News


CDC releases final youth suicide report

Analysis of trends, risk factors, media coverage covered in exhaustive report

Editor's note: Resources for any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal are listed at the bottom of this article.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Friday a much-anticipated final report on its investigation into youth suicide in Santa Clara County, offering an exhaustive, epidemiological look at what experts and others have called a critical public health issue.

Although the Santa Clara County Public Health Department formally filed a request for the CDC to conduct the study on behalf of the Palo Alto school district, the investigation examined trends, risk factors and other data on youth ages 10 to 24 years old throughout Santa Clara County from 2003 to 2015.

The goal of its investigation and the accompanying 200-plus page report, the CDC wrote, is "to provide specific, and actionable, public health recommendations that can be used by community stakeholders to mitigate the public health problem."

Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody, also a Palo Alto parent, wrote in a message Friday that the report offers a "starting point, a foundation upon which we can build our understanding of how to best prevent suicide.

"Suicides are complex and there is never just one reason why someone dies by suicide," she wrote. "One of the first steps in reducing the stigma around depression and other mental health issues, including what may lead to a suicide, is to know the facts."

In a message sent to the Palo Alto school district community Friday morning, Superintendent Max McGee reiterated the district's ongoing efforts to prevent and better understand youth suicide.

The CDC's report "affirms our school district's current efforts, validates available data, and offers important recommendations to help us persist as a community to address suicide and youth well-being," McGee wrote.

The report includes pages of analysis of suicide rates, emergency department visits, perceptions about suicide from surveys, a catalogue of existing suicide-prevention programs and an analysis of the impact of media coverage on youth suicide, among other topics.

The nature of the type of investigation the CDC conducted, called an epidemiologic assistance study, or "Epi-Aid," is quick and short-term. They are not "research studies," the CDC noted, and mostly rely on existing rather than newly collected data. Here, the CDC primarily examined existing data, but also visited Palo Alto last February to meet with mental health experts, organizations and community leaders. Palo Alto youth-wellbeing collaborative Project Safety Net also conducted its own survey on perceptions about youth suicide and mental health, and provided the results to the CDC. The collaborative has said it plans to release those results publicly.

Factors involved in youth suicide

Key findings of the report include that for nearly all of the youth who died by suicide, there were known circumstances that precipitated their death, including a recent crisis, current mental health problem, history of treatment for mental illness or history of suicidal thoughts or ideation. This finding, though unsurprising, highlights "the importance of and potential for intervention," Cody wrote.

Among those who had "current" mental health problems, the most common diagnosis was depression, the CDC found, followed by anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and self-injury.

Several young people from Palo Alto who died by suicide had "severe" mental health problems, including schizophrenia, psychosis and chronic and severe depression. Among those who died by suicide and had made prior attempts, several had been admitted multiple times to a hospital for suicidal behavior, the report states, or had "attempted suicide multiple times."

In Palo Alto, 25 percent or more of young people who died by suicide also saw similar precipitating circumstances, the CDC found. Those include relationship problems with an intimate partner, school-related behavioral issues and release from a hospital or rehabilitation facility.

The study also considered whether the Palo Alto youths who died of suicide had known one another. It found that even though two youths were identified as having been aware of other youth suicides, there was "no indication that other suicide deaths played a contributory role."

The two individuals, the study noted, "had other precipitating circumstances indicated in their medical examiner reports, including past suicide attempt/suicide ideation, depressed mood and social isolation."

Across all cases, there were common warning signs, including withdrawing from friends, family and previously enjoyed activities; increased substance use; "agitation and reckless behavior;" sleeping too much or too little, extreme mood swings and "putting affairs in order."

The CDC found that Palo Alto saw the highest youth suicide rate in the county -- 14.1 per 100,000 residents -- between 2003 and 2015, the time period covered by the report. It was followed by Morgan Hill, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose. Santa Clara County's overall youth suicide rate of 5.1 per 100,000 was similar to the state's, the CDC found.

However, the rates of suicide among youth in the county and state are lower than the national rate among youth.

Youth suicide has increased in Santa Clara County since 2003, mirroring trends in California and the United States as a whole, Cody noted in her message. The CDC also found that deaths by suicides are more common among men and 20 to 24 year olds. Young men were also significantly less likely than young women to have received treatment or to have a current mental health problem at the time of their death, according to the report.

Programs, recommendations on preventing suicide

The CDC also reviewed programs, activities, protocols and other efforts focused explicitly on suicide prevention, several of which were identified as being evidence-based. The majority of programs the CDC reviewed -- 65 percent -- came from the Palo Alto school district.

However, it is "unclear," the CDC wrote, "if programs and policies currently being used are effective in achieving the community's goals."

The study surveyed 51 different programs aimed at preventing suicide and found that in most cases, it's nearly impossible to gauge effectiveness. Less than one third of programs and activities were evaluated for process or outcome measures, the study noted.

"Current evaluation of efforts were limited, focusing primarily on the total number of people reached or general, often anecdotal, assessments of program acceptability," the study states. "Therefore it is not possible to determine whether 99 programs and activities being used in Santa Clara County are effective or whether they are reaching adolescents and young adults at risk for suicide."

The new study also found that when it comes to youths visiting an Emergency Department due to either a suicide attempt or suicidal ideation (having thoughts of suicide) Palo Alto patients tend to be younger than those across the county. In Palo Alto, there was a higher proportion of patients from the 15-to-19 age group than in the rest of the county (52 percent versus 48 percent, respectively) and a lower proportion from the 20-to-24 age group (27 percent versus 32 percent).

Furthermore, Palo Alto youth were more likely than those elsewhere in the county to visit an emergency room because of suicidal ideation (71 percent versus 60 percent) and less likely to to do so because of a suicide attempt or a self-injury, the study found (34 percent in Palo Alto, compared to 50 percent in the rest of the county).

In addition to surveying recent trends, the report offers a series of recommendations for preventing youth suicides -- recommendations that affirm existing programs and suggest where new ones should be pursued.

Given the connection between mental health problems and youth suicide, the CDC stressed the need for ensuring that young people have access to quality mental health services. Such care, the report states, should "incorporate evidence-based treatment modalities as part of a comprehensive and coordinated prevention approach."

In addition, the study encourages primary care physicians in Santa Clara County to get educated about ways to recognize and effectively treat depression and suicidal behavior among youth. And because several youths who died of suicide in Santa Clara County had severe mental health problems such as "schizophrenia and hallucination," the report recommends that county stakeholders consider "engaging in focused suicide prevention efforts for this high-risk population."

"Prevention efforts would include interventions, such as the combined use of psychopharmacology and psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, and early detection and identification of youth with symptoms of schizophrenia and other severe mental illness," the report reads.

Given previous suicide attempt has been identified as one of the strongest predictors of suicide, the county should also focus on support for and follow-up with young people after they are hospitalized or treated for suicidal behavior, the CDC wrote. Ensuring young people leaving hospitals see a "continuity of care" -- a planned transition back into school, treatment options and follow-up services -- is critical, the report states.

Given the scarcity of inpatient psychiatric services for adolescents in Santa Clara County -- only one hospital in San Jose that opened last summer currently offers beds for young people in crisis -- this continuity is at risk, the CDC wrote, encouraging the county to "consider how to work with current mental health service providers and hospitals in nearby counties to overcome the current gap in access to inpatient pediatric psychiatric beds within the county."

The report also encourages strategies to strengthen parent-youth relationships and notes that child abuse and neglect had been identified by the Developmental Assets Survey in Palo Alto as "significant risk factors" for suicide attempt. Fortunately, the report states, "child abuse and neglect is preventable and preventing child abuse and neglect can lower the incidence of multiple health problems and risk behaviors during adolescence and young adulthood."

A strong connection to school is another broadly known protective factor for young people. The CDC encourages schools in the county to consider programs that "focus on building youth connection to schools as part of a comprehensive and coordinated prevention approach." These should also include "social-emotional learning programs" that improve "emotional regulation, problem solving, help seeking, coping skills, and conflict resolution, and can be implementation to entire student groups."

"In general, increasing knowledge only is unlikely to result in behavior change," the report states. "Suicidal youth have, in other communities, been identified as having challenges with problem-solving, coping, and cognitive skills."

The CDC recommends a strategic, data-driven approach to suicide prevention, writing: "use of multiple programs and strategies as part of a comprehensive and coordinated prevention approach may be more effective than using single, unconnected, programs."

In her message, Cody reiterated that the report is a baseline that must inform deeper analysis — and action.

"Some, but certainly not all, of our questions about youth suicide and suicidal behaviors have been addressed by this report. Undoubtedly, we will need to continue to work with community partners, mental health professionals and researchers to support further analyses or collect new data to explore areas not addressed," she wrote. "Regardless, we all must continue the work to find solutions and prevent suicide in our community, among our youth and at every stage of life."

A hot-button topic — the role that media coverage can play in suicide prevention, both positive and negative — is explored in the report. Overall, media organizations "deviate(d)" from established guidelines for reporting on suicide, the CDC found in a review of 438 local and regional stories. While over time there was "sustained improvement" in following some guidelines, by 2015, only 40 percent of articles the CDC examined included at least one suicide prevention hotline number, according to the CDC.

The most common departure from the guidelines across all years examined, according to the CDC, was a description of method of suicide used.

The CDC suggests that "continued partnership with media and news outlets, and engagement that is not reactionary or in response to any individual death or individual media article, may be needed to avoid re-emergence of poor reporting practices."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner contributed to this story.

Related content:

• Read the full CDC report here.

Experts, advocates react to CDC report

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Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.

People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

Links below provide more resources where one can receive help:

Resources: How to help those in crisis

Guest opinion: How to help those in crisis

Q&A about mental health: Local experts offer their advice, guidance

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

Comments

26 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 3, 2017 at 2:00 pm

For their hard work related to this report, I’m grateful to Sara Cody, head of the county health office; Mary Gloner, head of Project Safety Net; and the Palo Alto Weekly.

For the thousands of people—students, parents, therapists, teachers, LMFT’s, police officers, school counselors and psychologists, train engineers, surviving family members—who have grieved over the loss or our eleven adolescents, I’m sorry that the CDC’s report is so superficially sourced and so blind to some essential, inescapable facts of teenage life.

The CDC’s five-person team that visited Palo Alto for two weeks in February 2016 had no in-depth conversations in any meaningful number with the families and friends of our departed youngsters, with our 3,800 high-schoolers, with their 200 teachers, with our dozen high-school counselors, or with our 20,000 district parents.

And the CDC’s report is virtually silent on the role that our kids’ daily experience of high-school might be playing in the creation of the anxiety, depression, and mental-health issues that the CDC cites as concerns.

It’s as if our high schools, in the way they are operated daily, make little systemic contribution to kids’ feelings.

I struggle to make sense of this omission. Were the CDC to have investigated mortality rates in a different kind of large institution, such as a hospital, say, as a matter of common sense they would have enriched their statistics with such things as nurse-patient ratios, rates of infection control, response-times to stat orders, lab-response, stocking of the hospital pharmacy, and so forth.

They would have a professional view of what makes hospitals healthy.

They have no such view regarding high schools--even though high school is a four year developmental crucible that affects graduates through decades of class reunions, even though our teenagers spend most of their waking hours at school or doing schoolwork, and even though our kids spend more daily time with their teachers and coaches and counselors than with their parents.

And yet the CDC offers no view on the impact of easily measurable school conditions: class-sizes; rates of academic fraud (though these are high in affluent high schools nationwide); nightly minutes of homework; rates of student participation in multiple APs; frequency of grade-reporting; frequency of social-media use during class-time.

This omission comes despite the fact that all of these things may be, as the CDC terms them, “precipitating factors” when it come to teen anxiety, depression, and mental distress.

The CDC mentions teacher caring as a protective factors, but joins this to no observation on whether a teacher has been assigned the care of 18 students in a classroom or 36, or 75 students overall or 125. The CDC notes social isolation as a risk factor, yet joins that to no observation on the facelessness of classes with routinely more than 30 kids nor to our kids being so wrapped up in social media during class-time that the Gunn social studies department, for example, this year has initiated its own check-your-phone-at-the-door policy to accomplish what the school policy is failing at.

The CDC stresses the potential harm of “sleep-related difficulties” yet makes no comment on our kids' sleep-deprivation due to homework loads in which they have no effective nightly voice, or due to enrollment in three, four, five, six AP classes despite our high schools’ recommendation that kids take no more than two.

The CDC would have us build “connection” at school but has nothing to say about the effects of widespread cheating on students’ trust of each other and of their teachers, or of a student reading a disturbing text message minutes before the bell rings for class.

The CDC speaks of the general category of “mental health” but ventures no professional observation on whether mental health is a product not only of the individual's mind but of the individual’s environment--particularly if it is a stressful, inescapable environment that surrounds children for four key transitional years.

Just as any human being will tend to fare better living on a tropical island than residing in a war zone, so a young person will fare better going to a healthy school than to an unhealthy one.

To address the stressful, discouraging daily conditions in our high schools--to treat not just the symptoms, though wellness teams and wellness centers and social-emotional lesson plans, but to address root causes--the local alliance for school change, Save the 2,008 invites all Palo Altans, educators, and healthcare professionals to join a coalition now embraced by more than 500 students and teachers, PAMF physicians and Stanford professors, engineers and realtors, faith leaders and entrepreneurs.

We’re at savethe2008.com.

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Chairman, Save the 2,008


12 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 3, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Thank you Elena and paloaltoonline for this informative summary. March is well-known in the youth mental health community to be a time of increased need for kids who may have mental health issues or who may be suffering temporarily from depression due to school or social issues. If you are questioning whether your child who is 14 or older is safe, I would urge you to contact San Jose Behavioral Health Web Link They are the only in-county provider of youth inpatient services and they will send a counselor to your home free of charge to discuss inpatient care with your family. Unfortunately, all children under the age of 14 are still sent out-of-county (sometimes as far as Sacramento) for inpatient care. SJBH is developing a partial hospitalization program (the next step down from hospitalization) for 14-17 yr olds but, right now, that level of care does not exist in our county as well.
Many organizations are developing outpatient programs but I believe this report emphasizes the critical need for hospitalization and partial hospitalization. Our county officials and our hospital providers need to step up without delay and help make sure that our critically ill children can find the treatment they need.


3 people like this
Posted by censorship
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2017 at 4:33 pm

@by Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly

Why is the comments section closed on your Daycare article?



Moderator's Comment: We are having a technical problem with comments not being allowed on the day care article; it's not intentional. We apologize for not being able to post on it.


25 people like this
Posted by Abused as a Child
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2017 at 4:55 pm

I am curious to know what the definition of child abuse is these days. It seems to be a much wider one than when I was taken from my parents in the early 70s!

There are also a lot of parents these days who practice physical and emotional abuse, using threats and the following through. Most of these parents are quite wealthy, even when from other nations!


6 people like this
Posted by Cindy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2017 at 6:47 pm

I am glad to see the mention of bullying, and reference to Uplift (formerly EMQ) which is an excellent resource, however I am disappointed there is no mention of NAMI and the programs they provide to the community and schools, including Peer to Peer (targeted at 9th,10th graders), Teachers and Parents as Allies, and Family Basics (all free services!), especially since in the overwhelming majority of suicides there were mental health issues.


48 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum '84
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 4, 2017 at 1:03 am

Agree with Marc Vincenti.

The article mentions that the students had mental illness. Perhaps they did, which led them to commit suicide. But what about the students who don't have mental illness but are suffering just as much? Just because they don't kill themselves, we shouldn't help them? There are plenty of students in our schools who are suffering! That's why so many of them party so hard!

I have had two children graduate from Paly recently and the problem is the sleep deprivation and the teachers. They think our children can handle a lot more work than others in the nation so they pile on the homework and don't teach. My apologies to those teachers who are reasonable. We had an AP science teacher who would not stay after school to help because he wanted to beat rush hour traffic; he told my child to study with a buddy. We have had teachers who throw problems on tests when they have not taught it in class, or the review sheets are incorrect. Or regular lane teachers who treat them as accelerated lanes. And some teachers don't even allow a hiccup (usually math) or down falls the grade. You know what happens when teachers expect too much? CHEATING because the grading is so harsh.

Solutions for less depression and stress in our schools? Shift the start time of school to later. M-A starts at 9:00 or 9:30 for 6 periods. Those who want to take 7 periods can start earlier.

Rules for teachers: Allow students to drop a test grade, drop a homework grade, allow late work with no penalty (homework passes). Require teachers to stay 30 minutes after school each day to help students and check their emails from students.

As it its now, the only way to survive some classes is to pay for tutors, and many do not have the extra cash to do so.

Back in the day, B's were easy; today, depending on the teacher, Bs take a substantial amount of work. In AP classes, Bs are a challenge to earn. My children are at reputable colleges and they say the professors are more structured and precise. Plus, their AP classes at Paly were more difficult than their college classes. They are finally getting the sleep they need in college because they don't need to take 6 classes.


12 people like this
Posted by Mind Body = Connected
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2017 at 6:23 am

I am encouraged that the community has such a depth of information now, and suggestions about how to move forward.

I am discouraged to see that in 2017, there is still such a strong bias toward completely separating the mind and the body, despite all the evidence of connection, and straightforward, evidence-based reasons to consider what can be done to reduce mental health risks on the physical-health front as well. The profile of the investigators' backgrounds was biased to the extreme in the mind direction, with nothing at all on the body-health side, as is typical in anything related to mental illness in our society.

The preliminary report included illness-related absenteeism as a significant risk factor for suicidal thinking and mental distress, for example, and was one of the only ways PAUSD seemed proportionately worse, and yet the final report simply dropped the issue without analysis or explanation. Were the data wrong in the initial report? Or, Were the psychology-heavy investigators simply uncomfortable outside their wheelhouse and afraid to bring in cross-disciplinary expertise? PAUSD has always had a really odd and disturbing tendency to separate mind from body and to neglect the important evidence-based steps they could take to improve the latter for the sake of their students and in this crisis. It's disappointing to see the physical health aspect of the mind-body connection completely ignored. The brain is a part of a physical system and physical health is related to mental health. That should have been taken into account in an evidence-based investigation, but it's probably never going to be when the investigators still, in 2017, seem to think they can separate the mind from the body entirely. It's tragic when physical factors tend to be easier to address.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2017 at 8:29 am

Of course there is some type of mental illness/suicide link.

My question has been whether the mental illness (or state of mind) the cause or a symptom.

I have seen very normal, happy teens during the summer become stressed, tense, sleep deprived, heavy hearted and miserable during the school months. As soon as the summer returns, their mood changes dramatically. These young people are still children and not yet adults. Their bodies and their brains are still developing. Because of things like grading on the curve and the frenzy for college applications, they are not looking on school as a source of gaining an education but a race to gain admission to college. These symptoms can cause mental illness rather than be as a result of mental illness.

It is no surprise to me that some choose to opt out on life as a solution to not wanting to compete anymore.

So sad. So very sad.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 4, 2017 at 9:04 am

"The CDC also reviewed programs, activities, protocols and other efforts focused explicitly on suicide prevention, several of which were identified as being evidence-based. The majority of programs the CDC reviewed -- 65 percent -- came from the Palo Alto school district.

However, it is "unclear," the CDC wrote, "if programs and policies currently being used are effective in achieving the community's goals." "

(from original article)

Question: Why are we throwing money at the problem? These mental health issues run deep, and our schools should not be expected to solve them. Our schools are already overburdened.


5 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 4, 2017 at 11:32 am

Resident- To elaborate a little on your comments. There is a difference between major depressive disorder (a chronic mental health disease) and an episode of "reactive depression". Both, however, can cause death by suicide. There is often a family history for major depressive disorder. It "runs" in both sides of my family. My son was diagnosed with the disorder when he was just eight years old. It's just like any other chronic disease (like asthma) in that, even with ongoing treatment, the person will have periods of increased symptoms (called depressive episodes). Sometimes the episode is severe enough (just like a severe asthma attack) that the person requires treatment in a hospital. "Reactive depression" is a period of depressive symptoms brought on by something like a breakup, death of a loved one, severe school stress, etc. When coupled with the impulsivity of youth, reactive depression can lead to suicide. A good therapist or therapeutic program can be very helpful in helping a youth who is experiencing "reactive depression". I would highly recommend BACA Web Link and ASPIRE at Web Link for families whose children are dealing with reactive depression. If you are unclear as to which type of depression your child may be experiencing, please get your child evaluated by a mental health professional. (In addition to BACA and ASPIRE, CHC www.chconline.org offers free consultations.)


18 people like this
Posted by Gloria Symon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm

It is disappointing that the day to day high school experience was overlooked in the report. It is also disappointing that
the proposals of Save the 2,008 , which address the day to day experience of our high schools, has been overlooked by the PAUDS administration. It's been 2 years since Save the 2,008 was first proposed. It deserves serious consideration. There is definitely room for improvement in the daily lives of our high schoolers, and the need is urgent.

Readers can learn more at savethe2008.com


Like this comment
Posted by Harold A. Maio
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2017 at 2:47 pm

----One of the first steps in reducing the stigma around depression and other mental health issues...

I do not recall the Women's Movement asking us to "reduce" the stigma of rape. They told us point blank to stop asserting it, we had done enough harm.

If, by stopping accommodating anyone asserting that prejudice you could save even one life, would you do so?

It is more than possible you could.


15 people like this
Posted by CDC advice
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 4, 2017 at 9:44 pm

The CDC recommends "Connection to school and school-based programs" as preventive. Also "Caring relationship with teacher/adult in school".

So when can we expect the schools to start removing teachers who bully and intimidate students?

The damage done by the bottom 5% of teachers is atrocious. Time for them to go.

Maybe someone from the union can clarify a defense for why this behavior has to be tolerated when it is clearly harming our children?


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 5, 2017 at 4:49 am

Some students' bottom 5% of teachers are other students' top 5%.


7 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 10:12 am

There need to be better resources provided to parents if their child is identified as an "at risk" student.

We went down the rabbit hole and took a trip that was very harsh on our child and family. Our child was sent far out of the county for hospitalization to the equivalent of a jail. Given drugs that only lead to problems and proved to be the opposite of what was ultimately needed. It took months to "undo" a bad entry into the mental health system.

I do feel that school environment contributed to our child's issue of trying to be "perfect" and feeling like a failure. This happened in retrospect over a long time dating back as far to elementary school. Teachers kept saying "your child is great but you know this is Palo Alto..." We had a bright, smiling child. No signs of crisis until school friends disclosed the underlying feelings of helplessness that our child was experiencing.

I do thank PAUSD counseling for bringing this issue to our attention but were given no resources and took a ride with our mental health system that was frightening. We did get great help, therapy, counseling over the years but more resources need to go to families that are starting down this path.

We could not have fixed the root cause on our own. Our child needed professional help. I just wish that we had gotten better information to help make better choices.


5 people like this
Posted by @PAUSD Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2017 at 12:13 pm

"This happened in retrospect over a long time dating back as far to elementary school." This is an interesting statement, because the general view in Palo Alto is that the elementary schools are wonderful beyond questioning. When most parents critique PAUSD, it's from middle school onward, and parents who note problems in the younger grades tend to be discredited, disbelieved and just "dissed." If you don't mind sharing, what contributing factor(s) do you now recognize from the elementary years?




11 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm

@Marc Vincenti

What I have observed more are that homework load today does not change much vs 20 years ago, but social network and gaming load are increasing substantially. I have heard more parents saying their children started to do homework from mid-night or 1am and go to bed at 2-3am. We happened to know few parents lost their loved ones, but non-due to the school work load, so please respect professional assessments and findings. You are not solving a real problem by keep insisting wrong causes.


16 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 5, 2017 at 10:11 pm

@Gunn Parent: You are wrong about the homework load and have no experience here. Not only is there more homework, but it's much more demanding homework than decades ago. I see the assignments and it was much, much easier back then, yet we still learned a lot because we weren't so overwhelmed and stressed out. How can you possibly say that the homework load is the same? Did you graduate from PAUSD? I don't think so, as the PAUSD English department was amazing back then and all graduates back then are excellent writers without grammatical errors. Of course, it was mostly Caucasians, but the handful of Chinese and Japanese per grade level were completely assimilated, so it was different than now.

Sure, there is the social media/gaming distraction, but clearly, the homework and tests are more difficult now. We did not need tutors back then; no one had tutors because we didn't need them, even in AP classes. Now, there are regular lane classes which are so difficult (math/science) that tutors are needed. The teachers decades ago would offer help at lunchtime or after school. The English teachers lectured on how to write and corrected our many papers with a red pen. English in PAUSD now relies on analysis so they don't need to take the time to correct papers and teach how to write properly; they either have students correcting the papers (which leads to confusion because the teacher has a different opinion) or the students hand their paper to the student next to them to correct (peer corrections) as if a student their same age is as knowledgeable as an adult with a graduate degree in English.

College admissions is much more rigorous now too, with students needing 4.0 GPAs and super high SAT scores, versus a 3.5 GPA to attend UC Berkeley decades ago. UCSB used to be a joke, party college for those with lower GPAs but now the average GPA of their freshmen is 4.02.

There are plenty of students who are working all night on homework, NOT starting at Midnight, as your friends have mentioned. So quit spreading misinformation.


21 people like this
Posted by SOS
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2017 at 8:33 am

Those who have not experienced Gunn or Paly or are disconnected from their children's lives have no idea. I know people assume that it's the parents pushing their children. But unless you follow your child's assignments and tests, you really have no evidence to judge. There was one year when I thought my child was going to run to the tracks because of sleep deprivation and an overload of homework (no extracurriculars). And I am not a parent seeking Ivy or elite colleges for my child (Bs are okay). My child was in all regular lanes but had some rigorous teachers who demanded hours of work for their classes, obviously ignoring that there are 5 other teachers assigning work. So I hired tutors and I wrote English papers, history papers, you-name-it to help out my child because I wasn't going to let my child be a statistic. That's the truth of being in PAUSD. Those students who have parents who expect their children to do it all on their own are at a disadvantage. As a parent, your job isn't done when they can wipe their own butts; they still need your emotional support. This is not a rural midwest school district where they don't expect much. We have had some excellent teachers for sure. But tenure only takes 3 years, and there are many bad ones who can make your student's life pure Hell. If they fire all the teachers and rehire without the union so teachers are accountable, perhaps change will occur. Not every year is going to be Hell, but if you get just a few a--holes, look out. Just check ratemyteachers.com for the real scoop and pray to God that your child is okay.

Put simply, if every student were guaranteed an A grade if they had only 1-2 hours of homework (total per day, as per the rules) would any student be stressed? NO! Our students are at a disadvantage in college applications because high grades are so difficult to attain, especially in AP classes. What is wrong with distributing more As if it's earned? Why do teachers have to make it more difficult so there are less As distributed? When students are hardworking, they should get at least Bs but there are teachers who have no problem giving Cs and Ds!

So glad to be out of PAUSD. Good luck, everyone.


10 people like this
Posted by Done
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2017 at 9:43 am

@SOS

Maybe your kid is just not an A student. Not every kid is, not matter how hard they work.I have tutored math on and off all over the Bay Area for over 20 years. What amazed me when I first came here was parents who were trying to make their kids A students when they just didn't have the aptitude of an A Student in math. Just maintaining a B was enough work for them. They just didn't 'get'/understand the math in a deeper and meaningful way no matter how many times or in how many different ways it was explained to them. Getting an A in math in the PAUSD is honestly meaningless.

As for doing your kids homework, it is something I totally disagree with, not matter how much homework there is. I always found a way to work with the teachers on this and make sure my kid was doing it not me. That is were the work and effort came in, not in doing the homework for my kid but advocating for him in the schools with the teachers. As a single parent working fulltime. Surprisingly most teachers were very accommodating at Gunn High School despite being under a great deal of pressure from parents.

Nobody comes to the Bay Area for a Midwest lifestyle. In this area you cannot just expect to leave your kid to do it on their own. Palo Alto is full of overly involved highly educated parents.


6 people like this
Posted by @Done
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2017 at 12:53 pm

You seem to be saying two things somewhat at odds with one another. On the one hand, you criticize SOS for being really honest about doing his/her kid's homework. On the other hand, you write, "In this area you cannot just expect to leave your kid to do it on their own." In some ways it seems that, because the homework load is so crazy, parents like SOS become desperate to help their kids and end up doing (some of) the work for them. I don't think SOS is proud of this behavior so much as willing to be brutally honest about how desperate the situation becomes not only for students but for parents. Other kids are getting help from tutors, and who knows how much work certain tutors are doing for certain kids. Perhaps this is why Marc Vincenti has been noting the level of fraudulence in this district, which is set in motion by the heavy workloads that still need to be reduced so students and parents don't reach levels of desperation.


14 people like this
Posted by Well...?
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2017 at 2:25 pm

I see that nobody has answered the question about child abuse, and what constitutes the legal definition.

I suspect that what many parents do to their children in middle and high schools to " motivate them" to perform better most likely falls into that category! Particularly Palo Alto parents in particular and Silicon Valley parents in general.

I believe it now includes not just physical violent, but verbal threats of violence, of being disowned, kicked out on the street, pets taken to the pound, cruel statements concerning the child's intelligence, future , etc.

Can anyone elaborate? This is behind some suicides, and probably many attempted ones!


6 people like this
Posted by Abuse
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm

Available online is the CA Penal Code sections 11165.1 through 11165.6 for definitions of child abuse. Example from ARTICLE 2.5. Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act:

Web Link.

And yes, threats of physical or mental harm causing trauma to a child is illegal.

Also the list of mandated reporters is very long. It includes volunteers that interact with children, teachers, physicians and many more. Have any mandated reporters witnessed abuse or threats of and not reported it? Also illegal.


3 people like this
Posted by SOS
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2017 at 4:34 pm

@Done: I did state that Bs are okay. I understand the belief that not all students have the ability to attend the top schools and I accept that. I, too, have witnessed parents gunning for the top schools when their children just don't have the aptitude or attitude; they eventually realize it and dial back. My child's standardized test scores reveal that there is aptitude. You should count yourself fortunate that you didn't reach the desperate stage that I reached where it was either doing the homework or letting the a--hole teachers ruin the GPA with C grades when the same classes next door are cruising because the teachers don't overwork their students. It's the luck of the draw with teachers and luck has been with you. Go ahead and keep the halo over your head, but you weren't in my shoes; there was no negotiating possible with these specific teachers. And as @Done states, this was one year with bad teachers; the other years she didn't need help.

"Getting an A in math is honesty meaningless"? To whom? How about the math, CS, or engineering majors?


8 people like this
Posted by Options exist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Our experience with PAUSD is that the system is rigid, and picks winners and losers, and a lot of ultra-smart even gifted kids fall into the loser category just because of circumstances.

Ours struggled in PAUSD because of almost neglectful math education, no support for creativity or giftedness. But the structure was challenging so the grades were middling and opportunity poor. Same child tried to solve that by asking for independent study but was denied. So we left, and now same child will be studying differential equations in 11th grade with a group of gifted learners, and has AP classes already. Similar story with other subjects. More classes at higher level, with less stress.

I've been there in the system where the school people look down at you as if you are just trying to make excuses for your special snowflake. If it's not working, you do not have to put up with it. There are ways to homeschool, do community college (without middle college if it's not for you), etc. It really probably is not your child. We were shocked to find all the negative attitudes ours had toward learning, making mistakes, and admitting not knowing, from PAUSD. We are so glad we found out before end of high school! School people start pushing you to back off when the kids are pretty young, supposedly for their independence. What we discovered is that it's really a power issue and the kids don't end up independent so much as dependent even more on people who don't care about them as much. No wonder connection to school ends up important, otherwise there is nothing. Again, so glad we left in order to allow for real independent development in a healthy way.

School was stressing us parents out, too, and that had a terrible impact on family life. Leaving has meant far healthier family relationships, better student independence, better self esteem, better attitude toward learning, better grades, more opportunities, more advanced work,more breadth in education. And far better mental and physical health and happiness. I'm not saying school is fundamentally bad, but PAUSD won't get better for everyone until the staff we hire has a deeper respect for parents and willingness to work with rather than roll their eyes at them. I.e., not likely to happen any time soon. This district is lazy about meeting its vision and figures that because a lot of students can jump through every hoop no matter how unnecessary, that every child should be able to or they are inferior. If your child is being pigeonholed like that, run, don't walk, to your nearest homeschool family to understand your options. (Whether homeschool or not, chances are, they know all the options and can tell you what they learned already.)


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Posted by @Options
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 9:41 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]





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Posted by Options
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 1:29 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


5 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I do agree that there are parents who are not engaging in attachment parenting; in fact, most don't, which is a shame. Children need to feel loved by their parents and doing things for them and showing you care is the best way for them to not run astray. If they know parents care, they will care what their parents think. If their parents don't care about them, how can they care about their parents?


4 people like this
Posted by Done
a resident of Barron Park School
on Mar 12, 2017 at 10:41 pm


Doing your kids homework is cheating. People in this school district are proud of how they do whatever it takes even including cheating. While @SOS might have been despterate, there are many ways to address the issue. My Kid did not exactly have an easy time in this school district from day one and had teachers that were demotivating and depressing. If homework was too much and I couldn't get a compromise from the teacher, I went to the counselor. At this point my kid usually got what he needed however I would have kept going up the chain. So complaining and cheating for kid is really a cop out.

As for the person who cannot understand the difference between NOT doing your kids homework under the guise of help, versus truly helping your kid by advocating for him/her with teachers and counselors I am truly sorry this challenges you.

This is NOT an ideal school district and is plagued by many problems most of which few people hear about and it is shocking what this school district turns a blind eye to. Parents also need to be realistic and it is not that I don't understand the desperation @SOS might have felt to help his/her kid I do think it was horribly misguided AND if parents stopped doing their kids homework and pushed back more on the school going up the chain of command, perhaps, just perhaps something might be done about it.


2 people like this
Posted by @Done
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2017 at 9:58 am

Completely agree that kids should be doing their own homework. Not condoning it, but it is an outcome of this district's homework loads, and something needs to be done about that. It's great that you were able to advocate for your kid, but many other parents who try to do the same meet with push back and retaliation. It is not always subtle. So advocacy no longer becomes a reasonable route to try to fix homework, or any other, problems. In terms of "cheating" and shirking responsibility, check out the other current story about the district trying to cheat its way out of responsibility for sexual harassment and assault. Parents and students involved in those cases were truly cheated of justice.


6 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2017 at 10:07 am

It is amazing how many foreign parents will NOT allow their children to make mistakes ( which I believe inhibits learning). They start doing this in kindergarten.

In fact, when my son was at Walter Hayes, he always received rather tepid grades on his homework. Not letter grades, but frowns or smiles.

I was a classroom volunteer, but I made my son do his own artwork, lettering and numbering. He is also ambidextrous, which his teacher told us must be turned into right- handed, only, despite ambidexterity being a dominant male gene in his father's lineage, traceable for
Hundreds of years ( as most Scots know their genealogy for 2 centuries back). Anyway, by the end of the day, that right hand was exhausted, and although I let him use either Han he wished, his brain was confused, so his artwork was worse during the week than on the weekends.

Finally, during a conference, after reminding the teascher yet again of what was happening, she blew up and told us that the only benefit to being ambidextrous was a better chance of recovery from stroke!

Then she proceeded to show us the homework of the three highest-performing Asian girls as a comparison.

It was obvious that their parents had done the work for the girls: no five-yr-old can draw that small with such a steady hand, more can a five-yr-old print that tiny and neatly, as well as using quotation marks and applicable punctuation. AND they had "signed" their names, supposedly, in tiny little cursive.

Now, when I was four, after I'd learned to print semi-neatly, if in very large letters, my father painstakingly taught me to sign my name in cursive using a series of little dots in the shape of my name. Even at the age of five, and I was artistically precocious, the " signature was not very neat, and it emulated my father's style!

I told the teacher that I thought the parents were pulling the wool over their eyes in order to ensure good grades, but that this was beyond the ability of these girls ( two of whom I knew personally-- and one of those two could barely handle safety scissors!).

She stood up, closed her binder, informed us our son was slow and she was tired of repeating everything for him ( he was deaf in one ear due to poor medical care, and the deafness was such that a hearing aid could not help).

The next week she hand-wrote a note to us, informing us that our son would be transferred to another classroom!

He was devastated and cried all night. " I knew she didn't like me", he sobbed. Funny, when I was in the class that didn't seem to be the case.

He did like the new teacher, at first, but since she was Asian herself, she seemed to be biased in favor of her Asian students, and always turned away from our red-haired, blue-eyed boy-- a fact our son picked up on faster than I did.

As a result, during Christmas vacation, we looked at transferring him to a private school, and by the new year, he was in kindergarten there. Instead of 30 kids, there were only 12, yet there was a teacher and a teacher's aide despite the small class size.

And NO ONE could pull the wool over their eyes!

So there he stayed through 8th grade, where he was valedictorian.

He is now attending Paly and feels bored. He was doing coding in his old school, as well as physics and calculus.

They apparently aren't set up for coding, so we drive him to a place in Mtn View that teaches it.

Paly is making him take classes in English that he took in private school-- and they have the records to prove it! They told us he can't take AP Physics as a freshman, nor can he go beyond calculus as a freshman!

He has to wait until next year to take advanced math or science courses!

I thought this was a STEM district!

They pulled the wool over MY eyes!


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