Palo Alto bullying case renews concerns over district's response

Four years after Terman civil-rights case, a similar breakdown in process

Editor's note: Throughout this article, the Weekly relied on documents provided by the student's family for some details, which the district could not comment on due to students' privacy. The Weekly is using the pseudonym Maria Garcia to protect the family's privacy.

On the afternoon of April 18, Maria Garcia* arrived at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto to pick up her son, a sixth grader -- a typical day, she thought. But, to her shock, she arrived to find him being questioned by Palo Alto police after another Jordan student had threatened him with a knife. The school had not notified her about the incident, she said in an interview with the Weekly.

The male student had taken a knife out of another student's backpack, approached Garcia's son and waved it in such a way that three other students pulled him away "as a protective action to what they perceived as a threat to (his) safety," Associate Superintendent Markus Autrey later wrote in a letter that concluded the incident rose to the level of bullying and intimidation.

Garcia's son, whom the Weekly is not naming to protect his privacy, is a special-education student from a Spanish-speaking Palo Alto family. The incident with the knife was not the first time he had been bullied at Jordan but rather was the most egregious in a series of incidents his parents reported to school administrators and eventually, in increasing frustration about a lack of action, to the district office.

This family's case illustrates how the Palo Alto school district -- despite adopting new bullying policies and procedures in 2014 and instituting extensive staff trainings in the wake of a U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' investigation -- is still struggling to find and uphold clear lines when it comes to addressing bullying complaints. The federal agency's investigation had determined that the district failed to properly respond to the ongoing bullying of a Terman Middle School student with disabilities.

Now as then, according to the Garcias, the district's failure in their case allegedly led to unending bullying at Jordan for months, disruption to their son's education and emotional well-being and ultimately, the family's recent decision to pull their son out of Palo Alto Unified altogether for his safety.

The Garcias' case is one of 26 investigations the district has opened in the last year in response to allegations of discrimination, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct under its Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP). Three cases have been opened during this current school year.

Of the 19 cases that have been resolved to date, according to the district's UCP log, nine resulted in either taken or "warranted" corrective action, such as professional training; in five, the district determined that corrective action was not necessary; and in five more, the district found no discrimination but offered resources to the student and parent or reached a resolution with the parties.

The Uniform Complaint Procedure was revised in 2014 at the direction of the Office for Civil Rights to bring the district into compliance with federal and state law so that all allegations of unlawful discrimination, based on legally protected classes , would be handled at the district level. A long debate ensued over whether non-discriminatory bullying (such as bullying a child for being overweight) should also be handled by the district or continue to be addressed at individual school sites.

The district ultimately adopted a two-tiered system. All complaints that do not involve legally protected classes are to be handled at the schools. Complaints that do allege bullying based on a protected status, such as the Garcias', would automatically trigger a district-level UCP investigation.

As the district was developing this new policy, community members expressed concern that a dual system created potential for confusion and inconsistency. The California School Board Association (CSBA) in 2013 recommended strongly against creating this kind of a system to "ensure certainty and consistency for students, parents and staff when addressing all bullying complaints, regardless of whether or not a bullying incident might involve discrimination." In spite of the CSBA recommendation, then-superintendent Kevin Skelly and the school board opted for the dual approach.

The Garcias' case shows that district employees did not follow the new policy and procedures, chiefly by failing to launch a UCP investigation when it first learned there were allegations of discrimination based on the child's learning disability. Beyond the actual bullying, the Garcias' case also revealed sizeable communication lapses at both the school and district level, compounded by the fact that the Garcias' first language is not English.

Unending bullying

The Garcias' son, who has a learning disability, was faring well at Jordan until this January, when other students began to bully him, his parents said in interviews with the Weekly conducted in Spanish.

Two students in particular repeatedly harassed him -- asking him for money or taking his money, stealing his lunch and saying negative things about his parents, the Garcias wrote in a detailed statement that was translated into English by a district liaison and provided in late April to Jordan administrators and the district.

To avoid conflict, the Garcias initially tried to resolve early bullying incidences on their own by talking with the other students' parents. But the aggression continued when, in January, a student pulled their son's pants down during lunch, in front of other students. School administrators were notified, and the bullying student was disciplined and made to apologize to the Garcias' son, according to Autrey.

Yet the bullying of their special-needs son continued, the Garcias said. They repeatedly reported these and other incidents to multiple administrators and staff at Jordan, in writing three times and verbally every week, Garcia said.

Those complaints alone of bullying -- even had they not involved discrimination -- should have triggered a documented investigation by the school, per district policy, and been resolved within 15 days.

In cases of both discriminatory and non-discriminatory bullying, remedial action can include interventions for the victim, including counseling, academic support and information on how to report further incidents of bullying, as well as follow-up inquiries with the victim to ensure that the bullying has stopped and they have not been retaliated against, per district policy. For allegations of discrimination, even if a student or family decides not to file a complaint, principals or the district's compliance officer are required to "implement immediate measures to stop the discrimination and to ensure all students have access to the educational program and a safe school environment," board policy states.

Autrey said that administrators did follow through.

"The administrators followed the appropriate protocol for investigating the reported incidents based on board policy for student misconduct determined by the category of infraction appropriate to the case," Autrey said, such as logging in a database student behavioral incidents and meetings with students as well as investigating and documenting reports of student misconduct.

However, administrators also could have informed the Garcias of the option to file a written Uniform Complaint Procedure form, which they did not, Garcia said.

It is clear in retrospect that administrators did not view the incidents with the same gravity as the Garcias, according to Autrey's letter.

"Upon investigating and asking school officials about these particular incidents (of bullying) they were aware of broad generalities regarding your son not feeling comfortable and feeling mocked by some of the students," Autrey's letter states. "These were very general statements" that did not warrant an investigation "but rather prompt(ed) school officials or their designees (teachers, counselors, psychologists, etc.) to follow up with a student and work with the student and family in an effort to make the school experience more successful."

Autrey refused to state definitively whether Jordan administrators viewed any of the Garcias' complaints as bullying based on a protected class.

Throughout the spring, as the bullying continued, the Garcias said they became frustrated with the school's lack of response and increasingly worried about the well-being of their son, whose grades had plummeted and whose emotional state had declined to the point that he expressed suicidal thoughts to his parents. They worried he might have to repeat sixth grade.

Then came the knife incident on April 18. Despite the Garcias' efforts to sound the alarm for nearly four months, it was not until this point that the district office was notified of the bullying situation, Autrey said. District policy, however, requires site reports of bullying based on a protected class to be forwarded to the district within two days and then investigated and resolved by the district's compliance officer within 60 calendar days. (View this timeline for the required procedures).

The next week, on April 26, the Garcias provided their statement documenting their concerns to both the district and to the Jordan administration. They reported specific incidents of bullying of their son, including the students stealing his lunch, pulling his pants down in front of other students, teasing him about "not being able to read well" and about being in special-education classes. The Garcias also wrote that the incident with the knife was not an "isolated event."

Despite the district getting involved in late April, the bullying escalated further, Garcia said, and extended outside of school to cyberbullying. She provided copies to the school of text messages two female students sent her son, she said.

Worrying for their son's well-being, the Garcias pulled him out of school in May, before the school year ended. They requested a transfer to another Palo Alto middle school. The district's bullying policy provides priority and/or "additional consideration" for transfer within the district for students who have been determined by school personnel to have been the alleged target of bullying.

And after learning from a parent advocate for special-education families about the complaint form that would force a UCP investigation, they submitted one to the district on May 19. They noted on it that the incident with the knife constituted discrimination on the basis of their son's race/ethnicity, disability and age.

When asked why the Garcias' April 26 translated statement -- which clearly alleged bullying based on a protected class -- did not automatically trigger a UCP investigation, Autrey said that he was focused more on supporting the family and was "looking into the situation as a whole."

"The point was to care about and take care of (the Garcias' son) in the situation he was in," Autrey said. "I needed to see from every angle -- educationally, socially, emotionally, every angle, and that would include the discrimination pieces."

Over the summer, on July 11, Autrey issued his determination that several incidents during the last school year at Jordan, including the incident involving the knife, amounted to bullying, but not discrimination based on a protected class.

"There was no compelling evidence that the students acted in a discriminatory manner based on ethnicity or disability," his report states.

Autrey declined in an interview to detail what that evidence was, stating that "there were many factors involved" and the conduct wasn't "exclusively discriminatory on that basis." He would not say what probing he did to determine whether the students involved had bullied anyone besides the Garcias' son, but that his investigation was "holistic" and included looking at students' records "of all kinds."

The Uniform Complaint Procedure requires the investigating compliance officer to consider several factors to "judge the severity" of discriminatory allegations, including looking at how the misconduct affected the subject of the complaint; the type, frequency and duration of the misconduct; and the age, race, gender and/or disability of the subject of the complaint.

Factors the compliance officer may take into account when making a final determination include statements made by the subject of the complaint, the individual accused and other people with relevant knowledge; evidence of how the subject of the complaint reacted to the incident; and evidence of any past instances of unlawful discrimination, including discriminatory harassment, intimidation and/or bullying or other misconduct by the accused individual.

"It was more important," Autrey said, "that if he was bullied at all, which I state he was, that he be supported and we try to get him the very best we could to get him back to being successful."

Falling on deaf ears

While Autrey did not acknowledge that the Garcias' son was discriminated against, he did acknowledge Jordan administrators failed to communicate well with the family. For the Garcias, that lapse only compounded their anxiety and frustration.

The Garcias described Jordan administrators as mostly unresponsive and unwilling to address their ongoing concerns. Despite repeated reports to the assistant principal, secretary, their interpreter, their son's case manager and other staff, the bullying did not cease, the Garcias said.

After the incident with the knife, they said they were told the principal at the time, Tom Jacoubowsky, was too busy to meet with them. When they met instead with then-Assistant Principal Jim Cox on April 19, according to a translated statement from the Garcias, "Mr. Cox started telling us that the incident had not been that serious, that it was done as a game with no intention of harming" their son.

They worried that the student who threatened their son with the knife, who they said was moved out of the school, would return and continue to harass their son. The Garcias said Cox, however, told them not to worry about the student coming back to school, and that "this was happening because (their son) was getting together with bad people," their statement reads.

Autrey declined to tell the Weekly what consequences the bullying students were given, due to confidentiality concerns, but said Jordan administrators followed "due diligence." School and board policy forbid students from possessing or threatening others with any kind of weapon on campus, and students who do so are subject to suspension and/or expulsion.

Frustrated by this conversation with Cox, the Garcias went to the district office, hoping to speak with Superintendent Max McGee. They said they discovered Jacoubowsky there, discussing their son's situation with McGee, and set up a meeting for later that day.

In their meeting with Jacoubowsky, he told them he had only just heard about the incident involving the knife and wasn't aware of any previous bullying, according to the Garcias.

Another key communication failure, they said, was that neither Jordan administrators nor Autrey told them they could file a UCP complaint nor how to navigate the process, as policy requires.

Also, Garcia said Autrey's final letter was provided to the family in English but not in their native language, as California Education Code provides for. Autrey said Monday that he planned to provide a Spanish copy to the Garcias in a meeting this week.

Autrey acknowledged some failures in process in his July letter of findings.

"Although the Jordan administrators were not the subjects of your complaint, through the investigation it was clear that certain processes and protocols regarding student discipline and investigations needs [sic to be reviewed and clarified," Autrey wrote. "This will ensure safe processes that allow an incident to be effectively investigated, while protecting all students involved and communicating with the students' parents/guardians effectively and in a timely fashion."

His letter notes that the Garcias described "several encounters when you were not greeted or welcomed in a manner that you perceived to be helpful or in partnership with school officials."

It was not until they approached the district for help "that school administrators were responsive to you and were available to address your questions," Autrey wrote.

In addition, Garcia said she never received any sort of documents in response to her concerns at Jordan, although district policy requires that documentation of any investigations as well as notice of their outcomes should have been provided to the Garcias.

The Garcias were also shocked that the district did not immediately notify them about the incident with the knife, nor that their son was being questioned by police.

A school board policy on questioning and apprehension of students by law enforcement requires the principal or a designee to "attempt to notify the student's parent/guardian as soon as practicable." Autrey wrote in his letter, however, that "although it is the district's preference and we encourage parental presence in investigations when requested, it is not a fundamental civil right."

The administration also "followed process" by calling police officers to the campus, Autrey said. (Palo Alto Police Sgt. James Reifschneider told the Weekly that the student who threatened the Garcia's son with the knife was issued a juvenile citation for "making threats.")

Ultimately, Autrey said in an interview with the Weekly, "The outcome of my investigation was that we could go above and beyond what we do with communication and even do a better job -- and I think it's our responsibility to do a better job in that regard because we are partners with families and we want to approach families in that spirit ... (and) give every student the opportunity to succeed and fare well at school."

The district has since reviewed its policies related to harassment and student discipline with all secondary-school principals and plans to do so with elementary-school principals soon, Autrey said. The district also plans to put in place a formal review process for these policies to take place at the start of every school year at a leadership retreat to ensure a more uniform approach across the district's schools, he said. (The resolution of the Terman bullying case already requires that the district provide such training.)

A parting of ways

For the Garcias' part, they were hopeful at the start of this school year, when their son began seventh grade at JLS Middle School. The school had provided him with a tutor over the summer to help make up for his academic loss in the previous school year, Garcia said. She also provided the district with an Aug. 4 letter from their son's Permanente Medical Group psychiatrist, stating that he suffers from anxiety and depression related to bullying.

The psychiatrist suggested that "it could be helpful for his school to provide counseling support to help him with peer relationships and his adjustment to his new school. ... I hope that his school can evaluate his needs, provide accommodations and update his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to help him be more successful in school."

But within a week, a student from Jordan who had also transferred to JLS started bullying him and referred to the knife incident, Garcia said.

Again worrying for his well-being and safety, they pulled him out of school several weeks ago.

He's stayed at home since then, Garcia said. They are now working with district leadership to transfer him out of Palo Alto Unified and into a neighboring school district.

The relationship with the school district still feels more adversarial than collaborative, she said. She and her husband have had to leave work to attend hours-long meetings the district scheduled during the day. They considered hiring an attorney to help them but cannot afford it. They have started recording every meeting they have with school and district administrators.

Autrey, for his part, said moving forward, the district's goal "is to become a kinder place, a place that communicates and partners and really does what's in the best interest of all kids."

Related content:

Student's case spurs school district to examine response to bullying

When students are discriminated against: What Palo Alto Unified is obligated to do

Jordan Middle School reprimands aide

VIDEO: Bullying case tests district's policies

In-depth report: How a federal inquiry is changing the way schools respond to bullying

When teen dating violence hits: Are our schools ready when relationships turn violent?


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Editor's note: This article featured a photo on the cover of a student walking on the Jordan Middle School campus. This photo was in no way intended to portray the student as either a victim of bullying or a bully, but simply to capture a scene at the school with an unidentifiable student. The Weekly regrets any confusion or misunderstanding that the photo has caused and has modified its policies regarding the use of such photographs in the future.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


21 people like this
Posted by Time's up
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 4, 2016 at 7:09 am

Just more evidence that Max McGee is horrible.

49 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2016 at 7:13 am

Just remember - Max and the board members running for re-election supported giving raises to these administrators in spite of the budget deficits.

42 people like this
Posted by Priorities
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 4, 2016 at 8:00 am

Process around reporting AP grades and other such things seem more important to the board than this total breakdown of common sense and good judgement.

This problem is exactly the kind of problem that the two tier bullying policy wa predicted to have by those who doubted the district's school administrations' motives and honesty, and characterized them as slippery.

Are the schools so big that teachers are unaware of this bullying activity, or do they simply not understand that consistent 3rd party intervention of bullying is the only way to control it in a school environment?

With all the attention, assurances, and promises about bullying from the schools and district, there's no way to paint this response as anywhere near excusable.

36 people like this
Posted by JLS Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2016 at 9:04 am

This is such a sad story. I feel awful for this family.

I hope in going public they get more attention and support from the administration and can rejoin the JLS community. I know there are a lot of good teachers and kids there and hopefully their son can get a chance to experience that.

48 people like this
Posted by Jordan Mom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 4, 2016 at 9:40 am

My son has been at Jordan for three years now. He was been assaulted by an 8th grade student when he was in 6th grade. He was hurt in PE, the coaches did nothing. This emboldened an 8th grader who hurt him, to bully my son all through 6th grade. He was told to kill himself by a girl student. The result, he developed depression.

Last year in 7th grade, he was kicked in the testicles by one of the belligerent "gay squad" students. She told him, that's what it feels like to have a period.

Alas, it's 8th grade. The result of a bullying incident, my son was punished for shoving the bully away. Nothing happened to the bully.

Then we get to the teachers. A teacher put him in the closet for part of a class and then full class session. His math teacher made a comment about "how stupid" when he asked a question. His friend from EPA was told straight up he is stupid. SERIOUSLY??!!!! This is the best education we can provide to our students. Seems like an education in hard knocks and why life isn't fair. Have low expectations, perhaps?

53 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past and Fire Bad Administrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2016 at 9:45 am

This just makes my blood boil. The family should be thankful they are getting out without having to deal with the district office more. That's a whole new level of bullying, when the special ed admin gang up with the school admin to bully the parents. Then not only is the kid a basket case, so are the parents.

The new board should immediately start a truth and reconciliation committee that seeks out the stories from people who have left or been treated to such unlawful behavior without recourse. Then they should go about replacing administrators all in one fell swoop to create a group that is positive and interested in working with families and solving problems. That will spill over into volunteerism that will transform our district for the better.

CYA goes hand in hand with problems not getting solved but instead getting repeated.

...focusing on supporting him my &&&.

41 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2016 at 10:04 am

Administrators have always been more protective of PAUSD than students. PAUSD, a school district incapable of learning.

50 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 10:57 am

Really outrageous behavior by school officials for allowing bullying at our schools. They give lip service to, and force students to listen to lectures about anti-bullying, rather than actually stopping the bullying by suspending the kids immediately.

What is wrong with Palo Alto teachers and administrators?

Don't they have any decency to intervene in bullying cases?

70 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:04 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

If a student pulls a knife, why isn't he arrested? If you see someone with a knife on campus call 911.

22 people like this
Posted by wander3r
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:12 am

wander3r is a registered user.

Absolutely reprehensible. Almost makes me wish that these administrators' children had endured this experience so they -- the administrators -- could see what it was like, except that I wouldn't wish this on anybody else; neither, I imagine, would the Garcias. I sure hope that an attorney will be able to take on this case pro bono for this family who clearly needs the help. I know, easy for me to say when I'm not the one giving the time and resources. Parents of the bullies: you should be ashamed for not putting a stop to your childrens' behavior.

12 people like this
Posted by KukSoolRich
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:20 am

KukSoolRich is a registered user.

I feel so bad for this family. There are so many options available to kids to deal with bullies and help each other out and stand up against these bullies, but the schools and administrators don't seem care about having anyone educate them. There are organizations that do this for FREE in certain communities. The one for our local area, Atherton to Palo Alto, is MACDA (, the Martial Arts Character Development Alliance. They offer the "Done With Bullying" curriculum that teaches multiple options for dealing with and avoiding bullies as well as how to be an "up-stander" and not a bystander when you see someone being bullied!

48 people like this
Posted by When Will PAUSD Learn
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:22 am

Wow, when will this district ever learn? My kids attended PA schools from elementary thru high school. I can’t even count the number of assemblies they’ve had on bullying, there’s been so many. But that’s all it is… talk. When incidents occur, there are never proper consequences to get it to stop. Why is it so hard for administrators to discipline? When did discipline become a bad thing? It benefits both the victim and the bully. Allowing the behavior to continue does not help either student. My heart breaks for this family.

Another thing I don’t understand is the discrimination issue. Autrey seemed to spend a lot of time making it clear that this wasn’t discrimination. Does it really matter why a knife is being pulled on you? I don’t care if it’s because of discrimination or just because the kid doesn’t like your shoes. Action should still be taken. These are middle-schoolers pulling knives on other students. It’s insane that this child had to endure so much while administrators did nothing. And we wonder why there are so many OCR complaints. Intolerance for this kind of behavior must come from the top down, and it starts with the school board. Let’s keep that in mind on the 8th.

48 people like this
Posted by a physician and mom of special needs son
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:28 am

Terman gave only lip service to the bullying my special needs 6th grader experienced. The principal, school health tech, and multiple special Ed teachers failed her. We are in another school this year, and are kicking ourselves for not getting her out previously.

Learning is hard to do when a special needs kid feels equally bullied by students AND administration. Good riddance Terman.

25 people like this
Posted by Screeedek
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:29 am

Screeedek is a registered user.

There is obviously much more to this story than what has been written but the uber obsession with "protecting privacy" leaves much to the imagination. Questions: 1) does the victim have a part in this? Apparently the Jordan AP seemed to think so. 2) Whether a joke or not, sticking a knife at another student is assualt. The article sid the bully was transferred. Where? For how long? What about the other bullies? Have they been removed? 3) The victim was sent to JLS only to encounter one of his tormentors who was also transferred there (seriously?) Has that student been expelled? It seems the schools are more concerned about protecting their reputations (and protecting the privacy of the bullies) than they are about the student and his family.

13 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:34 am

This is outrageous, but not surprising. Most Schools and students experience bullying at an alarming rate. Most people realize the difficulties and challenges in not only dealing with bullying but in preventing this type of aggressive and criminal behavior.
The anti-bullying programs and messages are encouraging, but this case demonstrates that even supposedly first class Schools are failing in their efforts to stop bullying. The student should have been monitored more closely to both observe any incident of bullying and to ensure his safety. Although the school cannot disclose any disciplinary actions it took against the bully, it would be helpful for the school to generalize what actions it does take when bullying occurs.
It doesn't take a genius to also understand that the school may be liable for Legal action taken by the student and his parents.
From the article, it appears the school officials failed to take appropriate action and do all they could to protect the student. Although it also appears that the bully was removed from the school after the knife incident, such removal or stronger action should have been taken before that occurred. A knife is a deadly weapon. I could say a lot more but I think the community understands the failure of the school in this case and that parents merely want their children to attend school without such bullying and hostile environment. That is their right. Is that too much to ask? If so, recruit school leaders that will address such problems appropriately and show that the safety of students is more important than perfect grades.

33 people like this
Posted by Deja vu
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:49 am

This situation underlines why we need Todd Collins on the school board. He will not tiptoe around these issues for fear of hurting someone's feelings. He will look for evidence and data to support that PAUSD is following policies and will bird dog problems until they are resolved. This case is reminiscent of the Terman OCR bullying case where PAUSD was found out of compliance on federal UCP policies and training. The administration and school board dragged their feet on fixing the board policies and administrative procedures and after all that work it appears that the required training was not implemented. Please bare this in mind when you go to the polls and elect someone with a backbone to oversee our school district.

14 people like this
Posted by james
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:52 am

Seems to me that in a broader perspective the bullies are also victims here since they really don't learn about the result of such unacceptable behavior. If there is truly guilt it belongs with the "busy principal" and unresponsive District officials. Perhaps those folks should experience consequences as well as the bullies. Time to get some new blood in there; folks who really understand their jobs.

42 people like this
Posted by PAmom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 12:15 pm

My son went to Jordan years ago when they had a zero tolerance policy against bullying. He was also a special Ed kid and had bad troubles with being bullied. He had the wherewithal to report the incidents himself, and the consequences for the bullies were immediate and tough as nails. Two kids were suspended, one for also pulling down his pants. His friends stuck up for him and I didn’t have to get involved at all.

Then when my daughter started school, another girl bullied her on an ongoing basis. Her personality changed from that of a happy, confident, outgoing child to that of a sullen, withdrawn, depressed one. My husband and I reported it to the school and they minimized it and did little to help. The principal ganged up against me with the other parents. Several times the parents confronted me at my front door. The parents accused me of making everything up and took legal action against me. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. What made it worse was being told I should “just let it go and move on”, as well as seeing other parents posting on articles about bulling that “it’s always the parents fault because they’re difficult land give the administrators a hard time . . .” The school personnel protect their own and down play incidents. What people don’t realize is that mine, the “Garcia’s and others experiences are traumas that one never fully “gets over”, they just become easier to live with over time.

Fast-forwarding, we transferred our daughter to a different school. The girl who bullied my daughter was later expelled from two middle schools and then arrested by the police off campus for violent behavior and put in a facility for juvenile delinquents. I later read that the principal who refused to help us had many parent complaints, was transferred, and then resigned and left town.

I believe the bullies are the ones who should be transferred, not their targets. Even if serial bullies “have a right to an education”, they should be the ones to have to endure the disruption of changing their educational environments instead. I wish the "Garcia" family all the healing and support they need. They're not alone.

36 people like this
Posted by ex-Nixon mom
a resident of Nixon School
on Nov 4, 2016 at 12:23 pm

This story is very similar to my son's experience at Nixon: we are also spanish speaking; he was also horribly bullied, my son got horribly depressed, his grades wen south, we complained and talked to them many times: they recommended Ritalin! In sum, the teachers and principal didn't care, NOBODY DID ANYTHING, SO WE TOOK OUR SON OUT AND SENT HIM TO PRIVATE SCHOOL. Not everybody has this option

The teachers and school administrators really need some serious oversight: bullying, depression are rampant, ending in a spate of suicides when kids get to high school

20 people like this
Posted by Priorities?
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Without knowing much about these cases, I consider them disturbing enough to warrant immediate remmediation. Given this scenario and other pressing issues, I find it shocking that our school administrators have spent so much time debating whether or not to publish wGPA's.

6 people like this
Posted by I agree
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 4, 2016 at 1:10 pm

[Post removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 4, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Isn't there any regulation about bringing weapons to school? Any kid bringing any knife to school should be disciplined & parents must be contacted. 2nd offense should be automatic suspension. Any knife is considered a weapon, be it a folding pocket knife or a butter knife. No middle schooler has any business bringing a Swiss army knife or any other kind to school.

21 people like this
Posted by Police In Schools
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 4, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Police In Schools is a registered user.

Sad that the parents cannot hire a lawyer. The School District had a lawyer all along.

If Jordan called the police to campus, then they had time to call the parents to campus before the police talked to the child.

It is horrendous that Autrey wrote the parents do not have "fundamental rights'. It shows his concern is only with his rights, not caring for children. Saying Jordan Administrators followed "due diligence". Very nice that you say you did your job and now you use legalistic terms and spend money on your lawyers against the family. And actually, you are saying Jordan administrators did not perform due diligence. They screwed up.

PAUSD using police and not telling families - they have done this before, at both Jordan and Addison Elementary. When the District involves police and does not tell parents, it is almost always for minority and disabled children.

Did the school use uniformed police officers or School Resource Officers (SRO)? PAUSD uses SROs and does not inform families they are police officers. The police may not keep a report, and families are not told their children had contact with police during at school.

In terms of all the problems and delays getting the investigation done, Holly Wade is in charge of the complaints. There is your problem, right there. She has lots of conflicts of interest. She is over Counseling, Special Education, testing, information requests including what to withhold, AND is charge of all complaints about Counseling, Special Education, testing, information requests. Did Holly Wade without information about your child? You can file a complaint with, guess who, Holly Wade.
complaintsWeb Link

11 people like this
Posted by Police In Schools
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 4, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Police In Schools is a registered user.

Palo Alto Online Editor: Do you have the names of the Officers who came to the school, and if they were School Resource Officers (SRO) or uniformed? Did they use police cars?

29 people like this
Posted by Fed Up
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2016 at 3:52 pm

As other have mentioned reading this made me furious. SOOO glad to see we gave all the PAUSD administration fat "me too" raises. Why is it so hard for school district employees to follow basic policies & procedures! Are these people that incompetent or do they just not care? Anyone in the private sector who is that negligent would be disciplined or fired.

My heart goes out to the Garcia family and their son, hope they can find an accepting and healing place for him.

49 people like this
Posted by Jordan has Always Been Bad
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2016 at 4:02 pm

Jordan has Always Been Bad is a registered user.

When my son attended Jordan ( he is now in college), he was bullied by an 8th grader. The 8th grader beat him up one day at lunch and my son did not fight back for fear of being suspended.

Well, he WAS suspended, because any participant in a fight is to be suspended, according to district rules! The only difference was that the bully was suspended for five days, whereas my son only received three days.

Three years later, my daughter was sexually harassed by three boys who just happened to be from China. Two of the boys were brothers, the third was their cousin. My daughter was physically mature for her age of 12, and these boys were two years older. They would follow her from class to class and say lewd things to her, as well as saying that blondes were " stupid as well as immoral".

We repeatedly tried to get the principal or vice principal to do something, but we were told that as long as they didn't touch her, there was nothing they could do! They also informed us that because all three boys were from China, they didn't want US causing racial problems at the school!

6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 4, 2016 at 4:08 pm

I feel for the family. I do hope there can be more education of the students and teachers around treating others respectfully, independent of a disability or not. I continue to be concerned that there is not a solid discipline program in place at Jordan. I think the teachers could benefit from some training in classroom management as well as being respectful. Actions speak louder than words and the more the leadership can show good examples and have a solid discipline plan in place the safer students will be to stand up for one another, be respectful, and share negative incidents with the staff.

1 person likes this
Posted by Sheila Morrissey
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Particularly in an article about bullying a child with special needs, why use the phrase "falling on deaf ears" to describe "unwilling and unresponsive" administrators?

26 people like this
Posted by Time's up
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 4, 2016 at 4:38 pm

Heidi Emberling and Melissa Caswell are to blame for this. Instead of fixing the problem they actively tried to go after OCR instead. They deserve the blame. They should both the booted from office and replaced with Todd and Jennifer (and Jay if necessary). What an upgrade that would be.

[Portion removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by What a mess
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2016 at 5:26 pm

This is the result of overcrowded schools where students aren't known to all. It is also the result of a new breed of entitled, tenured teachers with no presence on the campus and no interest in any student outside their class. Plus an era of make all the kids feel good and don't punish them for bad behavior. Teachers put in their hours and go home. Long gone are the days where teachers walked the campus at breaks and lunch, knew the students and could hold them accountable. Long gone also are the days where bad kids were punished, had to pick up trash, had to stay after school (now because no teacher will stay with them) and had to be picked up by their parents each time they did something wrong. And all at the same time the schools won't reward studnets that are doing well using the false excuse that it will "stress" out the other students if they aren't as smart. What a mess schools are these days.

5 people like this
Posted by When Will PAUSD Learn
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 5:26 pm

@Police in Schools: I’m assuming by your questions that you feel it would be wrong for the school to call uniformed police in this incident. While I agree the school had plenty of time to call the parents and definitely should have, I don’t agree that the police (whether uniformed or not) should not be involved. We are talking about a student threatening another student with a weapon. I don’t understand why it would be so wrong for uniformed police to show up. These kids are not so young that they shouldn’t understand the implications of pulling a weapon on another student. And children need to know that the police are here to protect us, they are not to be feared. Also, the students are very used to seeing the SROs in their uniforms anyway. That’s the whole reason SROs wear uniforms to classrooms and presentations, so the students are not afraid of them. They even take them to their police car and let them play with the siren, etc. So if anyone, regardless of age, pulls a knife on my kid, I would hope the police would be called.

19 people like this
Posted by Max, you need to get your act together
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm

You don't even need to hear "PAUSD's side of the story". There simply is no excuse for this and it's shocking that this is yet another blind-side for the board.

20 people like this
Posted by maggie21
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 6:39 pm

maggie21 is a registered user.

Some things never change.

Twenty years ago my middle middle school daughter and her friends were, unbeknown to all their parents, being constantly harassed and bullied in the hallways by a gang of boys, shoved and hit, and called horrible names. Teachers looked the other way because they knew there was nothing they could do. These boys had been transferred from other schools and had come under the protective wing of the assistant head, who was trying to help them.

During the lunch hour a sympathetic teacher had been allowing our girls to stay in the classroom with her. One day the teacher stepped out for a few minutes. Unfortunately this gang saw our daughters alone in the classroom, pushed their way inside, and proceeded to throw and overturn whatever they could lay their hands on. Quite frightening.

The first thing we knew about it was a call from the principal telling us our girls had trashed a classroom, were being suspended, and to come and get them.

Once we talked to our daughters they told us, reluctantly, what had been happening, and we insisted on meeting with the principal the next day. Why were our daughter's versions immediately discounted? Why were they not believed and immediately blamed? Our daughters had never been in any trouble, had no history of lying, yet these boys had a troubled history. The principal eventually backed down and our girls were exonerated. We later learned that if the boys had got into trouble again there were going to be severe consequences. Which is why the assistant head was trying to protect them.

Turns out there was a lot of bullying going on. Despite being pressed by us during a series of meeting, the principal did not do much about it, but fortunately he was only there for two years prior to retiring.

20 people like this
Posted by Legal Rights
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Legal Rights is a registered user.

PAUSD is not in the habit of informing elementary, middle, or high school students or parents about their legal rights. Administrators prey on students and parents (understandable) ignorance of the law since we are not all lawyers. Nor can we all afford a lawyer on retainer like PAUSD.

I personally have experienced an elementary school administrative team that did not follow proper IEP legal procedure. (El Carmelo when Chuck Merritt was Principal). Unfortunately for them, I knew the law. And I called them on it -- in writing -- and copied the District. At this point, the elementary school team quickly course corrected because they knew they couldn't mess with me like they did with this unfortunate family in the article. But if English had not been my first language, and I didn't know the law, I would've been at the school's mercy.

19 people like this
Posted by High School: Legal Rights
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2016 at 6:54 pm

High School: Legal Rights is a registered user.

PAUSD does not advertise parents or students' legal rights. It's in their best interest to keep us all in the dark.

For example, Palo Alto High School and Gunn High School conduct bag searches and breathalyze students upon entering school events (dances, football games, rallies). The administration informs the students via Schoology prior to the event that their bags will be searched and they will be breathalyzed giving students fair warning. However, the administration conveniently fails to mention to the students per US Constitution 4th Amendment Search and Seizure laws that it is completely VOLUNTARY to allow your bag to be searched and be breathalyzed! Repeat, VOLUNTARY! Yes, as a condition of admittance to the event, students have to comply. But students DO NOT KNOW they can say NO and walk away from a search or breathalyzer test!!! (Google ACLU posts about this online.) Students get a Schoology message, then see an administrator, a figure of authority, and think they have to do whatever that administrator says. PLEASE tell your students. They have rights. They do not have to submit to a bag seizure or breathalyzer test. They can say NO and leave. Or they can say NO and call a parent to be present.

24 people like this
Posted by typical
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Sadly the typical victim of bullying will be singled out for "differentness" combined with vulnerability. IMO it would be helpful to reward bystander students for standing up to bullies as well as to teach students at high risk of bullying how to deter bullies.

23 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 9:24 pm

PLEASE let it be known that not all teachers look the other way. At the secondary level I make it a policy and routinely have my radar up to eye rolling, "shut up's", and snide comments that seemingly are underneath the radar for high school students. They are professionals at it. I do not tolerate this behavior. It is an everyday routine that as a teacher you have to have energy for otherwise you are one of those who have their head up their a*^ looking for the next three day weekend. It's a full time affair but kids know which teachers don't put up with bu#*^$ and ones who let cameras fly taking pictures of peers looking the other way. It's real and it exists.

19 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past and Fire Bad administrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2016 at 10:36 pm

"Sadly the typical victim of bullying will be singled out for "differentness" combined with vulnerability. "

Unfortunately, the way the district handles special needs, including basically lying to teaching staff and school site administrators in order to isolate and control special needs families because of the unhealthy way the district handles special needs, contributes to bullying. Basically holding these kids and their families at arms' length creates an unwelcoming environment, and other parents and kids pick up on it.

You bet PAUSD doesn't tell parents their rights, everyone in the pipeline seems to feel justified to flaunt the law, especially if they don't like someone. I've seen staff act in a way that if they just discourage communication enough from families with real problems to resolve, they'll never be held to account for anything they should have done. That seems to have happened here.

20 people like this
Posted by Comment
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2016 at 12:10 am

Parents of bullies need to stop making excuses for their kids. They cannot be in denial about the possibility of their child being the bully No amount of assemblies and disciplinary action will make a difference if there is no education and no modeling at home. Teach compassion. Teach that it is wrong to hurt anyone else emotionally or physically. Raise a decent human being!

27 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Leadership at Jordan was under then principal Tom Jacoubowsky, and he seems to have failed the victim’s parents and school community. I’m disappointed to see he is now the principal of Juana Briones. When I met him at Briones, I went away unimpressed because he seemed aloof and insincere with his “I’m too busy” attitude. It would serve him well to listen and connect with parents and students.

21 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2016 at 4:13 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

...somehow the renaming of the schools is supposed to put a stop to bullying, racist comments, disrespect of students who are "different". Can anyone can explain how renaming, rather that retraining the school staff, will help prevent bullying, discrimination, name-calling and other unfriendly actions?

16 people like this
Posted by Alton
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Excellent reporting Elena.

Considering basically one side of the story is being reported, if even part true, is yet another huge black eye for the 'leadership' on Churchill Ave, and little short of gross incompetence of what seems to be former leadership at Jordan.

Guy pulls a knife at Jordan and the Principal passes the response off to a VP with a dismissive response? In some circles, that sort of action is at a minimum brandishing a weapon, and had any injury occurred, assault with a deadly weapon.

Getting your pants pulled down or off at school? Many would consider that a sexual assault.

WTF Jordan and PAUSD administrators? If any of this happened to you, you would likely call the police, but when it happens to a student, a special needs student, it's basically ignored? Wow, pathetic, simply pathetic. Frankly, I'm not sure why parents of kids bullied like this don't call the police because it's clear the school is the wrong 'authority' to look to help from.

Thanks PAUSD for instigating what will probably be a pro-bono lawsuit against the district, diverting how many hundreds of thousands of dollars away from the kids you are supposed to be educating, and instead, diverted to cover your collective ***es.

18 people like this
Posted by Katie
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Clean house at these schools of the principals and teachers. They are not dedicated to their students. Lip service is not your answer.Good luck to the families .

18 people like this
Posted by BrionesParent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2016 at 7:50 am

I'm not surprised Lisa Hickey, principal at JLS, didn't properly support the Garcias. At Briones she was terrible at supporting kids with special needs unless the parent was part of the PTA. [Portion removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Thise Who Do Not Learn From the Past and Fire Bad Administrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 8:52 am

If you have to hire lawyers in this district, it's time to go to private school instead. Anyone who forces the district to do the right thing gets "dealt with" - the family gets kept at arms' length, on the outside, and that includes the child. This eventually impacts the child educationally and socially, too. Usually, normal human frustration at the district overtly interfering with school connection spirals into district personnel retaliating.

One thing about the Jordan bullying case that is so familiar is the practice now of personnel trying to avoid hearing about problems, so that they have plausible deniability. The staff telling the mother that the principal was too busy - that didn't just happen by accident.

Ken Dauber and the new school board should themselves go through the legal tactics used against families, and themselves make public the tactics. They should themselves go to the OCR over it, so that anytime any family is subjected to the tactics, they have recourse. What I have seen here is the district behaving on a whole other level of calculating, the way a bad insurance company does, the kind that cheat people in calculating but hard -to-prove ways.

It sure seems like one reason the district office doesn't like to have to handle all the bullying cases and instead only the special class (and then only if forced) is that the people involved are notorious for producing shockingly false letters (this is why families have to start recording meetings, it goes well beyond errors). But people who lie and scheme have to work really hard to keep things straight, which poses other challenges if families are persistent. That's where the retaliation becomes useful. People eventually leave, wounded.

Some of the tactics used by the district are pretty slick nasty tactics that really seem very unlikely to have come out of thin air. The effect is to deny children their rights, not just overtly, but in fostering a system that systematically avoids proactively identifying and helping. The law (and human decency with children) requires districts to be proactive to help. Some of the tactics seem exactly like tactics used to induce stress to leverage a win -- if families are being deliberately stressed, including by lawsuits against them by the district, again, that needs to be stopped. It needs public sunlight. And families need effective recourse. Only the board could get to the heart of such practices to stop them, a new law firm is not the answer (clearly the problems continue). This needs sunlight and advocacy, and people and systems put in place to stop it.

I don't just see the problem resurfacing here, I see the results of CYA practices the district is overtly engaged in. If we do not root out the practices, and the people whose lack of ethical compass has allowed them to engage in them, we will continue to see problems bungled like this one, to the detriment of the children. (The board incumbents up for reelection have only contributed to this during their tenure, but if new members are elected, hopefully they will work for change.)

I don't necessarily blame Lisa Hickey alone at JLS. The staff especially the psychology staff are the worst when it comes to these things. No upstanders there, understatement. The family is lucky they didn't stay any longer trying, it would have only been worse in ways they could never expect. The best thing for the child is to find an honest environment and not have to deal with the district people ever again to keep it.

9 people like this
Posted by Thise Who Do Not Learn From the Past and Fire Bad Aministrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 9:18 am

It's good to know you are proactive in the classroom. But what can your radar do if the district office tells you a family has threatened to sue the district so therefore you must do certain things they tell you that treat the family differently? How are you going to know if the charge is actually false? Of course you wouldn't. You would do what you were told, and immediately it creates a barrier the family will find out the hard way and be upset about (which will only serve to confirm anything the district office says, creating more disconnection).

What would you do if you got to a 504 meeting and the parents, who are already treated as persona non grata for their persistence, aren't even there? Does your radar tell you if the nice district person schemed to do that, or do you just accept the very odd claim that the parents "declined" to be there? Have you or your colleagues ever been told that all correspondence with a parent and special needs child have to go through the district office - and did your radar pick up on how that damages ordinary communication and connection? I doubt it, but if so, what did you do about it? Do you even consider it possible that families can experience retaliation from the district, and have you or any of your colleagues ever gone out of your way to reach out to families to hear what's going on for them (of course, the trick is, how could they even feel they could trust you when they've only been treated in an untrustworthy way here?)

I know places where the teachers would have been the ones to stand up to bad administration on behalf of families and fix things once and for all. Here, the administration knows how to keep that from happening. Don't kid yourself that your radar could even pick up on that.

14 people like this
Posted by Insane
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 6, 2016 at 9:37 am

While this is horrifying, it's not a surprise.

In my 4 year experience in PAUSD (we then opted for private), the vast majority of PAUSD parents were under the impression that somehow things would improve even though the administration and the school board stayed the same. And, in the rare event the District got rid of someone (Skelly), they just replaced him with someone who is exactly the same.

As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

PAUSD (and Palo Alto in general) is filled with this kind of insanity, and lots of bullies.

11 people like this
Posted by When Will PAUSD Learn
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2016 at 10:43 am

I love the above comment…. “Ken Dauber and the new school board should themselves go through the legal tactics used against families, and themselves make public the tactics. They should themselves go to the OCR over it, so that anytime any family is subjected to the tactics, they have recourse.“

How nice it would be to have a board that is not contributing to the problem! The tactics used by the incumbent board members are just as nasty as many administrators. How can we expect Emberling and Caswell to go to the OCR themselves for help when they chose to use $1 million fighting the existing OCR cases instead? No one practices CYA better than they do.

I agree the board could get to the heart of such practices to stop them, but first we need a board with a better moral compass that is willing to do so. I too hope new members are elected that will work for change.

9 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past and Fire Bad Administrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 11:34 am

Unfortunately, it's almost certain at least one or two incumbents will return.

i have never been in an organizational situation like that in my life where it's like there is this whole machine of scheming going on behind the scenes. You can't just deal with people in good faith and solve problems. (Well, I've never dealt with it in normal lofe, except with really unethical law firms for industries like the shady side of insurance.) i think that's why the incumbents are so bad for the district to move forward - they seem to embrace and amplify the whole scheming culture.

14 people like this
Posted by Mom with Bullying Experience in PAUSD
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2016 at 2:53 pm

To those who have elementary school children, this thread is fearmongering from a minority of people in the district. We've been in PAUSD since 2005 and 2/3 of my children experienced bullying. Two of them are adults now, and another is still in PAUSD. However, my children have said that they are so fortunate that students in this district are overall NICE students compared to the other schools in the nation. Paly has lesbian couples, lesbians who attended prom, a drag queen who attended prom and everyone accepts them.

The students who bullied my children had personality issues already; they weren't the run-of-the-mill PAUSD students. One lived in a neighboring city and was already flagged as a bully. Another was from a household that was having family issues (but since grew out of the bullying behavior when the family issues resolved). While the other, was an entitled student with entitled parents who thought their child could do no wrong (but the child was basically a good kid).

The keys to stopping bullying:

1. Nip it at the bud. If bullying occurs 2-3 times, it's time to step in and speak with the teachers first, then administration (unless it is very bad, like physical assault, as one of ours was). Don't allow the bullying to become a habit for the bullies. Don't be complacent and just hope it will end; stand up for your child.

2. Speak respectfully and calmly with administration and faculty. [Portion removed.]

3. Consider your child's behavior. Is he/she provoking others? Some of the students who are bullied do exhibit abnormal behavior. My children were good students/well-liked/well-behaved so I had more ammunition. Some students who are being bullied DO provoke other students, yet the parents don't see this. Sure, no person has the right to be bullied, but WE ARE HUMANS, and according to many religions, ONLY GOD IS PERFECT. I say this, although I have raised my children in a non-sectarian environment. You can wish and stand on your soapbox all you want, but some things like racism, etc. just won't change so you have to work around it.

In the end, a lot of it has to do with the principal of the school. We dealt with Michael Millikan and staff who were tough on bullying. But we also dealt with another who wasn't as tough on bullying. I'm unsure how the new Jordan principal, Katie Kinnaman is on bullying - unsure if her personality is strong enough to be tough on bullying. But the teachers we have dealt with at two schools have all been helpful. Bullying is more of an elementary school and middle school issue.

If this is an issue with special ed students, why don't they have them eat lunch in a certain area and administration supervise them? There is one principal, 3 assistant principals, and 10 other administrators who could do this. The teachers need their lunch break at a specified time.

1 person likes this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Nov 6, 2016 at 3:29 pm

[Post removed.]

14 people like this
Posted by Mom with Bullying Experience in PAUSD
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

4. Put your request in writing via email so there is evidence with time/date stamps.

19 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From MIstakes and Fire Bad Administrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 6:09 pm

@Mom with Bullying,

First, I"m very sorry you had that experience. I'm also very glad that it worked out well -- my observation is that in elementary schools, the schools themselves seem to deal with problems of all kinds better because of the interpersonal connection and because things are handled on site, plus the kids are younger. I have known people who were not able to solve bullying problems at that level and moved schools, but I never heard of anyone who had to leave because the administration dealt so badly with the children and parents at that level. (Not saying it hasn't happened necessarily, just that things seem to be handled generally pretty well here in elementary school.) We share your warm assessment of district families -- I have often found myself defending our school community against attacks by people who clearly don't even live here.

But this discussion is about something that happened to a middle school child, and about circumstances that are quite different than your experience in elementary school. I see that you care, so I hope you appreciate how empathy requires not assuming that your own experience is emblematic of everyone else's and that just because you didn't have a problem, doesn't mean that you have just cause to feel superior to others or that others did things wrong, or that problems people are describing with the distirict office -- that you clearly have no experience to relate to -- are "fearmongering".

No one is "fearmongering" about elementary schools on this thread. No one is even talking about elementary schools. Did you read the story? I'm wondering if you might have just jumped into a thread about bullying and made assumptions. The child here is a middle school student. We, too, had fabulous experience in elementary school here, despite experiencing bullying - including physical attack like choking - which was handled only okay, though never was anything like described here. But it was "normal" bullying and resolved. We felt really lucky to live here -- people should absolutely not be afraid of elementary schools here, they are wonderful.

The problem came in middle school, because the schools formalize the special ed accommodations for more students, and they have this whole world of weirdly pernicious scheming and legalizing that changes everything. It was like stepping into a snake pit. I never would have believed it in elementary school if we had not experienced it in middle.

Count your lucky stars that you didn't have to deal with legalistic letters from the district, or the district suing your family during the special ed process, or sending you on wild goose chases for months while never returning emails or calls or sending you the records you need, or sending your child for expensive testing they won't do and won't reimburse but require before granting accommodations. Be thankul you have never been subected to, as so many special ed parents have described, long letters full of lies that take hours and hours to correct (then the district people complain you write them too much -- this is, by the way, an old insurance lawyer tactic, seems defensible, but it's calculated to induce stress). Count yoursel lucky that you never had to discover over and over again that the district person who has retaliated over and over against your family has once again done something to undermine your child's education or done yet more backbiting with teachers and that you are treated like some kind of untouchable pariah but don't know why (this time). Feel glad that you never had to listen to your child's ragged weeping about how depressed they are because of school, with no one to turn to because the school people have made you and your child feel so unsafe, you are afraid for safety if you document it beyond their usual dismissal. Count yourself lucky that you never had to deal with a situation that went on so long that the "being nice" approach clearly was never going to work, and other parents look at what you had to do to protect your child and judge it as probably because you didn't act calmly and respectfully enough (be glad you never had calculating district people deliberately push your buttons for years and make you feel so unsafe for your child that you know what it's like to lose it -- as you say, parents, too, are only human.) (Just a hint here -- your advice about being nice working is actually evidence that you never had anything really tough to solve with the district office at that level. They absolutely treat you like a chump if you aren't well-connected but you think being nice and following the process is the way to get anything done when they really want to ignore you and don't want to accommodate your child's or special needs. Or worse, that they really don't want to accommodate anyone's special needs in certain areas.)

And guess what? Documentation doesn't work beyond a certain point, unless you want to take it into the big leagues, like federal court, where you can actually get a neutral third party to look at actual evidence. For all that effort and expensve, you're better off leaving, as this family is doing. It's not worth fighting to stay, especially since what you are fighting for is almost certainly going to be undermined by retaliation that can be shockingly cruel and calculating. LIke I said, I would never have believed it based on our early experience here. That's not even fearmongering, because the reality was SO much worse than I could describe on a forum like this. McGee didn't cause any of it, but he also showed and shows no interest in fixing it.

10 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From Mistakes and Fire Bad Administrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 6:21 pm

@Mom with Bullying,
When I describe retaliation, you do understand that I am complaining about the behavior of administrators in the district office, and their failure to follow the laws or ordinary human decency under certain conditions, and not even thinking about elementary school? I"m not even talking about bullies retaliating. The adults can be worse.

14 people like this
Posted by Mom with Bullying Experience in PAUSD
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2016 at 8:01 pm

@Those Who Do Not Learn:

Unfortunately, you did not read my posting thoroughly before writing in haste. The fearmongering statement was in regards to preschool and elementary school parents becoming worried that our district is full of bullies because it clearly isn't. This city has liberal, intellectual people with accepting children. Diversity in all areas is accepted; it's okay to be a nerd, LGBTQ, black, Hispanic, or any other ethnicity. Although my posting isn't completely clear, the last two paragraphs names two Jordan principals and makes a suggestion to the current Jordan administration that they supervise the special ed students at lunchtime so they can't be bullied. Maybe you didn't read it that far because it's clear that we experienced bullying at Jordan. In fact, one was in elementary, and two at Jordan. I think middle school is more of an awkward time and the incidences of bullying is increased in middle school, although my children have rarely witnessed it. At Paly, they didn't see any bullying or excessively rude behavior.

It doesn't appear you read #2 on my list: Speak respectfully and calmly with administration and faculty.

I was in the special ed room for awhile while speaking with someone and I can tell you that it was a difficult place to be. Amongst other activity, there was one boy who was moaning and yelling and sitting under a desk the whole 20 minutes I was there. It seems that the bullying of special ed students is occurring outside of classrooms, so if this is the case, why doesn't the school sequester the special ed students?

We don't know all the details of the Garcia case besides what is reported and as we all know, media reports have to be summarized. We also don't know the exact interactions between the boys. So we cannot be on the jury here.

13 people like this
Posted by Whoa
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2016 at 8:37 pm

"I was in the special ed room for awhile while speaking with someone and I can tell you that it was a difficult place to be. Amongst other activity, there was one boy who was moaning and yelling and sitting under a desk the whole 20 minutes I was there. It seems that the bullying of special ed students is occurring outside of classrooms, so if this is the case, why doesn't the school sequester the special ed students?"

This is so odd it is hard to comment on, especially as the parent of special needs child. You think my child should be "sequestered" for her own protection? As in segregated? Or institutionalized? Keep those "difficult" "moaning and yelling" kids to themselves, so they don't incur the (justifiable?) wrath of the other kids? I'm not sure what you are trying to say, but it seems pretty bigoted.

I've got alternative proposal - if the special ed students are being bullied, how about the school "sequester" the bullies? That seems like a better solution.

13 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Lear From the Past and Fire Bad Administrators
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 8:50 pm

On the contrary, I read your post quite carefully, more than once, and wrote my post thoughtfully over time as I might a letter. I'll say this again as gently as I can: just because you had an experience, doesn't mean it applies in another almost completely different situation. It is you who appear not to have read my post at all, or even gleaned any of the salient points from it or even the above discussion or article. It's puzzling why your post had so little to do with the substance of this article or the discussion above, almost like you posted without reading but saw the word "bullying" and jumped in.

The kids in the "special ed room" you mention are not the totality of special needs kids in the schools. There are a panoply of needs ranging from medical to psychological to learning impairments. I am saying this in a kind tone, as I did my previous post, but there is no getting around the fact that you very clearly know almost nothing about special needs and you reinforced that lack of knowledge in your further posting. You do not understand that the issue of the article was the bullying in the context of historic procedural problems in the district that seem never to have been fixed. You don't have any knowledge of them, it's okay to admit that, and to listen and learn from others who have, and we thank you for being involved.

None of us knows what the child's special needs are in this story. It may not even be obvious to a casual observer. Just so you know, the law requires districts to accommodate students in the least restrictive environment. It would be unwise and illegal to put all special needs kids together at lunch and single them all out, if any problems could be appropriately accommodated or solved through existing well-thought-out procedures. If your child had a learning disability like dyslexia, and was bullied by some older kids who called your child slow, escalating because it wasn't dealt with properly, would you consider the best solution to restrict your child to a public table(s) of special needs kids of all kinds and not get to sit with best friends who weren't special needs? Or not get to play on the playground for the rest of lunch because administrators dealt with bullying by rounding up the victims and making them sit at a table instead of administrators dealing with the bullying? I think that would not only punish the kids, it would open them to further abuse. That's why the law specifies least restrictive environment, unfortunately, (and I'm in no way suggesting you have wanted to do this) singling out kids with disabilities has led to some pretty horrible abuses historically, in general.

In this district, the people who deal with the panoply of special needs have in recent years been seriously problematic. To the point that I have wondered whether we should have an investigation to be sure where our money really is going. This district used to have one of the best reputations for special ed. That changed with personnel changes, and we've had crisis after crisis ever since with many similar disturbing stories from families and next to no mechanisms of performance accountability by administrators. If you watch the video about this bullying case, the editor of the paper points out just how disturbingly similar this case is to the Terman case, procedurally, as if nothing has changed.

I respectfully ask that you actually read my entire two responses above first, they were written in a noncritical tone - just realize, someone pointing out that you are wrong about something is not inherently disrespectful, humoring you or lambasting you would have been. That would have been possibke to do quick and to the point. I do sincerely hope you do care enough to learn about this situation, special ed families have a really tough row to hoe right now.

5 people like this
Posted by Mom with Bullying Experience in PAUSD
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2016 at 9:15 pm


"You think my child should be "sequestered" for her own protection? As in segregated?"

Yes, indeed. They should be sequestered so they aren't bullied! It's ignorant to think that middle school students at public schools ANYWHERE IN THE NATION will not bully special needs students. If you want your special needs child to get the loving care that they deserve, they need to be separated from the other students in middle school. Palo Alto students are nice children, but there are some bad apples since this is a public school system. Sure, you can argue all you want, meanwhile, your child is being bullied. Do what's right for your child, not how you think the world should be; you cannot change people.

8 people like this
Posted by Whoa
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Well, at least you are direct. Segregation of special needs students is against the law. Special needs kids are legally entitled to the least restrictive environment consistent with their disability. The school is responsible for their safety and mental health, and that means preventing and controlling bullying. Not sure where and how your formed your views, but they are out of step with current practices and the law.

5 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 9:40 pm

You are really off topic here. Will you please read the story and comments and make some attempt to post on topic or start a separate thread about your proposal to segregate special needs kids as your solution to bullying and the district somehow failing to follow their own procedures when it happens? I would think it could be very instructive to learn from the broader community. Re: your proposal. Promise me you will read the posts before answering.

6 people like this
Posted by Mom with Bullying Experience in PAUSD
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm

@Whoa: Teachers in the classroom do not allow bullying so it's occurring during lunch time or after school, thus, the school should have an adult stay in an area with them during lunch time. This is not segregation, as the students are free to roam elsewhere. But the parents should know that their child may be bullied if they go elsewhere. It's unreasonable to ask that an adult stay with them wherever they roam. If it were my child, I would prefer that my child be near an adult and not mix with other children, otherwise, I would worry all the time. Jordan has Noon Angels, which are parent volunteers.

9 people like this
Posted by Whoa
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2016 at 10:22 pm

Uh, no actually. If there is bullying happening, that's the school's responsibility to identify, prevent, and if it happens, address. They can't tell special needs kids "stay here where its safe - if you leave this room, you are responsible for your own safety, sorry." Recess isn't the hunger games or lord of the flies.

9 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From The Past
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2016 at 10:37 pm

Have you considered that bullying and special needs outcomes are both heavily researched issues, and that laws are the result of ensuring schools do the right tging by vulnerable children? Did you realize the district has procedures for how it handles bullying, that it spends considerable effort developing? Are you aware that pulling something out of the air just because you think it is a good idea based on almost no familiarity with the issue, might possibly do harm to kids? That's why there is research, it does matter what we do.

Your assumption about bullying not happening in classrooms is also incorrect and uninformed. Some of the bullying even happens by adults in classrooms. Again, reminding you that your experience seems to be unrelated to the article nd topic above. Perhaps you would like to start a new thread.

3 people like this
Posted by Mom with Bullying Experience in PAUSD
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2016 at 11:30 pm

Schools can only do so much about bullying and they do what they can, given the circumstances. We don't know the details of the actual encounter, such as who was saying and doing what, therefore, we cannot judge. For example, someone could go up to another and say, "F--- you, I screwed your wife" and the husband punches the man. But all anyone hears is that this nice man was punched in the face by another man after an encounter. So the husband must be the bad guy and the other guy must be the good guy?

There are unspoken rules in life that require interpretation and it's called street smarts. Laws, ordinances, rules, those are guidelines, but there are ways around them. Just look at Hillary Clinton's history. And for those who work around them, the other people have to find a way to deal with it. There is an idiom, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." This would be my approach when my children are involved. To me, it's more important to protect my children than to win an argument.

5 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2016 at 7:29 am

First, your idea that there are just specific kids in a "special needs room" is grossly uninformed. Those were undoubtedly specific special needs kids with specific needs, a very small fraction of the kids in your school and all schools with special needs. The number of kids who fall in that category are actually a substantial fraction of the kids. They are all around your children in school. You have suggested the answer to bullying (in general) is to segregate special needs kids. Forgetting for a moment that any child can be subjected to bullying, not just special needs kids, you have pointed out that most kids are not bullies. So, given that there are fat, far more children who are special needs than are bullies, wouldn't your proposal make more sense if the bullies were the ones segregated? (Not that that makes much sense either unless the bullies needed serious remedial help.)

Secondly, yes, bullying happens. That is why there are laws and procedures. Because the children in school are of an age where the law requires them to be in school, the school is responsible for ensuring the education and safety of all the kids. In California, the children have a right according to the state Constitution, to an equal education. If you think the district should ignore all the laws and rights, and all the research in the world on bullying and special needs, and segregate a small group of very disabled kids from a room you saw, who are only a small fraction of the kids with special needs and an even smaller fraction of all the kids experiencing bullying, and you want to keep digging in on that idea, it deserves a new thread because it is off-topic here (among other things).

11 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2016 at 7:30 am

The district has procedures for dealing with bullying. It has decided to deal with them a certain way, by dealing with most bullying at the site level and escalating any bullying involving special needs kids and kids of otherwise protected classes to the district level. The trouble with that, from my observation of this district, is that the district people are so dishonest in their dealings with special needs families already, so unable to engage with collaborative good faith, any extra layers gets them into a real tizzy because they have to keep their stories straight. In any given case, they have to remember if and how they screwed some kid out of necessary accommodations, and whether any subsequent action betrays their past scheming. Usually they have no trouble remembering if they carry a grudge against some family who persisted in trying to get them to see sense and follow the law (or follow some kind of ethical compass), but piecing together the details of a particular case to fit whatever they put together when they were denying the kid's aporopriate accommodations or even retaliating in the past gets hard when there are lots of kids. This appears to be is why they don't like providing records, or dealing with a lot of kids, or even just following their own procedures, it's too hard for them to keep their stories straight.

Maybe we don't know all the details, but we do know the mother couldn't get to see the principal, but went to the district office and found the principal there discussing her case with the superintendent, without her, and before she had been given the ability to discuss it with the principal at the site level. Again, this scenario is all too familiar, and not just from the public cases. The district people are so engaged in finding plausible deniability, they aren't following their own procedures to protect children.

The trouble with sending up only cases involving protected classes of children to the district office, is that is causes a cascade of negative behaviors towards kids in those classes, reaching all the way to the classroom at the daily educational level. If a child being bullied has math problems, the teacher may not want to work on them because it would mean communication with the family, which is discouraged from above in general because of the CYA problem. It causes the behavior toward this family at the site level - it's all too eerily familiar - because the district wants to be able to at least protect people's behinds first and foremost, rather than working with this family to solve the problem in good faith. Think about it - if some kid's math problems requires a daily back and forth, and you are in the district office and have required teachers to send and report all interaction with that kid's family to the district office, and that district office person has worked so hard at creating a certain false narrative they want to keep in place, the next step is usually something hostile to prevent communication, not to help the child.

I think this case should be reason to rethink the decision to separate bullying reporting by class. Instead, the schools should deal with all bullying at the site level, with an open door policy for parents to escalate any bullying problem that cannot be resolved at the sites. This provides an incentive to the sites to solve problems and for the district to put in place effective anti-bullying programs. Am ombudsperson who reports directly to the superintendent and board would be a better use of funds than a communications person whose job was justified in part to fill records requests.

26 people like this
Posted by Time's up
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 7, 2016 at 7:34 am

Every single one of the administrators who screwed this up royally got a 9% pay increase courtesy of Max McGee, Melissa Caswell and Heidi Emberling. In fact, on the subject of Heidi, she personally strenuously objected to Ken Dauber's effort to rescind the "me too" raises for principals and admins because in her view Tom Jacobowsky might leave (our "talented principals") without that big raise.

9 people like this
Posted by local Karate instructor Jon Keeling
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2016 at 12:36 pm

I just came back from my biweekly blood donation, where I read the print version of this article. And I felt compelled to write here, as I think discussion about bullying is important. Turning a blind eye is not acceptable.

One of my volunteer jobs is "Crisis Counselor" for Crisis Text Line, where people text in about their problems ranging from homework stress to marital problems to plans for suicide. I have had MANY discussions about bullying where the texters said they were seriously thinking about killing themselves. Do the bullies realize the extent to which their actions may be impacting their victims? And do the parents of the bullies have any idea what is going on? Many bullying victims keep quiet for fear of getting in trouble with the school and/or their parents and/or may make the bullying worse. But as a former bullying victim myself, I feel that discussion is the key to improving this situation.

As I have done with another former Jordan bullying victim in the past, I would like to offer free Karate classes to the one mentioned in this article, as well as anyone else being bullied.

I have been offering for the past several years to lead self-defense/safety-awareness workshops in our schools for all PAUSD students and staff, which include discussions on bullying...for NO CHARGE. But the school administration has been reluctant to support my efforts. :-(

Bullying is a serious issue. It can lead to serious depression and sometimes involve physical abuse. But it does not always have a simple solution. Let's talk about it. Please consider talking with your school-aged kids about bullying. And talk with your child's teachers to get their perspective. I have found that many of our school's teachers want to help our kids outside of just classwork.

A couple years ago, I was volunteering at a school in Moutain View (I am also a volunteer mentor in Los Altos - I get around ;-) ), where I was reading a book about Karate and bullies to a class of 2nd graders. After I finished, I asked if there were any questions. One girl raised her hand and said "I know a bully in this school." Another said "me, too!" a second later. Then half the kids started talking and said they knew students who were bullying and/or being bullied. The teacher told me as I left that she had no idea there was so much bullying and she would talk more with the kids about it. I think these discussions are very important to have with our children, both in the classroom and at home. As someone who has been a teacher for well over 30 years, a parent and a Responsible Parenting advocate (I started the Facebook group by that name), I am passionate about parents and teachers working together to help our kids succeed - and not just with their test scores.
[Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by rex kwon do
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Oh, Please
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 7, 2016 at 4:21 pm

This thread is full of the same people repeating themselves. There is very little bullying in our schools. This case is very sad, for sure, but isn't indicative of the whole environment. I know plenty of children who would get bullied at any other non-diverse school in America but our schools are a safe haven for them. More worrisome is getting through the academics in one piece.

13 people like this
Posted by saw it up close
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Nov 7, 2016 at 6:08 pm

The incredible lack of professionalism that seems to grip the Asst. Superintendent and his casualness about serious issues are two fundamental reasons why he is totally unfit for the job. Dr. McGee works hard, albeit not always successfully. His asst., Mr. Autrey, just want to high five people and probably has never read an educational journal in his life. Being a district asst. superintendent is much different than being a principal. He's a professional failure at this job through and through.

4 people like this
Posted by PAmom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2016 at 10:22 pm

Oh Please,

Your comment shows a lack of empathy and compassion and minimizes the issue of bullying. It is far more common than you claim: Web Link. I also agree more with "those who do not learn from the past" for the same reasons, and minimizing the problem is not helpful.

I am disturbed by the mention of "tactics" that the district uses to discourage families from helping their kids with bullying or special Ed needs. I experienced them first hand in both those situations, and it sounds like many others have also. Is there someone reading this who can tell us more about them in detail?

3 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2016 at 12:12 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

PAmom - this is what the article you linked to says:

"In terms of the prevalence of bullying in Palo Alto, I would say that it is probably comparable, if not a bit lower, than bullying within other communities," Parents Place psychologist and bullying prevention program director Holly Pedersen wrote in an e-mail to the Weekly.

5 people like this
Posted by Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2016 at 1:14 am

I don't really understand what the prevalence of bullying has to do with this discussion. Since Palo Alto even more rarely has murders, does this mean the police should feel it's not their job to follow professional procedures for investigating murders and catching the guilty?

The situation the district has created, in which employees are put in the position both of having to act like prosecutors and go after special needs families, while also being the ones supposedly responsible for advocating, creates an irreconcilable conflict. It's like being asked to be prosecutor and defense attorney at the same time. It doesn't help that there isn't a real upstander type in the bunch.

9 people like this
Posted by McGee's follies
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm

At some point the top guy has to be accountable for screwups like this. After the election the school board should take a hard look at McGee's management. I don't care how much Max Mail I get from him if he can't make sure that school employees including principals follow the law.

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

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Peek inside the fine-dining Selby's, opening in Redwood City this summer
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 3,078 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 44 comments | 2,177 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 974 views

Premarital and Couples: "You're Not Listening to Me!" may mean "I don't feel heard."
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 737 views

Migraines and motherhood
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 473 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.