News

Supe: Palo Alto school district not informed by principal about sex-abuse investigation

McGee says there are no official procedures instructing principals when to report

Superintendent Max McGee said he first learned of serious child-abuse allegations made against an Ohlone Elementary School teacher last week, when the district received a "court-ordered booking" via fax from the California Department of Justice.

McGee said that neither he, nor anyone else at the Palo Alto school district office, as far as he knows, was informed a full year earlier when a Palo Alto police officer interviewed Ohlone Principal Nicki Smith regarding the allegations.


Michael Christopher Airo, who taught at Ohlone Elementary School in Palo Alto. Courtesy Palo Alto Police Department.
"I'm disturbed, to say the least, that I didn't find out anything about this until we got that note last Thursday," McGee told the Weekly Wednesday. "There are some procedures that need to be put in place, that need to be improved."

Smith did not respond to several requests for comment.

According to McGee, there is no official procedure in place for when a principal becomes aware of allegations about a teacher or staff member, but "When police are involved in any investigation in a school -- no matter how serious -- I would expect the district office to be notified," he said.

Smith and McGee informed the school community last week that Mike Airo, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Ohlone, had been placed on unpaid compulsory leave after the district discovered he is facing charges of sexual abuse of a former female Palo Alto Unified student from more than a decade ago. The district also initiated dismissal proceedings for Airo.

Airo, 34, of San Mateo, was charged in late December with four felony counts relating to the alleged conduct, which occurred between 2002 and 2005, when the former student was between the ages of 11 and 13 years old, according to police. The former student, who will be identified as Jane Doe to protect her privacy, is now in her early 20s, according to a police report obtained by the Weekly. She disclosed the alleged sexual abuse to her psychologist in 2014, according to the report.

The Palo Alto Police Department began an investigation after receiving a report from the San Mateo County Department of Children and Family Services in May 2014.

Doe told police in June 2014 that years before, when Airo lived in her Palo Alto home as her mother's boyfriend, he would inappropriately kiss her breasts, stomach and buttocks while she was taking showers, according to court documents obtained by the Weekly. It never progressed beyond that conduct, the young woman told police.

An attorney for Airo told Palo Alto police in September 2014 that Airo asserted he was innocent, but he did not provide a statement at the time, according to the police report. Airo did not return request for comment for this article.

Airo self-surrendered at the Santa Clara County Main Jail on Jan. 13, according to police. He immediately posted $500,000 bail after being booked by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, police said.

About six months into the Palo Alto Police Department's investigation into the allegations, on Jan. 8, 2015, officer Joel Hornung interviewed Smith. The meeting was "scheduled to find out if there have been any complaints or suspicious instances" involving Airo, Hornung wrote in his notes.

Smith, who was named principal of Ohlone in May 2014, told Hornung that she had not received or heard of any complaints filed against Airo. She "described him as a teacher that gives his students a lot of attention and care" and said he had become a "favorite teacher amongst parents," Hornung's notes read.

"She said she would never imagine suspect Airo touching or harming the children in anyway and does not know of any suspicious circumstances involving him," Hornung wrote.

Detectives investigated Airo's work history with the school district and determined there was no indication that there were any additional victims, police said last week.

McGee said he is unsure in what detail Smith was told about the allegations. He said he spoke last week with Police Chief Dennis Burns about the investigation, and they plan to talk again this week.

"We're still trying to uncover who knew what when," McGee said. "The fact that neither I or (Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources) Scott Bowers knew about this until we got that note from the Department of Justice -- I don't think that was in the best interest of our students or our community."

Anyone who suspects a current or former student may have been victimized by Airo is encouraged to contact the school district office and/or call the police department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of felony counts Airo was charged with. He was charged with four, not three, counts.

Comments

24 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 22, 2016 at 11:11 am

Wow, this is definitely not a he-said-she-said. The poor child didn't feel comfortable to tell anyone or the mom wore blinders. This is so infuriating.

The Ohlone principal knew a year ago and did not tell anyone. Hmm . . . Although the officer could have told the superintendent too. [Portion removed.]


56 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Nicki Smith needs to be fired for covering this up. No matter what she thinks of this teacher, she has the responsibility to pass the information on to the district.


44 people like this
Posted by ManageTheSites!
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 22, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Dr. McGee: ' According to McGee, there is no official procedure in place for when a principal becomes aware of allegations about a teacher or staff member, but "When police are involved in any investigation in a school — no matter how serious — I would expect the district office to be notified," he said." '

Really?

ahem...

Board Policy 4119.21:
"An employee who observes or has evidence of another employee's inappropriate conduct as described above shall immediately report such conduct to their supervisor and in egregious cases, to the Superintendent or designee."

Web Link

Principal Niki Smith violated policy by failing to report this. This clause exists EXACTLY to prevent cover-ups. It makes the cover-upper responsible. The Super MUST start enforcing professional standards, or this school will never get fixed.


41 people like this
Posted by PAUSD needs new leadership
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jan 22, 2016 at 10:17 pm

This is going to be hard to hear, much like it was hard to hear calls to fire Kevin Skelly as early as 2011, the year it was clear to Ken Dauber that new leadership was needed. Here's the thing in 2016: new leadership is needed, and it is now on Dauber's shoulders to show leadership and move to not renew the Glenn McGee contract. Dauber wrote a scathing opinion piece in the Palo Alto Weekly on February 25, 2011, which included, "The school board should do the job that we elected it to do and hire leadership that will address the root causes of the crisis of which the recent suicides are merely the most visible part. It is well past time to enforce accountability for our elected and appointed officials. We can do better than this, as a district, and as a community."

I agree with Dauber. We can do better than Glenn McGee. He has had his opportunity and he has fumbled it badly. The old we didn't know smacks of Richard Nixon and Skelly, and it is not good enough. Allow McGee to finish out his contract, but do not add on another year because the board is too timid to face this reality. We can also do better than Scott Bowers. How many sexual harassment and sexual abuse scandals is this under his watch? Bowers is at retirement age and rumor has it that he may announce in March. If he does not, his contract needs to be allowed to end as well. We can do better than this, as Dauber wrote almost five years ago. Ohlone principal Nicki Smith must be demoted to a teaching position, if she cannot be released immediately or by the end of the school year. It is professionally incompetent to not have shared this information with her immediate supervisor, who likely would have been the Associate Superintendent. If Smith was interviewed one year ago, then that would have been the infamous Charles Young. Either way, Smith has to go. To have exposed Palo Alto students to Mike Airo, who has been accused of extremely serious child abuse, knowingly for almost a year is simply not to be forgiven, despite the pleas and wishes of Ohlone parents. We simply can do better.

Ken Dauber was right about Skelly in 2011. That is why I voted for him in 2014. I expect him to lead the board in closed session to properly evaluate McGee as unsatisfactory and not renew or extend his contract. That was the mistake the old board made twice after 2011 with Skelly, perhaps wary of the warnings of posters to this Town Forum who worried about not being able to find another superintendent. Do not worry about finding another superintendent, for a million-dollar three-year contract and another million and a half dollars in interest-free loans, Leadership Associates will have no trouble at all finding a dozen more "top" candidates like Skelly and McGee.

We expect McGee, Bowers, and Smith to demonstrate the ability to communicate with each other whenever the police are involved, and to read in Palo Alto Online that McGee said he and Bowers did not know cannot possibly be an acceptable response to this district and community, not even the Ohlone community, where Airo worked, or the Juana Briones community, which supported him while he worked there. McGee, Bowers, and Smith must not continue in their administrative posts. They will all be just fine financially and will not suffer in any way comparable to the way that the victim and her family have alleged. And the other uncomfortable worry that any reasonable person would have is who suffered while in Airo's classroom. We don't know, and part of me does not want to know. One thing I do know, and should be evident is that McGee, Bowers, and Airo need to be removed from their current administrative positions. We can do better than this, as a district, and as a community


26 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 12:56 am

I don't understand why "PAUSD needs new" is blaming McGee, whose complaint is that he wasn't notified. The Ohlone principal is the one who should be released. But that interview was when Skelly was in office, so maybe Skelly knew and kept it quiet.

McGee has helped our district much more than Skelly. I don't think Skelly did anything positive for our district, nor did he seem to care (I was on PTA). But while McGee blames parents for the academic stress, he is also trying to turn PAUSD into a magnet school, adding the option of research for our students to add to their resumes. Hopefully, he can get the teachers to follow the board-approved homework guideline of Monday-Friday, max 15 hours of homework for all lanes (incl. APs), no homework on weekends. I will be truly amazed and satisfied if that were to occur. Apparently, his promise of teacher evaluations is in motion, although my child was only offered an evaluation for one teacher. Our teachers are too unsupervised and their methods are stressing out our students. We, the parents, should also be allowed to complete teacher evaluations, as these teachers impact the entire family. The science department teachers stress out our students the most. My children said that their professors are much more organized, straightforward and helpful than the Paly teachers.


15 people like this
Posted by Still going
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 23, 2016 at 8:31 am

When was the interview? Skelly left June 30, 2014. 18 months ago. The article doesn't give a specific date just "a full year earlier". That definitely sounds like under Max's watch.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Jan 23, 2016 at 9:58 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


43 people like this
Posted by Holy Moly!
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 10:19 am

The poor victim didn't say anything to anyone until, while in therapy, she told her psychiatrist about the long-term abuse by her mother's boyfriend. The psychiatrist was required by law to report this to police, even though it happened 11-12 years previously.

Now that she's an adult, she may be regretting saying anything to her psychiatrist, whom she was trying to get emotional help from.

Please think of the victim in all this!


12 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 10:35 am

Still going, maybe both Skelly and McGee knew earlier. Would PAPD not tell them? But if there is an investigation, and the teacher was innocent, should the super inform the public and tarnish his reputation? I think they should at least put the teacher on leave without explanation. From PA Online article: Web Link

"The Palo Alto Police Department conducted an investigation after receiving a report from the San Mateo County Department of Children and Family Services in May 2014."

"An attorney for Airo told Palo Alto police in September 2014 that Airo claimed innocence, but he did not provide a statement at the time, according to the police report."

Wow, just wow:

"Doe's mother told police that Airo was far more affectionate with her daughter than with her and she felt like their relationship was focused on Doe. If the three of them were walking in public, Airo would "usually be found walking ahead of her holding hands with (Doe)," the report states. He would frequently go into her room at night to read her "bedtime stories," close the door and claim they 'needed their privacy,' the report states. On a family trip to Los Angeles, Airo returned from checking in at the front desk to say that there were not enough beds for everyone and that he and Doe would have to sleep in the same bed."


12 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 10:42 am

Holy Moly, I thank the daughter and psychiatrist for speaking. If not, he'd be still working with children. And why should the daughter keep quiet and protect the teacher? Should his actions be overlooked since he was considered a great teacher?

I'm wondering why the daycare did not divulge that he was released from his job for being too affectionate with the children. A fail all around. My prayers for the daughter.


15 people like this
Posted by southville
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 23, 2016 at 11:03 am

southville is a registered user.

I am actually very impressed by the fact the Max McGee is willing to publicly state he should have been informed. Yes - there should have been protocols in place but protocols have never really been a PAUSD thing and changing that will take time.

This article indicates to me that the district is putting kids first, not staff and not lawyers.

Contrast this to Mt Diablo School District where they are defending a teacher convicted of feeling up his students in order to limit liability.

This is a tough situation but I am optimistic that eventually both the police dept and the school district will be better equipped to deal with these situations.


27 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2016 at 11:36 am

I don't think we know what the police told Principal Smith about the investigation or the allegations. Our speculations are not grounds for firing anyone. I trust our superintendent to address this in the right way, once he knows the facts. We do not.

As a former Ohlone parent, my thoughts are with the Ohlone families and staff who now have to sort out what harm may have been done by this teacher, and to repair the damage.

My heart goes out to this young lady and her sister. It is devastating to be put in harm's way by a parent. I hope they both find healing and recovery.

Finally, I very much hope this man receives his right to due process, and that if he did harm this young lady, he is appropriately punished and prevented from access to any further victims.


26 people like this
Posted by Sandra
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2016 at 11:39 am

When police investigates they will often not disclose allegations to the interviewed. Sometimes, they might not even mention anyone in particular. It is possible that the police simply asked Smith if she was aware of any complaints against any teachers.

If that was the case, the district provably should have been notified, but there might have not been any specifics.


3 people like this
Posted by get real
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2016 at 11:53 am

" maybe both Skelly and McGee knew earlier."

That's a lot of speculation given that Skelly had already left the district before the interview took place. Time to get over your fixation with Skelly this is all McGee's pile to deal with.


22 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2016 at 1:50 pm

I don't know this teacher, so this comment is not about him. I have known some predators. Because of their need to use people, predators sometimes become very skilled at charming people. They are able to seem especially wonderful, kind, sensitive, and trustworthy - until their agenda becomes clear. In the case of a predator with this sort of skill, it can be very shocking to discover who was behind that.


35 people like this
Posted by Yoohoo Lou
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 5:02 pm

The relevant facts are right in the story (which is quoting the police report). It states that PAPD Detective Hornung, who interviewed principal Nicki Smith, wrote that she told him: ""She said she would never imagine suspect Airo touching or harming the children in anyway and does not know of any suspicious circumstances involving him."

From that passage, included in the official police report, it is apparent that the officer asked her whether or not she thought he could have sexually abused a student or whether there had been anything about him that could have made her suspicious in that department. She then said not one word of that to anyone in the district office, according to McGee. That interview took place on January 8, 2015, exactly a year before PAUSD was notified of his arrest by the DOJ.

She should be terminated. That's it, case closed. If you can't get some accountability on a staff member who cannot figure out (regardless of the existence of board policy, but see below) that she has to tell her superior (the district director of Elementary Education Barbara Harris. Another option would be to tell Scott Bowers, the Assistant Superintendent in charge of personnel matters. When Kim Diorio wanted Kevin Sharp out of the classroom due to a parent who alleged possible misconduct, she went to Scott repeatedly and pleaded to have Sharp put on leave. Nicki Smith, by contrast, apparently said and did nothing even though the POLICE came to the school and asked questions to the effect of whether this teacher had touched or harmed any children.

There is no reason to even talk about this. In any sane, reasonable, well run organization someone would have already handed her a box, told her to fill it with her things, and escorted her off the property. [Portion removed.]

There is in fact a board policy, as an alert reader posted above. Board Policy 4119.21 requires that "An employee who observes or has evidence of another employee's inappropriate conduct as described above shall immediately report such conduct to their supervisor and in egregious cases, to the Superintendent or designee."

No one has yet pointed out that this policy should apply with equal force to Mike Airo's mother, who also teaches at Ohlone [portion removed] knew of the investigation [portion removed.] She also did not report. So she should also be terminated. [Portion removed.]

And more to the point why can't for $220 million dollars we can't have a school district in which those accused of being sexual perverts and abusers are dealt with properly. [Portion removed.]

Phil Winston. Streaking epidemic, hundreds of naked students, sex comments, inappropriate harassment. Result: placed in classroom with special ed students.,

Kevin Sharp: alleged sexual grooming, sex with student immediately after graduation found to have groomed student for sex. Result: Principal had to beg for an entire year to get him out of the classroom to no avail, Scott Bowers and Max McGee leaves him in classroom for entire academic year.

Mike Airo: alleged felony sex offender with children, principal has reason to suspect based on police contact, she does nothing. He stays in classroom for entire year.

What is missing in PAUSD is accountability of any kind. And I am getting pretty sick of Max McGee blaming everyone else for how crappy they do their job -- SHE DIDN'T TELL ME -- and then doing nothing. Scott really screwed the pooch. Why is Scott still working for you? He doesn't have tenure. Goodbye Scott. You get your advice about Phil from Lou Lozano. Why is Lou still the lawyer for the district. Goodbye Lou. Fagan Friedman screwed up the Kevin Sharp mess yet we are on track to pay them $ONE MILLION DOLLARS this year in fees. [Portion removed.]

Max you are the boss. If you don't fire these people then it is your fault. Don't whine [portion removed] about how no one told you and it's not your fault and don't blame me and what could I do and I didn't know. [Portion removed.] IF YOU DON'T KNOW THEN YOU SHOULD KNOW AND THAT'S YOUR FAULT. You hired her you trained her (or not) and you aren't holding anyone accountable. [Portion removed.]

Unfortunately the culture of no accountability starts at the board which thinks it works for Max and not the other way round. So no one will be held accountable -- Max and Nicki and Scott will hold their sinecures and the public will continue to hemmorage money into the coffers of Dewey Cheatem and Howe.


33 people like this
Posted by Board,interrupted
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 5:24 pm

There is no more serious matter than the protection of our children from predators.

[Portion removed.]

If ever was a case to enforce policy, this is as clear-cut as you get.

Should Mc Gee fail to implement policy in this case, we can safely assume no policy anywhere will be enforced. Ever.

Why have a board or district management or any admins? Really?

Has anyone else watched this sad, tragic, district flounder for the last 12 years rudderless? I have.

It was clear why teachers ignored the homework policy. And any other policy. The district is spineless, feckless, and inept.

We have seen them back down from the union on Schoology and from teachers on homework. If they won't enforce policy in the Airo/Smith [portion removed], don't count on anything being enforced.


5 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 23, 2016 at 8:01 pm

And what if the teacher is found innocent in all of this?

His life has been destroyed.

I would argue that this is a very good reason for men to not go into teaching elementary school or high school unless you have prepared yourself for being put in a position whereby allegations such as these might be made against you a decade later.


15 people like this
Posted by District Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Regarding Yoohoo Lou's comment, "Why is Scott still working for you? He doesn't have tenure": administrators are given tenure as teachers in the PAUSD even if they haven't taught in the district. I'm not sure if SB was originally tenured as a teacher in the district, but if a teacher is tenured and then becomes an admin, the tenure moves with him/her. (My guess is that this was part of the problem with trying to fire PW.) An admin who has never taught in the district can receive tenure after two years, just like a teacher.

From a teacher point of view, the 'leadership' mess at the DO makes me sad, to say the least. It's like an impenetrable secret society.


40 people like this
Posted by PAUSD needs new leadership
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 9:48 pm

New leadership needed, definitely. Glenn McGee and Scott Bowers need to have their contracts run out. Retirement is certainly an option for both and they would make out like bandits. Retiring, not having your contract renewed, or even being fired, is part of leadership. It can't all be a haven for scoundrels, accountability has to be more than a word. Nicki Smith may or may not have a paper trail, or more likely an email trail. Every administrator in PAUSD is now trained to write emails knowing that they may be made public, which is why the Kimberly Diorio email about Kevin Sharp seemed a little bit like CYA. Leadership is sorely needed. We have not turned as big as a corner as we thought with Kevin Skelly resigning, then moving on to San Mateo, and Charles Young giving up two years on his PAUSD contract to work in Benicia. Either McGee and Bowers have to resign or the board has to set into motion their removal. That's what leaders do, or is done to them. If both of them want to claim that they didn't know, then they will have to blame those who did know, specifically Smith. She can be given notice of her dismissal by March 15, and if she has teacher tenure, she can teach just like Phil Winston with full PAEA protection. Speaking of the teacher's union, it's telling that a teacher in an above post is equally disgusted with our leadership, but loses sight of Mike Airo and Kevin Sharp. It's not just a few administrators that need to be removed, it's obviously a few teachers. One of the statement's that PAEA put out regarding this debacle hoped that "both sides" would be protected. This was an opportunity for teachers to focus on the needs of our children. I urge PAEA and the teachers to do or say something to demonstrate that they are really for our kids, and not just the next pay raise made possible by the buckets of dollars from PiE and the parcel tax. Same goes for the Ohlone and Juana Briones communities. It's time to step up and stand for our kids, not Airo or Smith. Read what Bill Overton, a first-time principal, wrote about Smith on 5-7-14: "It is clear that she thinks first and foremost of our children's well-being. She has worked with many, if not all, of our teachers in one capacity or another over this time." Bill also wrote that Skelly made an excellent decision. The words make me cringe now. Again, this comes down to leadership. It's why we pay them more. Send off McGee, Bowers, and Smith. PAUSD will have the opportunity to be better, just like the We Can Do Better people have promised for several years. So far, this is not better.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2016 at 10:30 pm

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by District Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2016 at 10:59 pm

@PAUSD needs new leadership: Not quite clear on what you meant by "it's telling that a teacher in an above post is equally disgusted with our leadership, but loses sight of Mike Airo and Kevin Sharp." To clarify: the article is about leadership in the district. Believe me, there are plenty of teachers who are disturbed by the reprehensible (and allegedly illegal) behavior of colleagues. They are an embarrassment to our profession.


12 people like this
Posted by southville
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 24, 2016 at 9:06 am

southville is a registered user.

"Cover up" is hardly the word to use here. Naivety, lack of training etc but the whole point is that sexual molesters often purposely cultivate the "nice guy" image. Family members of these guys, even wives, virtually never see things and when they do see even hints it is simply too shocking to actually accept. That is normal, healthy psychological behavior - which is why the system has to be set to be very sensitive when a kid does say something.


30 people like this
Posted by Famous Again, and Again
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2016 at 9:39 am

To Board Members, except Daubber:
Here we go again, Does anybody want to know why are district is getting famous for the wrong reasons?


34 people like this
Posted by Board,interrupted
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 24, 2016 at 11:01 am

It is no surprise that this behavior is lurking in our schools. Given that there is no management of the sites, no over site by the district, and no policy implemented, well, anywhere.

I'd wager that an affluent, unmanaged district has attracted a few more Airo's. Why not? Plenty of money and no accountability.

The community has been asking the board to manage the teachers for years, and nobody is willing: Schoology, homework, bullying, reporting abuse...crickets.

Is there nobody home in this district? Site-based management has turned into no management. And our children are not safe in this district. Haven't been for years.


33 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2016 at 1:26 pm

I can not think of any reason why, if I were interviewed by the police regarding alleged sexual abuse by a teacher I supervised, that I would not report this up the chain of command. It is entirely possible, indeed probably, that Niki Smith would not report something like this directly to McGee, so, who would she report to, and where did the communication stop?

I fully appreciate that the law says someone is innocent until proven guilty, but in a school situation with minors, if Niki Smith (or whom ever she might have reported this to) did not report this, they appear to be suffering from a severe lack of judgement and have serious questions to answer at a minimum.


32 people like this
Posted by Yes, Crickets
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Board, Interrupted:

Your description sounds pretty much on target:

"The community has been asking the board to manage the teachers for years, and nobody is willing: Schoology, homework, bullying, reporting abuse...crickets.

Is there nobody home in this district? Site-based management has turned into no management. And our children are not safe in this district. Haven't been for years."

Yes, not enough accountability in PAUSD.

It would help to be able to evaluate teachers in a meaningful way that would, for the "bad" teachers, prevent retaliation against students and their families. For the "good" teachers, because there are "good" teachers, this could be a means of sincere gratitude.

One problem seems to be the overwhelming praise of elementary education in PAUSD. It can cloud over actual problems, such as bullying, as noted above. Those who disagree with the peachy viewpoint tend to be categorized as irksome dissenters.


29 people like this
Posted by Um
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 24, 2016 at 6:29 pm

So let me get this straight. We have a principal who knowingly exposed students to the risk of being taught by an alleged sex pervert predator and the editorial in this weeks paper is "the landscaping ordinance makes some people kind of annoyed." Ok wow.


32 people like this
Posted by mantodea
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2016 at 9:06 pm

mantodea is a registered user.

This story is getting more and more disturbing to follow.

If the accusations are true, this is a typical case of sexual grooming. Extremely dangerous tactic as it can for years go unnoticed even by those who consider themselves observant and cautious (family, educators, etc). Such perpetrators are almost always very likable, well loved parts of their community and have an ability to gain unconditional trust from kids and adults alike.

Ok, so such things unfortunately do happen. But how does the school community and officials react?

Well some Ohlone parents do not even seem alerted by lets just say the suspicion that their kids may be around such an individual and instead are calling the whole school community to support him by declaring 100% faith in the teacher’s innocence! This is beyond comprehension. It’s dangerously naive. The ask in itself is unacceptable and should not be permitted on a school forum where it appears to be posted. Take your cause elsewhere. I am all for empathy and strong community values. But I want to see some common sense too and I hope those parents are not active in classrooms, school boards, volunteering etc. I consider them unsuitable to be around my kids themselves as they seem to have bad judgment and are able to tolerate a lot on the basis that they are happy and the kids seem happy so all must be ok.

And then you have the principal who had knowledge of certain facts in relation to her students' safety and from the article it appears that she too thought, well if the kids their parents and colleagues are happy then all must be ok. I refuse to believe there may be a law preventing one from sharing any such information and/or taking discreet measures.

Has no-one ever heard that when in doubt one should err on the side of caution?

This kind of culture shows that we are failing our children on every level.


27 people like this
Posted by Cult of Personalities
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2016 at 6:51 am

Mantodea,

Appreciate the complexity of emotion and response expressed in your post about what's happening at Ohlone. It does seem unfathomable that some are calling for absolute trust of the teacher under question. Don't want to sound extreme, but the behavior seems a bit cultish, like when the behaviors of a high-ranking cult member are called into question and devotees cannot bring themselves, or others, to have a sense of doubt for what doubt can represent: questioning.


18 people like this
Posted by Yoohoo Lou
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 25, 2016 at 8:18 am

Maybe he's guilty, maybe he's innocent. That's 100% irrelevant to how a school district should react to the allegations.

When a school is alerted to an allegation of sexual abuse of a child by one of its teachers it is required to immediately open an investigation. If the allegation is credible, then the teacher must be placed on leave during the investigation (and in this case, criminal trial). If the allegation is sufficiently credible, the district can open termination proceedings against the teacher.

The district does not (and cannot) legally wait until the determination of guilt or innocence in a criminal trial in order to take administrative action to protect children. The degree of action that the district must take depends of course on the credibility of the allegations but in all instances there must be an investigation.

This teacher should have been investigation in early 2015 when the PAPD alerted the principal that there was an allegation against this teacher.

The principal was clearly -- based on the police report -- on notice that there was an allegation of some kind. Even if for some reason she was too stupid or too slow to understand what was being investigated, that is why she was required by board policy to report the investigation to her supervisor and to the superintendent. There is no room here for her to claim -- regardless of what she felt the officer communicated to her -- that she did not have to report. If the police show up at the school asking questions about a teacher, that is a newsworthy event that you report to the boss and let people above your pay grade find out what is happening. The principal violated Professional Standards and must be terminated.

Mike Airo is accused of doing horrible things. Horrible. If he did them he will go to prison, and if he did them that is where he belongs. However, in my opinion what the principal did was worse. What the principal did was sit on information that potentially exposed other children to the same risk of abuse. There is no safe school where the adults charged with the responsibility to react and implement policy don't do it.

There is no board policy in the world that makes a spit lick of difference when you have people implementing it who cannot tell right from wrong.

Nicki Smith should be gone by the end of the day today. [Portion removed.]

You didn't expect your children to be safe here did you? Whoops.


38 people like this
Posted by AshamedofPaloAlto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2016 at 8:43 am

[Post removed.]


30 people like this
Posted by Board,interrupted
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2016 at 8:50 am

You see, the thing is, the problem with Witchhunts is that there are no witches. They are imaginary.

But there are pedophiles. They are real. That makes this different.

And they are not being caught, reported or removed.

Because we have no management at the sites.

Teachers bully, intimidate, and overload with homework; and there is no management. When something more deadly comes along, it is not a witch hunt.

It's real. And it's a real problem.


5 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2016 at 10:33 am

Is there really a movement afoot at Ohlone to raise funds for the defense of Airo? I saw an announcement on the Ohlone enews saying that because PTA must remain neutral, we might be seeing announcements on PTA resources (of which enews is one) asking people to support Airo by contributing to his defense fund, and asking for tolerance if people see this. How is this neutral? I believe this would qualify as not neutral. I believe this would also violate the rules of PTA communications tools.

Also, it is further implied in comments above that there are members of the Ohlone community demanding unqualified support of Airo, no matter whether he committed these crimes or not. I would like to know more about this. If these things are true, then I believe the public needs to know. While I am not in favor of condemning anyone based on hearsay, neither am I in favor of endangering young people. What on earth is going on?

If the principal did know of the allegations against one of the teachers, and her knowledge met the requirements in the district policy, why is she still on the job?


6 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2016 at 11:57 am

I'm disappointed that Dr. McGee points blame to Nicki Smith.

He states that there is not a policy to address issues similar to this and there isn't enough information to understand what transpired in the conversation with Police Officers (per the article) to determine what should have been done differently.

The lack of support in this serious issue is concerning. This is a personnel issue and a child safety issue. Both parties need protecting until a court of law determines guilt/innocence. I'm disappointed that Dr. McGee would pass on responsibility of this to Nicki Smith when it is clear that the School District is flat footed.

Dr. McGee should stand up and take responsibility for lack of policy. The rest of us can figure out what a staff member should/should not have done. It does not reflect well on how Dr. McGee will handle future serious issues. We don't need another round of the "Blame Game". We need Administration and Board to fix issues and not pass it along.


9 people like this
Posted by CoachFromAnotherTown
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2016 at 2:15 pm

CoachFromAnotherTown is a registered user.

The principal was quoted "She said she would never imagine suspect Airo touching or harming the children in anyway and does not know of any suspicious circumstances involving him,"

Gee that is how it all starts. Somebody's supervisor *imagines* - asserts - assumes or projects their own wishful outcome(s) [portion removed.]

The Andre Edwards at Ralston school went down almost the same way.
Web Link

Also the Joel Kaufman issue has similarities. He was also a former Palo Alto HS Baseball coach
Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Oops. My mistake. The Ohlone enews will not be used for fund raising for Airo defense. Apologies for the misinformation.


12 people like this
Posted by Condor1
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2016 at 5:45 pm

There is not a group trying to raise funds for Airo on Ohlone e-news. But as of last week, there very certainly was one on FaceBook. Rallying cries raised by his mother (and co-worker) as well. My daughter attended Ohlone and had a wonderful experience. It is a lovely community by and large, but some serious housecleaning needs to be done in a situation like this. I can only try to imagine how deeply awkward the dynamic is there, considering the staff and parents are still working with the mother of the accused. How terrible for all of them, but this is a wildly unprofessional situation and I'm frankly very relieved that my daughter is not currently attending. You can and should do better Ohlone, the children are counting on you.


10 people like this
Posted by mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 25, 2016 at 6:31 pm

@ManageTheSites! -- I imagine that we agree with Dr. McGee's assertion that clear procedures need to be put in place.

Your citation doesn't really close that loop, in my reading. Based on the information here it is unclear whether Ms. Smith did indeed "observe or have evidence of another employee's inappropriate conduct." Being asked questions about alleged conduct is certainly not observing or being in possession of evidence that something happened.

That said, my gut says that it should be common sense that you'd notify your district leadership/superiors. Blame or bureaucratic technicalities aside, let's tighten this up, as Dr. McGee indicates.


Posted by ManageTheSites!
a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Jan 26, 2016 at 8:38 am


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9 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Really don't see how McGee is culpable for not knowing about the investigation last year.

Just a reminder, Airo is still innocent until proven guilty. No one has accused him of molesting any of the kids at Ohlone. I realize people are reacting to what-could-have-happened in the last year, but there's no indication that anything did.

We still only know the case against Airo. We have no idea what the case for him is and will not until things start happening in the court. Even then, it's going to be tough for anyone to know *for certain* what happened unless there's some sort of evidence.

When the arrest came out I saw one post describing Airo's behavior as classic "grooming" and, ergo, he was clearly guilty. Another poster looked at the same set of facts and said this is classic false recovered memory syndrome and Airo was clearly being falsely accused.

While I do think true accusations are quite a bit more common than false ones in these situations, but not to the point where I'm going to fault people for being cautious.

We don't know what happened in Smith's interview--she may not have been told any of the details of the accusations. It may have appeared to her as some sort of routine thing without any substance behind it. She was pretty new and probably pretty overwhelmed with her work at the time. If we want to talk about no one being home at the district--well, where is the assistant vice principal for an elementary school with 600-plus kids and two programs? That's pretty much a set-up for things falling through the cracks.

So I do think Smith should have let her higher-ups know about the police contact, but given how long the gap between the interview and the arrest was, I don't think it's a firing offense--sounds like it took quite a while for some piece of evidence (or something) to appear that made the police feel that charges were in order.


6 people like this
Posted by LelandManorMom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:28 am

In the midst of this discussion, I would hope parents and the District are taking it upon themselves to teach our young children (boys and girls) about inappropriate touching and adult safety. Pedophiles can be found in our sports programs, schools, after school activities, places of worship, and, sadly, even our own homes. I'd love to see the District work with parents to get a program in place,


9 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2016 at 11:34 pm

every credentialed educator in the state of CA is a mandated reporter. It is unbelievable that this policy was disregarded by the principal and that the poorly run district is used as an excuse for this very important rule. CPS should have been called and everyone needed to be notified. Who the heck hired this person?


9 people like this
Posted by Board,interrupted
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2016 at 6:12 am

It's been a week and a half since this story broke and no action by Max. No investigation, no temporary leave, no letter from Max... Crickets.


We can safely assume our children are unsafe. Those who failed to manage the sites are not going anywhere. And Board policy is not going to be implemented. It sits safely on a shelf, quietly unimplemented. Right alongside the homework policy and all the others.


Time to start subpoena machine for emails from Smith to Max a year ago to find out whether she had REALLY told Max.


Meanwhile our board has to get comfortable with the fact that they are utterly irrelevant. All those long hours donated to public service? Wasted. You spent your time writing policy nobody intends to follow. Just keep scribbling wishes on little scraps of paper; put them in a book on the shelf that nobody reads.

Pointless. Board. Pointless.

(But, please, keep throwing money at your non conforming staff. That is your only role in life.)


9 people like this
Posted by Upstander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2016 at 9:29 am

@outsider,
The culture among teaching staff is unfortunately them plus administrators against parents and even students, not a fair situation. Teachers have tenure but excuse it as potentially losing their jobs. Plus giving in to gossip and backbiting is easier and more fun. I have never seen even good and kind teachers who would ever even consider reporting unprofessional or even dangerous situations they see or even experience themselves. (The one teacher I do know who spoke out before tenure really did lose her job.) They need training so they can recognize bullying behavior among themselves and learn to be the "upstanders" they tell kids to be. More importantly, they need training in the laws like the childfind provision of ada, etc. and they need places to report that are safe, and where they know something will be done, i.e., not the administration, eespecially since the most serious situations of collusion come from administrators. Come to think of it, parents and students need that, too.

I'm still not sure I believe teachers will go out of their way to do the right thing, since they don't have a culture of doing so now.

@Board Interrupted,
If you can wrest any record from the dustrict, much less all of them, unfiltered for what they don't want you to see, good luck to you. If you or anyone you know is getting a subpoena, please share the legal time with the rest of the community and open to help fix the illegal mess that is our district's mishandling of records. (Someone please help McGeeto not go the way of Skelly, tripping himself up out if idiotic paranoia and unrecognized deviousness among the ranks)


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Posted by LelandManorMom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 3, 2016 at 11:07 am

This matter certainly requires investigation, but I would hope the health office at PAUSD would take up the challenge to add this issue to health education in the classrooms. Our family spoke openly with our children about the risk of unacceptable touching and being alone with adults, even close friends and family. Unless we educate our children, this type of pedophile behavior will continue remain hidden for years.

Perhaps those with knowledge of health education in PAUSD could reach out and see if training and education of our students is a viable option.

Thank you.


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

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