, our students better off."

He expressed concern that the district could find itself in a similar position when the outcomes of two pending Office for Civil Rights investigations at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are handed down, urging that the district proactively seek early resolution agreements rather than wait for findings.

Dauber requested that the topic be placed on a future board agenda, which the board agreed to do in response to McGee asking for more "clarity" around the board's position on how to handle the outstanding cases.

Though Tuesday was the last board meeting until August, McGee said he will continue to provide updates about the Office for Civil Rights' work with the district to the board and community via his "weekly" reports which are posted on the district's website.

In other business Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a spending plan for funds from Measure A, the newly approved parcel tax.

The district has dedicated $12.4 million to efforts continued from the last parcel tax such as class-size reduction and professional development, and an additional $2.3 million from the approved tax increase will support new efforts in health and wellness, academics and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math).

The STEAM bucket also includes the creation of a pilot Advanced Authentic Research program at the high school level this fall, with the goal to fully launch in the 2016-17 school year. McGee said he hopes about 30 students at each Paly and Gunn will sign up for the pilot program, which like Paly's Science Research Project will connect students with mentors in a field they're interested in for intensive independent research. McGee also intends the program to expand beyond science to include research in the humanities, arts and social sciences.

The board also approved three new district-level positions – chief student-services officer, general counsel and a new nurse – as well as the reclassification of existing staff members.

The board members' discussion mostly centered on how to best fill the district's soon-to-be-vacant communications coordinator position, with most board members stressing that the district is in need of both day-to-day communications and higher-level strategies around transparency.

McGee has said he will likely hire a part-time consultant to help with the day-to-day duties until the board can have a deeper discussion about the district's communication needs and vision.

The board also passed 3-2, with Emberling and Townsend dissenting, an amendment that requires the superintendent to return to the board for authorization before hiring a new full-time communications person.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 24, 2015 at 9:50 am

Brian is a registered user.

I have a question for anyone who attended or watched the meeting. Did the board take care of the Paly gym contract? It was on the agenda and up for action. For some reason, the story by the Weekly neglected to mention that item. It seems fairly important (at least for Paly), since this was the last meeting of the school year, and the construction was supposed to begin soon.

Sorry - this is not a controversial issue. I know most people will be looking for those issues in the online comments :-)


2 people like this
Posted by Elena Kadvany
education reporter of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jun 24, 2015 at 10:02 am

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

Brian: The board did unanimously approve the following regarding the Paly gym project:

- a lease-lease back agreement with contractor Vance Brown, site lease, and sublease
- an escrow agreement that provides for the deposit of the Peery family's donation money
- a resolution authorizing the County to establish a separate bond fund for the district’s share of
payments to Vance Brown

They briefly discussed the structure of a lease-lease back agreement and the rationale for using it rather than soliciting bids in this project (mainly because the Peery family requested that this contractor be used).


68 people like this
Posted by Eejits
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 24, 2015 at 10:15 am

This is madness! This lawfirm has led so many businesses and individuals down the path to financial ruin that theBar Association should shut them down.


54 people like this
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 11:13 am

Disappointing vote.

Emberling’s comment that the legal team was “attempting” to advise them “as best they knew how to do” does not portray a lot of confidence in FFF’s abilities. If that’s the best she can say about FFF, then I don’t understand her vote.

And Townsend’s comment that “legal counsel really helped direct us in a very difficult time” is even more confusing. If FFF had provided adequate legal counseling in the first place, those OCR complaints never would have been filed.


55 people like this
Posted by FF and F a firm disgrace!
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 24, 2015 at 11:24 am

I am very disappointed that the board chose to ignore the very solid and fiscally responsible amendments that Mr. Dauber recommended. These seem to be the responsible thing to do. We cannot afford any more direct deposits from the district's bank account to the account of a terrible law firm that has not delivered for many years. We need to get new legal counsel. [Portion removed.]

The hot water we got into under the misguided "leadership" of Skelly could have been completely avoided if he had been given the proper advice and had followed through on that advice. He could have filed an early resolution but instead chose to hide the depth of the trouble we were into from the tax-payers and the Board. The end result was a full blown citation against the district from the Office for Civil Rights. How he wasn't fired or put on administrative leave immediately is beyond me.

Then, to top things off, our district has spent money trying to prove that the OCR mistreated them. Give me a break! Enough is enough. Replace F, F and F as soon as possible. I am glad that Mr. Dauber had suggested the remedies even if they were both voted down by the rest of the Board. Just goes to prove that I didn't cast my ballot for the wrong candidate nor did the many more that won out over the others on the ballot.


17 people like this
Posted by Horrible 80% of Board
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 24, 2015 at 12:10 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Good thing Measure A passed - that way the board can divert money from property taxes that should have gone for students/teachers to pay these attorneys, and back fill it with the Measure A money.


7 people like this
Posted by Concentration of Power
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Dauber raised the issue the Superintendent is instructing staff to give all District's Special Education's legal work to one single attorney at Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost because the current Director of Special Education likes her. But this is the same attorney who families reported was adversarial, who advised on the OCR, who sued families of disabled students, and who ran up high legal costs.

Now as the only attorney allowed to do District Special Education work, this one attorney can be even more adversarial. She will have even more control over disabled students.

With the reorganization voted in last night, one newly created position will oversee all Special Education, Counseling, Medical, and Attendance. One employee using one attorney is too much control in too few people, especially with their track record of being adversarial.


44 people like this
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 24, 2015 at 1:44 pm

The school board majority remains totally tone deaf to community concerns regarding the choice of, the past use of, and now the continuing use of the legal team at FF&F. Clueless.


34 people like this
Posted by Are they stupid or insane
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 24, 2015 at 2:08 pm

I trust Dauber and McGee. The rest of the board needs to locate their heads as they are surely not in any daylight on this issue.


2 people like this
Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Weekly report:

"Dauber said 'There was a path forward in terms of cooperation and rapid resolution of those [OCR] issues' ... urging that the district proactively seek early resolution agreements [of two pending Office for Civil Rights investigations] rather than wait for findings."

Is Ken Dauber saying that PAUSD should just admit to having done something wrong? Even when the OCR couldn't find wrongdoing in 2/3s of the other OCR complaints filed against PAUSD?

And if PAUSD did do something wrong, is he suggesting that the district not benefit from OCR's guidance on how it can improve?

[Portion removed due to inaccurate citation of OCR policies.]


10 people like this
Posted by EB
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2015 at 2:55 pm

The above post is not accurately describing the provisions of the OCR Case Processing Manual. It appears to follow the same sort of logic that former Board President Barbara Mitchell frequently used.

The OCR Case Processing Manual Section 302 provides that any district has the absolute ability to resolve any investigation at any time prior to the conclusion of the investigation by requesting a voluntary resolution agreement prior to a finding of fact. Prior to the March 2015 revision of the CPM, this was entirely in the discretion of the school district and OCR did not even have to agree or approve. Now, with the new revision (which became effective while Chad Graff was diddling around and not entering into an agreement) the OCR revised its manual to provide that OCR must approve any request.

This may be in fact the worst mistake FFF made, though there are many to choose from. Failing to request voluntary resolution prior to the handbook revision may have cost PAUSD dearly.

Newly revised section 302 still provides this opportunity and it is probably not too late: "Allegations and issues under investigation may be resolved at any time when, prior to the conclusion of
the investigation, the recipient expresses an interest in resolving the allegations and issues and OCR
determines that it is appropriate to resolve them with an agreement during the course of an investigation.
Where OCR has obtained sufficient evidence to support a finding under CPM subsection 303(a)
(insufficient evidence) or CPM subsection 303(b) (violation) with regard to any allegation(s), OCR will
not resolve the allegation(s) pursuant to CPM Section 302, but will proceed in accordance with the
appropriate provisions set forth in CPM Section 303."

The question is whether OCR will allow PAUSD to enter into a Section 302 agreement short of a finding. It is likely that this is still available, though time is probably running out.

One big unknown is how OCR is reacting to the fact that PAUSD blocked it from interviewing students, as Townsend mentioned last night. Clearly PAUSD's uncooperative behavior has not endeared PAUSD to the Obama administration and to Secretary Duncan. This was of course the opposite of the effect that Graff and FFF promised engagement with the government that would result from their "Resolution." The district was assured by Graff, Silverman, and Mitchell that Arne Duncan would want to talk to them about policy. Instead, Duncan saw them as having fired on Fort Sumpter, which is what they did. So much for their big meeting with the bigshots to talk about how badly treated they were.

Literally no one with any legal expertise was surprised by the failure of this strategy other than Chad Graff and maybe he wasn't surprised, just happy to cash the check.

Dauber is exactly right and he is articulating a strategy that 99% of school districts have taken. Once OCR has investigated you and found a problem the only choice is entering into a Resolution Agreement. You can do that early on your impetus (Section 302) or you can do it later when they make a finding (Section 303(b)). You can roll the dice and hope for no finding Section 303(a). That last appears to be what PAUSD is doing. So let's ask how likely it is to occur.

At Paly PAUSD knew that the Principal had been found responsible for sexual harassment but didn't disclose it to OCR for months, until after a group of staff members complained. There was an unmanaged streaking issue that caused teachers to declare that there was a hostile environment. There may yet be other skeletons in closets that we don't even know about. Rape Culture. The policies on sexual harassment were incorrect in the handbook. The district staff charged with enforcing Title IX did not even know what it was or that it applied to sexual harassment, as reported in this publication. Seems serious.

At Gunn it seems pretty obvious that there were issues in addressing dating violence. Whether they rose to the level of creating a hostile environment, they led to the complete turnover of upper administration. Again, the district seemed to have little idea how to manage this situation or that Title IX applied, as reported in this publication. Seems serious.

There might be no finding. But what is the candle exactly and why is it worth $300,000 taxpayer dollars?

When OCR agrees to enter in to a Resolution short of a finding, it offers a package of remedies that typically include new policies and procedures, new handbooks, and training for faculty and students. These are things the district should have embraced years ago. Had they done so when OCR opened the investigation at Paly the events at Gunn would likely not have occurred because staff would have been properly trained before those events occurred.

Dauber is right and McGee should get on the phone to OCR and request Section 302 resolution with OCR. Max refused to do it without board authorization and the board decided to put it on the agenda for next year. Meaning too late, since as was announced at the meeting yesterday, the matter is being reviewed right now in Washington. My guess is that the sword of Damocles that Chad Graff and Barbara Mitchell suspended over our heads a year ago is about to fall.

Maybe we will be lucky and there won't be evidence due to blocking student interviews, though I doubt it. Maybe we will be unlucky and there will be a finding and the threat of enforcement action. Was it a good idea to roll the dice?

Last night McGee said "I can see it either way. I am happy to just wait for a finding and not try to settle this if that is what the board wants." I think that was an outrageous statement that should have been reported in the story above. McGee should have recommended settling this matter not being found at fault. There is no circumstance in which taking this risk would be worth it since there is no downside to making an agreement to improve your policies and procedures. It is bad for the district to have a finding, in many ways. He should not be making a neutral recommendation on this and it shows a lack of leadership and a lack frankly of understanding of what he is talking about that was staggering.





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Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 3:28 pm

On the Weekly's report that Dauber urged the district to "proactively seek early resolution agreements rather than wait for findings."

From the OCR's manual on early "resolution agreements":

"RESOLUTION AGREEMENT REACHED DURING AN INVESTIGATION. Allegations and issues under investigation may be resolved at any time when, prior to the conclusion of
the investigation, the recipient [district] expresses an interest in resolving the allegations and issues and OCR determines that it is appropriate to resolve them with an agreement during the course of an investigation.

... OCR will prepare a Statement of the Case (including a proposed resolution agreement) [and] will monitor the implementation of the agreement until the recipient has fulfilled the terms of the agreement and is in compliance with the statute(s) and regulation(s) at issue in the case."

A Resolution Agreement must be signed by the district. In it, the district must:

- spell out the specific acts or steps the district will take to resolve the "compliance issues"

- provide the dates it will do these and submit ongoing reports and documentation

- agree that, up until the OCR determines that the district has fulfilled the terms of the agreement and is in compliance with the law, the district is OK with the OCR monitoring the district i.e., interviewing staff and students and requesting additional reports or data it deems appropriate.

Web Link


13 people like this
Posted by EB
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2015 at 3:48 pm

"confused" has a very accurate name.

The Resolution Agreement reached prior to a finding is a good thing. It is better to enter an Agreement prior to a finding than after a finding, because in each case you have an Agreement but in one case you don't have a finding and in the other you do.

Confused does not understand the fundamental benefit of settlement, which is cost savings and uncertainty control. "Confused' is advocating the board gambling with someone else's money. Confused also does not understand the long-range risks associated with a finding which include increased litigation exposure, and the possibility of federal enforcement action. Ultimately confused just does not understand what is happening. In these respects, confused resembles our current board members Emberling, Caswell, and Townsend, who are unable to admit that they made a horrible mistake and blew the district's money at the craps table, betting on having no finding at the urging of Chad Graff of FFF.

If there is a finding, a mob will want their heads and McGee's too.

If there is no finding, they still wasted half a million dollars to get basically nothing.

The disinformation campaign is at an end. You are beaten. You are exposed. People now see what you have done. It is appalling. McGee needs to get us out of this mess before it consumes him as it did Skelly.




13 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Does PAUSD have a mission statement that includes paying lawyers as one its goals? Whenever PAUSD claims they can't afford something, just follow the money, especially the discretionary spending.


14 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2015 at 4:39 pm

This part of "confused"'s statement is also factually inaccurate: "Even when the OCR couldn't find wrongdoing in 2/3s of the other OCR complaints filed against PAUSD?" [Portion removed.]

The OCR doesn't determine whether there was wrongdoing or not in those cases. Look at their website. Look at their letters. They ensure districts follow procedures and only get involved in deciding the individual cases in very rare situations. The OCR not taking the cases because there isn't enough evidence to be sure process wasn't available is different than saying the cases had no merit. (In fact, digging in on that idea is de facto evidence that our district is still discriminating, if these are district employees digging in like that, others who are aware of it should report it to the OCR.) It's like the difference between making sure we have a court system and saying an individual's case was found to have no merit because the government wasn't sure we didn't have a court system (after dope smacking us twice to make sure we did).

Speaking as one of the settlement agreements, all the complaint was about was
1) making sure the district extended procedures to all students who needed 504s (and stopped pretending it didn't have them or sending people on wild goose chases to wear them down and never offer process)
2) making sure to extend procedures in our case (after months of sending us on wild goose chases and pretending they didn't have them)

The OCR settlement agreement did not decide our case either, it only made the district offer 504 procedures when it was found to be failing to do that. Given the settlement agreement, and the district's finally responding, it only makes sense that later cases were not taken.

Districts write their own procedures. It didn't take a genius to do the right thing in this situation, nor did it have to cost anyone a dime in legal fees. If the district spent a lot of money on lawyers, it seemed more to do with their doing so for personal reasons to do with certain employee's personal purposes, not for the benefit of students, and frankly if our district had stronger and clearer legal fee descriptors in contracts, the employees would have had to pay those for those purposes, not the district. We spent many months and a lot of effort trying to get the district to just offer its own processes. Damned straight they could have resolved it without it becoming a complaint or a settlement agreement. I can't even remember why it became a complaint, it may even have been a suggestion by a board member at the time. We incurred a lot of expenses ourselves as a result of the poor district behavior that we never asked to be reimbursed (not that they ever offered, despite later trying to claim they did, probably for the benefit of the state review). Again, the OCR settlement agreement did not decide our case, it only made the district make their existing procedures available to students and to our student.

The procedures the district writes and the laws are to protect the students, all the OCR did was ensure the district stopped pretending like it didn't have those procedures. Legal time the district spent against offering its 504 procedures to students/familie was money spent trying to avoid protecting their own students, like a City trying to sue the government for the right not to have courts/police/fire fighters if they are caught not having them even if they have an obligation to do so in their own charter).

The whole thing was ridiculous, outrageously unnecessarily adversarial, and money spent against the interests of students. I know university administrators in less egregious situations who had to pay those kinds of legal fees themselves. The district legal should always be used for the interests of students, if employees wish to use it for their own professional purposes, they should have to reimburse the district or better yet get their own lawyers. And district legal should defend the families/students interests against them if they are going to fight to destroy student educational rights and protections.


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Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 5:27 pm

EB,

You are advising the district to say it did something wrong even though you say you aren't sure that the OCR will make that finding.

Confused also by some of your other statements:

- "There is no downside to making an agreement to improve your policies and procedures." You are forgetting that the resolution agreement includes the IDing of "compliance issues" aka making a statement that someone did not follow the law. If no violation happened, publicly misrepresenting that an employee violated the law would be considered a downside.

- As to Dr. McGee offering the option of waiting for a finding, this is not the same as waiting to be "found at fault" as you say. A finding can be that there is "insufficient evidence" to find fault or evidence of a "violation" so does not demonstrate Dr. McGee's "staggering . . . lack of understanding."

- Do you have a link to something that shows what the district disclosed to the OCR when re the Paly principal (you: "at Paly PAUSD knew that the Principal had been found responsible for sexual harassment but didn't disclose it to OCR for months")?

- The "obvious" issues at Gunn in addressing dating violence that led to the "complete turnover of upper administration." Do you mean the principal and assistant principals? Two stayed I just confirmed, one came to Paly to work part time, and the Weekly reported that one moved to the district office to free up time for PhD studies. Web Link

- You are in-the-know on a few word amendment made a few months ago to the OCR's operating manual so I suspect that OCR law is an area you have some expertise in. But how do you know that Arne Duncan is upset that PAUSD "fired on Fort Sumpter" and that the two open OCR cases are "being reviewed right now in Washington," moved out of what the paper reported was the OCR's San Francisco office which opened the investigations on both of them?






28 people like this
Posted by FF and F a firm disgrace!
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 24, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Karen Gibson's post succinctly says it all. I am sick and tired of the "old guard" and the stupidity of one of the more recent electees (figure it out for yourself folks). I was horrified when I saw Heidi Emberling get on her high horse chastising the OCR at a board meeting some time ago. Thank God we got rid of Barbara "Cut the Mic" MItchell. She was really running the show in that combative circus side show.

Come on Max, do the right thing like you did with the Zero Period elimination. I know that you have the ability to lead but you must step up to the plate. If it is anything like the Skelly years Caswell and Baten-Caswell will follow along like Lemmings.

Thanks Trustee Dauber for your clear thinking and excellent leadership around all of these issues.

Enough is enough! No more dollars to that awful law firm. We Can Do Better.........indeed!


16 people like this
Posted by EB
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2015 at 6:14 pm

@confused

You wrote:

- "There is no downside to making an agreement to improve your policies and procedures." You are forgetting that the resolution agreement includes the IDing of "compliance issues" aka making a statement that someone did not follow the law. If no violation happened, publicly misrepresenting that an employee violated the law would be considered a downside."

Identifying compliance issues is not in fact the same as making a "statement that someone did not follow the law." A Resolution Agreement is just that. An agreement to resolve a complaint. OCR identifies compliance issues and the district agrees to address them, in order to avoid having a full investigation and finding and to get back to the business of educating students. It happens all the time. Not every case has to proceed to a trial. That is just totally obvious.

"- As to Dr. McGee offering the option of waiting for a finding, this is not the same as waiting to be "found at fault" as you say. A finding can be that there is "insufficient evidence" to find fault or evidence of a "violation" so does not demonstrate Dr. McGee's "staggering . . . lack of understanding."

Yes it does. Again, this is gambling with other people's money. And the odds are not in your favor, given what is known about Winston, streaking, rape culture, and the Gunn dating violence complaint. You might get lucky and get no finding. Why was that worth $500,000 of someone else's dollars?

"- You are in-the-know on a few word amendment made a few months ago to the OCR's operating manual so I suspect that OCR law is an area you have some expertise in. But how do you know that Arne Duncan is upset that PAUSD "fired on Fort Sumpter" and that the two open OCR cases are "being reviewed right now in Washington," moved out of what the paper reported was the OCR's San Francisco office which opened the investigations on both of them? "

Last night at the board meeting Max stated that he contacted OCR to inquire about case status and was told that the cases were under review at "Headquarters." Board Member Townsend stated that the cases were being reviewed in the "District of Columbia." I took that to mean Washington DC. What did you take it to mean?


3 people like this
Posted by WH
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2015 at 8:47 pm

@EB,

"[Max] should not be making a neutral recommendation on this and it shows a lack of leadership and a lack frankly of understanding of what he is talking about that was staggering."

You do know that Max has been through all this before? The result was no finding. As the State Superintendent he also took cases all the way to the United States Court of Appeals.

Really there is nothing new here, it's a well trodden path with well known outcomes. Trying to blow it up into some crisis just shows the weakness of your position.

The majority of the board has done an exemplary job. Camille in particular given how hard this paper has tried to discredit her. No doubt far better then you would have fared in the same position.


6 people like this
Posted by EB
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Thank you to the pointer to those cases. Those lawsuits by special education parents were going on for 25 years before McGee was appointed, and he was in office for only a few short years. He didn't have much role in those cases, though the indifference in Illinois's position toward special education plaintiffs from Palatine, Oak Park, and Chicago is consistent with the indifference he has shown toward them here. I can also believe that he sold himself based on the "success" in those cases in standing up to the demands of special education families.

The name of the individual superintendent on the lawsuit is a formality as the board is sued by stating the name of the individual at the head of it. There are a lot of lawsuits against Donald Rumsfeld but that doesn't mean he was personally involved in the litigation strategy of the government lawyers carrying it out or even knew about it. Even though McGee had little to nothing to do with the strategy in these cases, it is interesting to read them to get a sense of where he is coming from.

Diverting dollars from special ed to high-end "research" and "magnets" for a few is not just popular in Palo Alto.

scourts.gov/cgi-bin/rssExec.pl?Submit=Display&Path=Y2002/D05-13/C:01-2707:J:_:aut:T:op:N:0:S:0

Web Link


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Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 10:25 pm

EB,

[Portion removed due to factual inaccuracies.]

You mentioned that "one big unknown is how OCR is reacting to the fact that PAUSD blocked it from interviewing students." You fear not too well.

Not so sure about that.

The district facilitated OCR middle school student interviews in 2012. In 2014, the district also complied with OCR’s request to interview staff including 29 at Paly "often for an hour each" and others at Gunn during the busy last few weeks of the school year.

After seeing how the OCR conducted the 2012 interviews, the district had concerns about its process: lack of meaningful parent notice and permission, lack of student privacy, lack of protections for children during the interviews, as well as the lack of due process rights when the district was told that it was not allowed to see the interview record after the fact.

The district wrote to the OCR about these concerns twice, mentioning its:

- "substantial concerns regarding the fairness of OCR fact-finding procedures, including ...the inadequacy of protections for student privacy and parental permission; the absence of verifiable information from ...interviews" (May 2013 letter), and

- When the OCR came back in 2014 asking to interview high school students in groups too, the district requested, again, the OCR's legal authority for conducting student “group” interviews and asked for "legal and procedural clarification and cooperation on procedures that will assure student confidentiality and parental permission while delivering relevant, factual, and verifiable information” (April 2014 letter).

The OCR did not respond to either letter. It did not move forward with the student interviews.


10 people like this
Posted by FF and F a firm disgrace!
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 24, 2015 at 10:54 pm

@ Confused: I sure hope that you never run for school board as you are REALLY confused!

You and Camille would make quite a pair on the Board. What could be more clearly spelled out? Isn't it about time that the combative stance that the district has taken over the last few years come to an end?

It is time to move forward and stop wasting tax-payer dollars on the follies that have plagued the district in recent years. I was hoping that you, Max, would stand up and take on the leadership role that you are paid to perform. Max, you don't have to always be backing down to the likes of some of the board members who may have seniority just because they have seniority. Why not take a new tack and do what you think is the smart thing to do, the thing that best serves the students and the tax-payers of this district. Quit taking your marching orders from the likes of a few board members who seem to be running rough-shod over you. We were counting on you to open a whole new chapter in this board's life and the PAUSD as a whole. A chapter of fiscal responsibility, open and transparent governance etc.

Let's get on with it please!



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Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 11:38 pm

EB,

You say: "Last night at the board meeting Max stated that he contacted OCR to inquire about case status and was told that the cases were under review at 'Headquarters.' Board Member Townsend stated that the cases were being reviewed in the 'District of Columbia.' I took that to mean Washington DC. What did you take it to mean?"

Here is my response to your question, as factually accurate as I can make it. Last night:

Dr. McGee did share that OCR San Francisco said that "these cases are currently being reviewed by our headquarters offices." He asked the OCR rep "what headquarters she was talking about - San Francisco headquarters or Washington DC headquarters [but] didn't hear back from her." Web Link at 8 minutes.

Camille Townsend later shared that "staff from the [San Francisco] OCR [was] saying that it was directed by the District of Columbia to proceed on these cases." Web Link at 2 hours and 23 minutes.

Neither said that “the cases were being reviewed in the 'District of Columbia'" as posted in your comment.


If both cases are "being reviewed right now in Washington" as you initially posted, where did you get that information?


6 people like this
Posted by FF and F a firm disgrace!
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 25, 2015 at 12:18 am

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Seward
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 6:27 am

Thanks for clarifying that neither Max nor any of our board members nor "confused" understand that the HQ of the United States is in Washington DC.

This is the United States. It does not have site based control so that system of government may be foreign to you. In this system there is one federal government which sits in Wadhington DC. Originally the choice to locate that government south of the Mason-Dixon Line was controversial as it seemed to give preference to slaveholding states. The regional offices of branches of the government are not the headquarters. There is only one headquarters. It would not make sense for someone in the Region to refer to their own office by saying "it is being reviewed at HQ if they meant "down the hall."

In a unitary executive there is one executive and one HQ. I tell you this so that you understand to whom you have thumbed our nose.


7 people like this
Posted by Retired Lawyer
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 25, 2015 at 7:40 am

I agree that it would seem that "headquarters office" refers to Washington, D.C., given the context of the communications between Max and the OCR's office in SF. As Max reported to the board in his "Executive Summary" in the board packet, the SF office emailed him a status update about the two open cases at Paly and Gunn (alleging sexual harassment of students in violation of Title IX). "These cases are currently being reviewed by our headquarters office," the SF lawyer wrote him.

See page 1 of Max's "Executive Summary" report, dated June 23, 2015, in the board packet, where Max wrote:

For the Superintendent’s report I will be updating the Board regarding the status of Public Records Act requests, our district’s important and continuing contributions to Project Safety Net as well as our thinking regarding some future goals for this collaborative endeavor, and an update from the Office of Civil Rights. I recently sent an email inquiry about the two outstanding cases and received a reply, which read in part:
“My colleague Shilpa Ram forwarded me your email regarding OCR case nos. 09-13-5901 (Palo Alto High School) and 09-14-1217 (Gunn High School). These cases are currently being reviewed by our
headquarters office. As soon as we have a status update, I will let you know.” [Note: Shilpa Ram is one of the lawyers, specializing in disability discrimination, who works in the SF office; she was the lead attorney on the Terman case.]

While this doesn't specifically say "Washington, D.C." it seems like that would be the logical conclusion in a federal government system. But perhaps Max can confirm and clarify for the interested public.


2 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 25, 2015 at 8:11 am

Alphonso is a registered user.

There was quite a bit of discussion during the meeting - why does the article focus so much attention on what Ken Dauber had to say? Protecting the DUE Process of everyone involved is important - that comment was the most important comment of the evening and that is why FFF was supported by both the Board (except Dauber) and the District staff.


12 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 8:28 am

@Alphonso,

What are you implying? The purpose of a school district is to educate children. The school district exists to serve families. The employees are employed (at quite a premium here, with no apparent mechanism to control costs) to serve children and families.

Everyone has rights under the law. But district legal does not exist as personal lawyers for the employees, most particularly not to violate children's rights for the personal benefit of misbehaving employees. Any such legal time should not be paid by taxpayers. If the employees have been using our legal services for their own personal purposes AGAINST the interests of children, this should be investigated and stopped. Legal services generally are not covered by employers under such circumstances, and typically the legal services an employer will cover are spelled out in an employment contract.


1 person likes this
Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 9:07 am

The personal accusations do not move this conversation forward.

IMHO the first concern EB poses for the board to tackle should be whether the district needs to move fast because a decision from the OCR is imminent (EB: "time is probably running out").

This month's OCR news suggests that the OCR won't be closing these cases anytime soon. Due to a spike in OCR complaints systemwide, overworked staff (20+ cases per reviewer), and lack of funds (the OCR is seeking funds for a 40% increase in staffing), complainants are experiencing very long delays.

At last count, the OCR had 10,000 open complaints to process. A year ago, 55 of the open cases related to sexual harassment and assault; this year, 129 at 116 schools do. (An aside about Ken Dauber's comment on "a path forward in terms of cooperation and rapid resolution of those issues that wasn't taken": with so many open OCR cases nationwide it does not appear that this is a popular path).

And add to that the OCR's new approach to handling complaints - taking an individual's case as an opportunity to conduct a broader assessment of a school's overall compliance, something Camille Townsend implied at the board meeting that the OCR may be doing at Paly and Gunn too.

As reported by the Associated Press just two weeks ago:

Quoting Catherine Llhamon, the head of OCR: "We can tell what happened about that complaint, but it's better to look at the school's policies, and other case files, to see if what happened to that student is an aberration."

Quoting Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel at Victim Rights Law Center, a nonprofit that offers services to sexual assault victims: "Now, OCR will look at everything, from soup to nuts...it's terrible [because] it utterly fails to provide remedies to individual victims...Now it's, 'Thanks for the complaint, we'll see you in four years while we do a compliance review.'"

AP echoes this sentiment, reporting that cases are "still pending after four years." One case it highlights is about an attorney and adjunct professor of sexual violence law who filed a complaint for a client in 2010 that the OCR finally closed December 2014, after her client graduated.

If Bruno is right that it could take 4 years for the OCR to complete compliance reviews, Paly's might not be completed until 2017 and Gunn's not until 2018.


Web Link (in piece about a sexual assault victim who has been waiting over two years for an OCR resolution "Lhamon decided that instead of focusing on the specific incident that spurred a particular complaint, investigators should solicit as much information as possible from a school to identify any patterns").

Web Link

Web Link (reporting of 5 sexual assault investigations that are open four years later)

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 25, 2015 at 10:02 am

Alphonso is a registered user.

Clarity- Actually my interest in Due Process extends to teachers, students and parents - lots of allegations fly around and some have merit and some don't. Lawyers are brought in to help determine if children have been mistreated or not and to protect the interests of everyone involved. We should have a reasonable process for everyone.


1 person likes this
Posted by MoreMeasures
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 25, 2015 at 10:35 am

Lawyers and Educators in the same boat. Guarantee the engine will smoke all the way..


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 10:39 am

@Confused
Do you think that the current review of these cases by "headquarters" would occur at a time fairly early in the process or would it likely occur toward the end after the report has been completed at the regional level?


6 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 25, 2015 at 11:17 am

Dauber repeated the point that has been made many times that literally 99% of complaints are resolved through negotiation short of a finding of legal violation. Palo Alto is in the 1%, and is not the top percent this time. Emberling said she and our lawyers were confused. Not a good reason to rehire the bunch that screwed up in the first place.


7 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 25, 2015 at 11:23 am

I also noticed on Tuesday night that McGee said he is allowing staff to use only one of the FFF lawyers because he he doesn't believe others at the firm are providing sound advice. The one lawyer he supported is Lenore Silverman. The one who appeared last June at the board meeting on the OCR resolution, Chad Graff, is evidently not on the short list of acceptable FFF lawyers. Can't say I'm surprised.


1 person likes this
Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Parent, I don’t know. Perhaps the cases were moved to DC due to the board’s resolution and communication last summer. But where they sit has nothing to do with where in the review process they are. Since the high school student interviews the OCR asked for have not been conducted yet, I suspect it is still very early in the process. What I am questioning is how EB knew that the cases are "being reviewed right now in Washington" given that the Superintendent said hours earlier that he had just left the OCR a message asking which office is reviewing these cases. EB, going back to the back and forth with you on what can unfold when a school district does what Ken Dauber suggests - entering into a voluntary resolution agreement with the OCR. You say policies and procedures get tightened up and that is good. I agree. You also say that a Resolution Agreement which identifies compliance issues is “not in fact the same as making a ‘statement that someone did not follow the law’ . . . [it avoids] having a full investigation and finding … That is just totally obvious.” That’s NOT how it played out with PAUSD’s 2012 voluntary resolution agreement though. In wrapping up a 2011 OCR case, Superintendent Skelly agreed in December 2012 to “implement this Resolution Agreement without admitting to any violation of law to voluntarily resolve the issues” in the family’s complaint. Web Link, the part about OCR Case No. 09-11-1337. That resolution agreement laid out the steps PAUSD would follow and acknowledges that OCR can continue to monitor the district – “interview staff and students” for example - for compliance. But take a look at what unfolded AFTER PAUSD, with OCR’s sign off, signed that agreement to tighten up its processes without admitting to violating the law. Per the district (Web Link): 1. The OCR surprised the district with a public letter of finding two weeks later. The district says that those findings stated that “the District had violated anti-discrimination laws." 2. PAUSD wrote to the OCR in 2013 and 2014 about being blindsided by the findings letter and about the “substantial OCR factual errors” contained in it. (The OCR has not replied or corrected the record yet.) 3. The School Board president, vice president and Superintendent shared that these findings “have caused significant damage to the District and our dedicated educators, which has been magnified by local media coverage that assumes OCR fidelity, unwittingly misrepresents facts, and portrays actions of District staff members unfairly and without complete information." 4. Here is a June 2013 news stories that refers to those findings and PAUSD's fault (“The Office for Civil Rights concluded that the school did not comply with the law”) which the three district reps could have been referring to: “Out of the Shadows” Web Link (outlining the findings details in a half page, highlighted section with the key points reiterated in three extensive paragraphs in the main article, stating that “the Office of Civil Rights findings were detailed in an eye-opening, strongly worded 10-page report describing how…the school failed to provide protection from ongoing disability-based harassment [which was] sufficiently serious to create a hostile environment and deny or limit the student’s education” including a detailed list per OCR’s findings of PAUSD’s failures and culpability). Is it any wonder why Dr. McGee is seeking board direction before taking the district down the voluntary resolution agreement path with the OCR again?


12 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 25, 2015 at 12:35 pm

The district was "surprised" by the 2012 finding in the Terman case because of incompetent legal advice and the decision to wait until after the investigation was concluded to reach a settlement. The finding wasn't caused by the agreement, it was caused by the district's failure to follow the law and then to seek early resolution. We seem to be on exactly the same path now. The fact that only Dauber seems concerned about it is a sign that the board and Max are still confused, no thanks to their lawyers. No doubt they will be surprised at the next finding. It would be nice to think that there is learning go on at the district office, but it doesn't look good on that point.


16 people like this
Posted by Heidi is clueless
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm

[Portion removed.]

The district was not surprised by the finding. The district was told that OCR had concluded it's investigation and had found compliance issues. Charles reported that to the board in April 2012. No one asked hey what does that mean? But if anyone including FFF had bothered to look at the ProcedurevManual they would have seen that the opportunity to make a resolution agreement short of a findig ends when the investigation is concluded.

Once OCR told Reynolds it was finished with the investigation and there were compliance issues that was tantamount to telling her "a finding is coming."

Get it now?

This district is now in precisely the same position it was in in March 2012. An investigation has been ongoing for 2 years. There are obvious issues and also a lack of cooperation with investigators. There may have been an effort by the district to conceal the Winston mess. Think there's a good chance of no finding? [Portion removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 1:07 pm

When district staff portray the actions of students and families unfairly, they are on their own. When families need legal help to negotiate due protections, they are on their own and do not get reimbursed even if they prevail. When district staff retaliate because their "embarrassment" is a priority for spending district money over the protection of children, families are on their own. District staff have bloated salaries covering their time, pretty much no oversight, and a PR person working for THEM (personally, even when the employee interests work against the interests of students) -- but families are on their own.

District staff should not be able to use district legal resources for their own purposes. The effort spent on that OCR letter would have been better spent looking inward at the district's own abuses.


4 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Oops, to clarify:

"When district staff portray the actions of students and families unfairly, the families are on their own"


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Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Reality Check,

It does not seem that the district was surprised "because of incompetent legal advice [not advising it] to reach a settlement."

ONE. [Portion removed due to factual inaccuracy.]

TWO. My understanding is that the OCR starts investigating cases almost immediately; it has to in order to determine whether it should pursue the case. So where in the process does it become too late to avoid a finding letter saying that what you did was illegal?

The OCR Operating Manual on when finding letters are and are not OK:

A voluntary resolution agreement (called a "302") is only available if the OCR has not yet "obtained sufficient evidence to support a finding." In this case, the manual does not mention a letter of finding or the OCR calling out laws that were broken. To the contrary, the OCR is required to state what more would be needed "to reach a determination regarding compliance." This process is voluntary.

The other option is a 303(b) that happens at the end of the investigation where there is sufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing. In this case, the OCR is told to provide "a letter of finding" explaining the reason for its decision referring to "the applicable regulation(s), and the appropriate legal standards" that were violated. This is a Non-Compliance Determination.

Someone above said that, effectively, what Superintendent Skelly signed in 2012 was a 303(b) because it was at the end of the investigation, but why did the agreement say, in language the OCR probably pre-approved and perhaps even drafted, that it is "without admitting to any violation of law to VOLUNTARILY resolve the issues." Doesn't that sound like a 302?

If it was a voluntary 302, the OCR felt that it was OK to add in a letter of finding - facts and fault - to voluntary resolution agreements too.

Web Link



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Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 2:24 pm

One final round, this time with HIC:

On the Paly and Gunn cases, help me understand what would happen if the OCR continued to pursue those cases given that Paly put an end to the streaking, neither principal who was involved work at the high schools now, the Paly student graduated long ago, [portion removed due to factual inaccuracy.]

The OCR Manual on closing cases which are moot:


"DETERMINE WHETHER TO CLOSE THE COMPLAINT ALLEGATION(S) because...the allegations are moot because:

1. There are no current allegations appropriate for further investigation and resolution.

2. There are no systemic allegations or issues.

3. The allegations do not involve potential relief beyond that solely for the complainant.

4. There is no need for the recipient to change its policies, or procedures or practices in order to prevent possible future discrimination."

Web Link


14 people like this
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm

-confused. I can’t say for sure about #1, I don’t know if there are any current allegations that need resolution. But all 3 of your other points are exactly the reasons why the investigations should be allowed to complete. They are not moot. Just because the principal is no longer at Gunn, has no bearing. She was not the only one in charge of the Gunn case. Multiple people, throughout the school and district, were involved. All dropped the ball and the district lawyers did nothing to correct their actions.

I can only speak to the Gunn case, but there are definitely systemic issues there that affected many victims, not just my daughter. When we were told that the school did not have to abide by restraining orders, we were also told of past cases where they in fact did not abide by them. This is just one example. Another is their policy not to take any action against a student who sexually harasses and physically assaults another student when that assailant has cut classes that entire day. Their excuse is that since he cut classes that entire day, they do not consider him to be “in school” (even though he is on school grounds during school hours) and therefore it is not their responsibility to take action against the assailant. How crazy is that? These are just 2 examples.

If you don’t think these policies need to change to protect future victims, then that is your right to believe that. But I certainly feel differently.


Like this comment
Posted by confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 3:44 pm

[Post removed due to factual inaccuracies.]


10 people like this
Posted by Go Karen!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Bam! And that is how we roll.


11 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 5:00 pm

@Karen Gibson,
You bring up a much bigger issue, a culture of dishonesty and bad faith in dealing with families. Things go wrong in life. Part of the district's basic function is to solve problems when things go wrong, and to even anticipate and prevent things going wrong. They do the opposite of that when they hide their procedures instead of proactively extending them to students who may need them (as the law requires). We have a few key people who naturally seem to gravitate to that hiding/coverup/bad faith culture.

These things shouldn't be taken in isolation, because what happens is they get dealt with badly, and then the next thing happens, and they get dealt with badly again. I like McGee, but he has really fallen down on the job in this regard. I wish he would see how much support he's gotten just for being willing to do the right thing in a relatively easy situation. We are all waiting out here for him to do the truth and reconciliation thing. Unfortunately, he's not able to be objective working closely with exactly the people who caused the problems.


11 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 5:06 pm

"Clarity- Actually my interest in Due Process extends to teachers, students and parents - lots of allegations fly around and some have merit and some don't. Lawyers are brought in to help determine if children have been mistreated or not and to protect the interests of everyone involved. We should have a reasonable process for everyone."

@Alphonso,
But that's just exactly it. The lawyers are NOT helping to determine if children have been mistreated or trying to protect the interests of everyone. Both children and teachers have been mistreated over the years, and the lawyers are NOT trying to protect them. One of the OCR settlement agreements was exactly because the district was not extending its own procedures, procedures it wrote itself. That doesn't mean it will offer the accommodations, it was just about the fact that they were hiding their PROCESS.

Secondly, if people act in good faith, honestly, and with a spirit of doing the right thing, no one needs the lawyers, just like you don't have to have EMTs every time someone skins a knee. If the skinned knee gets taken care of properly instead of covered up and allowed to fester, it never gets to be a problem. There is absolutely no reason either OCR settlement agreement had to get to that point of needing lawyers at all, or even getting to the OCR. We all keep having this kind of conflict and debate because the district office has no mechanism for clearing out the kind of people who don't have a moral compass and who feed off of drama.


7 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 25, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Confused is. The district didn't admit violating the law but OCR concluded otherwise. Had the district asked for an agreement before the investigation turned up evidence of wrongdoing, that wouldn't have happened. That's why 99% of districts cost that alternative.


16 people like this
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 6:37 pm

-Clarity. I’d like to add to your comments about McGee. I like him too but agree he’s made some mistakes, like the decision to stay with these lawyers. However, I’d like to add that it is my understanding that McGee and Hermmann have done a much better job with recent harassment cases at Gunn. I believe they have better common sense and a moral compass. Victims have been protected. Someone can please correct me if I'm wrong. I really don’t know many details, but these cases seem to have been handled much more effectively than ours was.

However, it is also my understanding that it is the board’s job to set policy in the district. When our case was going on, I met with Melissa. She did not disagree with the policies I mentioned in my above posting. She did say she would look into things a bit more, but I never heard back. After that I wrote to all board members (in 2014), one of the district lawyers, and Skelly explaining what happened. I never heard back from any board member or lawyer. Skelly called but only to make more excuses for the decisions made. None of them disagreed with the policies. None of them ever said “oh no, that’s not our policy! We apologize that correct policy was not followed in your case!”. As far as I know, to this day Camille, Heidi, Melissa and the lawyers still defend the decisions the district made in our case.

So while McGee and Hermmann are making much more sound decisions in this particular arena, I worry that until the board acknowledges these policy changes and until we have better lawyers to guide us in the future, we have no insurance that these atrocities will not revert back someday. McGee and Hermmann won’t be here forever. We need correct policies on the books and lawyers who know what the heck they are doing.


9 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 6:44 pm

@Reality check,
The really ridiculous part of this is that OCR's "punishment" of the district is to make them do what they were supposed to in the first place. OCR didn't even make the district train with OCR, they let the district do it themselves. OCR could fine or take away money, but they don't do that because it's just a last, last resort.

IMO, the only reason for those big legal bills was personnel CYA - frankly, I think a grand jury should look into it. In the future, if employees want to use district legal for their personal purposes, they should use their own lawyers or the district should send them a bill for legal fees they weren't due under their contracts.

Leopard doesn't change it's spots, though, and they're very good camouflage. I already feel sorry for McGee.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mental Note
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 25, 2015 at 6:52 pm

Remember that far more people WORK in Palo Alto than live in Palo Alto.
Consider that this simple fact is the reason for the decline in the quality of living for Palo Alto residents.
All those additional people and their cars, the pollution those cars produce, the water and other utilities these additional people use while they work here--all are degrading the city and its infrastructure.

Developers should be forced by law to seriously consider building these business/office developments where there is room for them, and where the overwhelming majority of employees live--before even attempting to build here.


9 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 6:53 pm

@Karen Gibson,
I like Herrmann a lot, too. The real test is with the difficult stuff, though. I have defended McGee in many arenas, but objectively, we were making better progress with a chastised Skelly. We were seriously retaliated against and McGee chose to turn a blind eye and let the retaliators control what he heard and believed. I think McGee thinks if he just gets a clean slate by throwing anyone who had serious problems before overboard, he can be fine going forward. But that's the problem with people who get away with stuff they shouldn't, they tend to keep doing it. It's a trainwreck waiting to happen. You know what they say about lying down with dogs, fleas, all that.

It sounds like that's kind of what happened with your family, too, am I right?


8 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 6:56 pm

" But that's the problem with people who get away with stuff they shouldn't, they tend to keep doing it."

By that, of course, I don't mean McGee, I mean people he seems very taken in by. There is a group complaint in the offing if he does not wake up.


13 people like this
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 25, 2015 at 7:59 pm

-Clarity. I’m not sure if we were making better progress with Skelly. If we were, I didn’t see it. While I agree that it appears McGee is very taken in with some folks, all I know is that recent sexual harassment cases have been handled better. So for me things are still far from perfect, but a definite improvement over Skelly.


11 people like this
Posted by Dad of two young kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2015 at 9:25 pm

Why would anyone send their kids to PAUSD schools after reading most articles in PA Online and especially many of the comments? I thought the schools were a benefit in Palo Alto, but it sounds like they are royally messed up according to more than a few people, not even taking into account the suicide rate.

PA Online, will you create a private chat room for Confused, EB and Clarity? LOL


Like this comment
Posted by Rising Freshman Parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 25, 2015 at 9:59 pm

@Karen Gibson
Has your case been resolved? And are you happy with the results?


We too are happy with Dr McGee and Dr Herrmann and feel things are much better at Gunn.


9 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2015 at 11:56 pm

Weekly,
Despite the snark in Dad of two's comment, he has a great idea. Sometimes I see posters on TS I would very much like to meet in real life. It would help parents to be able to take their conversations offline, still anonymously if they wish, or to meet through a trusted intermediary.

Dad of two - if you don't like these discussions, no one is forcing you to participate. Criticism is the first step to understanding and solving problems. If you have no problems, I applaud that. Everyone should enjoy as much in a public school system. If people who experience problems sit in silence - as more I know do than speak up - problems never get solved.

I think most people love PAUSD elementary schools. We had a fantastic experience. I wish we'd listened more to the warnings from others about middle school. The negative behavior of district personnel and what they put a really nice kid (and family) through for no defensible reason aside, the educational program is far too intrusive for what it provides. What are kids working for but a page of grades? (We will not be sending ours to PAUSD for high school, but will not have nearly the resources we pay through our taxes to educate others in PAUSD. Despite progressive politics, it makes me want to find a voucher advocate and go for it.)


10 people like this
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 26, 2015 at 8:00 am

-Rising Freshman Parent. There was never a real resolution from the district and our OCR case is still open. But thankfully the courts helped keep our daughter safe by ensuring the assailant switched schools.

And while we are happier with the handling of the recent sexual harassment case, we are still disappointed that McGee supports the fight against the OCR and the retention of these inept lawyers.


152 people like this
Posted by Rising Freshman Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 26, 2015 at 8:46 am


Please to see the vote this way for retaining FFF. I support the fight against the OCR. Too many people, without skin in the game but has access to all the information, has come back saying we need to push back (well all but one board member anyway). I support the actions of McGee. He seems like the leader we have been looking for. I think it was completely ludicrous to eliminate zero period BUT I liked the way McGee handled it, unfortunately for the kids though. I support the hard work and relentless dedication of the Board Members. We feel lucky to have access to PAUSD.

My son will be starting Gunn next year so I don't have a lot of insight on Dr. Herrmann but my parent friends who have students at Gunn only has high praise for her. So looking forward to the next four years at Gunn.


8 people like this
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 26, 2015 at 10:24 am

-Rising Freshman Parent. Funny that we have different reasons for liking/disliking McGee. I was happy with the zero period decision.

And for years I appreciated the dedication of the board too until the time came that I actually needed them. Most families are very content in our district, and that’s great. It’s not until you have a serious problem that you see what board members and admin are truly made of and where the problems in our system lie.

I do hope your son does well at Gunn.


4 people like this
Posted by Rising Freshman Parent
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 26, 2015 at 10:38 am


@Karen Gibson
We did have a very serious issue with our son a couple of years back and the support we got from the teachers, administrators and even the PAUSD district staff was incredible. They were so there for us. I know I'm bias because of that experience.

Hope is all well for your daughter too.


36 people like this
Posted by Vendor Practices
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 26, 2015 at 1:27 pm

It was shocking to hear the Superintendent describe why PAUSD hired BOTH the law firms of Lazano Smith AND Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost. It was because PAUSD's primary attorney left Lazano Smith and went to Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost. So they hired them both.
Double shock when the PAUSD Business Offer described the initial bidding and vetting process PAUSD conducted to Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost: nothing. They said they hired them because other school Districts hired them. There was no bidding or evaluation of the firm.
This is they way PAUSD chooses vendors they pay over a million dollars?


37 people like this
Posted by Nutz
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 26, 2015 at 4:41 pm

It is absolutely unnecessary, and a complete waste of money, to have two lawfirm a on retainer. Unless, of course, PAUSD is expecting a major flood of lawsuits in the very near future.

Otherwise, the school district should dump FF&F. They have a long and terrible history of leading clients to financial ruin-- mostly by misleading the clients in the first place.

Did PAUSD not do the homework on law firms in the first place? In the age of Google, there is no excuse for this.


13 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2015 at 9:51 pm

@Rising Freshman Parent,
We were aware of families who got preferential treatment for similar problems. Not everyone gets the shaft. Everyone's experience should be as good as yours. We had great support and great experience in elementary - until we had to get an official 504 for middle and work with people in the district office. We did not know at the time about the other complaint but in hindsight it seems to have played into how we were treated by the district. The only reason our child was able to attend school at all was because of OCR involvement. OCR didn't treat us very well either, but they did the right thing, and others benefited since because of it, although they don't know. Maybe you were one of them - it's been a few years since they had to address the this.

We experienced retaliation, though, which OCR really doesn't protect people from. Don't be too quick to judge others. From insider view, the OCR and the families have exercised a great deal of restraint. No one asks the families, but frankly, the legal advice was so bad, it's like they were begging us to sue, constant antagonism, and district people absolutely arrogantly oblivious to the liability they were incurring.. Someday someone else isn't going to have the same kind of forbearance as we did.


8 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2015 at 8:45 am

"We experienced retaliation, though, which OCR really doesn't protect people from. Don't be too quick to judge others. From insider view, the OCR and the families have exercised a great deal of restraint. No one asks the families, but frankly, the legal advice was so bad, it's like they were begging us to sue, constant antagonism, and district people absolutely arrogantly oblivious to the liability they were incurring.. Someday someone else isn't going to have the same kind of forbearance as we did."

I suppose I should probably explain that the constant antagonism came from district employees in how they behaved because if unhelpful legal advice, and in how retaliation and other ills came down into the school level, even to all interactions with staff and teachers. The irony is that we suffered constantly while overtly having to sit on our hands NOT to sue, and we never threatened a suit. I'm sure that's not what site people were told. It was pretty awful. Someday someone else isn't going to leave or just put up with it.


7 people like this
Posted by District insiders should identify themselves as such
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2015 at 8:58 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


2 people like this
Posted by Go Karen!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 27, 2015 at 11:15 am

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2015 at 11:55 am

@Go Karen!

Just minutes after the above post, the number of likes for "Rising" went up to 124, so yes, something wrong there. It may not be the poster, but then again, if the district (either key employees or even paying people, such as by the legal or former PR person) or has been trolling in a way that is overtly to manipulate public discussion negatively against families and student interests, this should be news the Weekly reports on. Parents shouldn't be paying for school district personnel to attack them to the detriment of the families and the functioning of the school district.


Like this comment
Posted by well done, confused
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 27, 2015 at 11:57 am

@Go Karen,

Actually, confused followed perfect forum etiquette. Once you've won the argument, you stop posting or you're just feeding the trolls that follow. Your post is a perfect example of why this etiquette works. Well done, Confused!


13 people like this
Posted by Vendor Practices
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 27, 2015 at 3:21 pm

It was surprising PAUSD said their was no bidding and Fagen Friedman and Fulforst was chosen because other Districts knew of them, and that PAUSD's lawyer left Lozano Smith went to go work for Fagen Friedan and Fulfrost. According to a post in Palo Alto Town Square by "Ebbie" on June 7, 2105 (8:19 .am.):

"Fagen was formed in 2006 when the Managing Partner of Lozano Smith (Peter Fagen) and the head of the Special Ed practice Howard Fulfrost, along with a Special Ed partner Howard Friedman all left Lozano Smith (PAUSD's other firm) in the wake of a 2005 U.S. District Court opinion that sanctioned the Lozano special ed lawyers for billing a Calaveras County school Bret Harte High School $500,000 to prevent having to spend $23,000 on services for a special ed student. The judge imposed Rule 11 sanctions (very very rare) and ordered the entire firm (every lawyer in it) to ethics training, and ordered the law firm to pay fines to the student."
From Palo Alto Town Square, "School district legal fees, contracts up for review
Original post made on Jun 6, 2015"

If Lozano Smith was sanctioned for it's conduct in a Special Education case and the entire firm ordered to ethics training, does this mean PAUSD's Special Education attorney was sanctioned and left one sanctioned firm to form another firm with the same attorneys?
Is PAUSD now using BOTH firms, the Lozano Smith originally sanctioned and Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost?
An attorney sanctioned was Elaine Yama-Garcia. Is this the same person who is now at the California School Board's Associations? Camille Townsend spoke so excitedly about a School Board Conference presentations warning OCR was a threat. Is this the organization she was referring to?
Also confused about Superintendent saying Lazano Smith is only used for employee problems, but don't PAUSD's FOIA request of legal bills show billings by Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost for employee discipline?
The reason the Superintendent gave for requiring Special Education to work with a single attorney at Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost at this time is because one Special Education employee depends on them. It's not the best of reasons. There was just a reorganization and the employee was promoted with very little public notification. No external candidates were allowed to apply for the new position and it was filled before the Board of Education had approved the reorganization that created it. Given all these intertwining relationships, better to get outside opinions before any more money is spent.


3 people like this
Posted by true colors
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 27, 2015 at 5:23 pm

"[Portion removed due to factual inaccuracies.]" ...interesting editing here.

It's amazing how the Weekly categorizes posts of those that agree with what their position positively with: "most vocal debate is taking place on Palo Alto Online's Town Square. Much of the opposition sees Measure A as a means to send a message to school district leaders in the wake of several student suicides this year; others are resisting funding a district that is more financially stable than in years past. " Web Link

Whereas those posts that they don't agree with are dismissed as "[those] arguing against this initiative, and virtually all of them are doing so anonymously online." Web Link

Or, as above, removed entirely.

With the Weekly finally admitting their attitude to Town Square posts, is it any wonder the board takes no notice?

It's hard to get a balanced view when the Weekly removes any posts with a different interpretation of the facts to them.


14 people like this
Posted by The Nearest Hippie
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 27, 2015 at 8:48 pm

@true colors. You can have your own opinion, you cannot have your own facts. The board is out of touch with reality (i.e., facts) and therefore it gets deleted when things are posted that do not match reality (i.e., facts). You can post your opinion -- you can say, in my opinion the OCR is acting lawlessly and outside its authority. In my opinion, PAUSD ought to be treated by the federal government as a nation unto itself, it should be sovereign, and the federal government should give us the money and then go away and shut up. You can say "I think you should ask the nearest hippie if handicapped kids and gay kids have some special right not to be bullied. Did you read that in a fortune cookie? What a bunch of jiggery pokery! The OCR should put a bag over its head!" But those are opinions, not facts, whether they come from Scalia or from Barb Mitchell.

Today is a great day for freedom. The day the OCR comes back and stomps on this nonsense will also be a great day. I just hope that it happens and I hope it happens in September 2016 so we can be rid of Heidi forever.


17 people like this
Posted by Clarity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2015 at 3:37 am

@done, confused,

Actually, the definition of a troll is someone who makes deliberately provocative or offensive online postings. Urban Dictionary is more explicit, "being a prick because you can." Or Wikipedia, which says, "...deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response."

Your post would meet that definition: You made no real contribution to the discussion, you simply called others names whose actual contributions to the discussion you didn't like. Just because someone writes something you don't like, does not make them a troll. Making deliberately confrontational posts like yours without actually contributing to the discussion, that's trolling. A district insider who posts anonymously without identifying themselves in order to appear as if they are a parent or ordinary member of the community and attempting to incite discord against the parent community, that would also be considered trolling.

Parents expressing upset with the district, especially unethical behavior, behavior that is unnecessarily costly to taxpayers or harmful to students, that would be considered free speech, not trolling, in fact, its the kind of free speech necessary for solving those same problems. Trying to characterize their posts as trolling because you disagree is the definition of trolling.


9 people like this
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 28, 2015 at 10:49 am

-Clarity. I also agree with your earlier comment about retaliation. We were also criticized by senior board members, parents and community members when we filed our OCR case. So I appreciate that Rising and I can have complete opposite experiences and opinions and still be friendly to each other here. This is an unfortunate rarity in TS.

And to those of you who have given specific reasons for firing FFF, thank you. It’s useful information for the discussion and I’ve learned some things. To those who support FFF, can you offer specific reasons? I’m curious what positive impacts these lawyers may have had on any specific situations.


9 people like this
Posted by Board watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 28, 2015 at 11:52 am

With McGee himself ordering his staff not to use a lawyer, Chad Graff, for whom the district has expended hundreds of thousands of dollars, it's hard to see why the board would meekly go along with renewing FFF's contract. 3 of the board members are implicated in the decisions that Graff advised the board about. As Caswell said, the board took his advice and so is also responsible. But as Dauber pointed out, that doesn't make the advice worth spending taxpayer money on.


12 people like this
Posted by Vendor Practices
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 28, 2015 at 4:48 pm

@Board Watcher - McGee said he now ordered his Special Education staff to work with a single attorney from Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost from now on. That is the same attorney who did OCR work for the District.
McGee said the Special Education Director liked the single attorney for her OCR work, and gave that as the reason Special Education staff must now work only with this single attorney. This was despite parent and public concerns raised in the Board of Education meeting about the attorney's adversarial attitude to families and legal actions that were very expensive for the District.
Mr. Dauber said this single attorney supervised Mr. Chad Graff in his OCR work for the Board of Education, and is responsible for Mr. Graff's work for the District. If this is incorrect, please post to clarify.


1 person likes this
Posted by CDE Report?
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 7, 2015 at 9:35 am

Palo Alto Online Editors:
Can Palo Alto Online post the California Department of Education compliance report audit in the Superintendent report? Mr. Dauber said PAUSD was found not compliant. Palo Alto Online reported the audit when it started. Mr. Dauber said the District had the audit report for months, but not public or given to Board.


Like this comment
Posted by Confused
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 7, 2015 at 10:03 am

[Post removed.]


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

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