UPDATE: On Tuesday, Stephanie Rickard, the attorney representing the male Paly student in this case, said in a statement that he has "elected not to complete the school year on campus." The district attorney's office declined to file any charges against him "other than consensual underage sexual activity" stemming from the on-campus incident, Rickard said. Read more here.
The Palo Alto school board has called a special closed-session meeting to evaluate Superintendent Max McGee and two other district officials in the wake of public outcry over whether the district has appropriately responded to multiple sexual assault allegations made against a current Palo Alto High School student, publicized last week in media reports.
The board will meet on Tuesday from 4-6 p.m. for performance evaluations of McGee, Palo Alto High School Principal Kim Diorio and Chief Student Services Officer Holly Wade, who also serves as the district's Title IX coordinator. (Federal civil-rights law Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools and guarantees students the right to an education free of harassment.) The meeting agenda also includes "student discipline or other confidential student matters."
Anyone who wishes to address the trustees can do so at 4 p.m. before they go into closed session. The meeting will be held in the Aspen Room at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.
The Palo Alto Unified School District community has been reeling since last Wednesday, when local television news station KTVU first reported the allegations, stemming from one on-campus incident at Paly and one at a local church. (The victim's mother declined to identify the church.)
The male student, a junior student-athlete, was convicted in juvenile court of a felony charge — oral copulation by force, violence, duress, menace or fear — in December for assaulting a female Menlo-Atherton High School student, then 15 years old, in October 2015, according to court documents reviewed by the Palo Alto Weekly. Although juvenile court proceedings are typically sealed, the records were made public due to the seriousness of the offense. (Forced oral copulation is on a list of several crimes that, if committed by a minor, are still public record in California.)
The judge who heard the case, Margaret Johnson, dismissed a second felony charge stemming from the same assault (oral copulation with a minor) and struck a requirement that the student register as a sex offender, according to court documents. She ordered the student to enroll in and complete a sexual offender counseling program, court documents show.
In January 2017, the judge also signed a three-year restraining order that prohibits "intentional contact of any kind" with the victim, states that the male student must submit to a search of himself or his property, both by a probation officer or by school officials on campus or at school events, and stipulates that he can't be outside his home between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. without adult supervision, unless given permission by his probation officer, among other requirements.
A temporary restraining order was in place as the case made its way through the court process, documents show.
The victim, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy, said she never consented to the act, and that he ignored both verbal and non-verbal cues that indicated that.
"When you assaulted me, you might as well have taken my life, my sense of self, my security, and thrown it across the room," she wrote in a victim impact statement she read aloud in court at his sentencing, provided to the Weekly. "You shattered me into a million pieces, and I have spent the last fifteen months cleaning up the mess you made. In one night, you irreversibly changed me in countless ways."
She said she told her mother what happened that night, but it wasn't until a month later -- a month she spent on her bedroom floor, researching the definitions of sexual assault and consent on her laptop until 1 in the morning -- that she decided to file a police report.
The school district has said it was notified of the male student's conviction in January. It is unclear what, if anything, the district or school officials did in response, as McGee and Diorio have told the Weekly they will not disclose information about this case, citing student-privacy law Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the fact that the students involved are minors.
A district log, known as Uniform Compliant Procedure (UCP) log, indicates a Title IX investigation was opened on Jan. 30 at Paly, but it is unknown what sparked that probe, which was marked closed on March 13.
The school board was first notified of the student's conviction on March 31, according to Vice President Ken Dauber. He said he did not learn of "any details, including the nature of the offense, until the media reported them."
Paly mom: 'They failed my daughter'
Two months prior to the conviction, in October, a female Paly freshman, then 14 years old, had reported to school administrators that the same student had forced her to perform oral sex in a campus bathroom.
The freshman girl's mother, who asked that her and her daughter's names be withheld to protect their privacy, said in a phone interview Monday that she plans to file a lawsuit against the school district for its failure to protect her daughter and other students at Paly. About a month after the incident, becoming frustrated by what she described as a lack of action on behalf of the Paly administration, and her daughter's worsening emotional state after the incident, she decided to pull her daughter out of school. The family has relocated 160 miles away from Palo Alto, the mother said.
"I felt like they failed me as a parent, and as a student that attends Palo Alto, they failed my daughter," she said. "They're continuing to fail all the students that are attending that school now by not speaking out and informing them there's a person that has assaulted students."
Stephanie Rickard, a San Jose attorney representing the male student, did not return a request for comment.
The Paly incident happened in a campus bathroom in mid-October 2016, the day after her daughter's 14th birthday, according to her mother. Beforehand, the male student had been "taunting" her and sending her nude photos over Snapchat, her mother said. The day of the incident, the mother was called to the school — after police were notified and had started interviewing her daughter on campus, though, she said.
The Weekly has been thus far unable to confirm whether criminal charges were filed against the perpetrator in the Paly case.
Palo Alto Police Department spokesman Zach Perron declined to provide details about this and other cases, stating that "as a matter of department procedure and under the legal protections afforded by state law to victims of sex crimes, juvenile victims, juvenile suspects, and juvenile arrestees, we do not release information on such cases."
School board President Terry Godfrey told the Weekly previously that the report to school administrators was "handled as a discipline case ... because of how it was characterized," as a "sexual incident" rather than a "sexual assault." She declined to elaborate on the distinction.
Under board policy, when school employees become aware of any allegations of sexual misconduct, they are required to report them to their principal, who has one day to notify the district's Title IX coordinator. The superintendent must ensure any sexual-misconduct complaints are "immediately" investigated under the Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP), a district-level process for investigation unlawful discrimination, bullying and other allegations. No such notification is shown on the district's UCP log for October 2016.
The school board is in the midst of revising its sexual harassment and discrimination policies as part of a federal agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, whose yearslong investigation into Title IX violations at both Paly and Gunn high schools found a repeated failure to properly respond to and investigate reports of sexual harassment and assault on and off campus.
A restraining order, but he's still on campus
The mother of the girl who was assaulted in the church, whose name is being withheld to protect their privacy, told the Weekly that her daughter contacted Chief Student Services Officer Holly Wade on March 24. They met in person on March 28, and requested that the district open an investigation, the mother said. They also asked that the boy not be allowed to continue to play sports for Paly, "given the message that it sends to students when (an) athlete convicted of crimes continue to play school sports," she said, and that he not be allowed to attend prom, "an environment my daughter expressed to PAUSD would not be safe for other girls."
"These are simple acts that would show the community that they being a sex offender is serious and that privileges are lost for receiving such convictions," she said. "In no way did they need to expose the student's identity nor break any of the FERPA laws to do these things."
Suspension and a recommendation for expulsion is mandatory for Paly students who commit or attempt to commit a sexual assault or battery, according to the school's student handbook. School officials would not state what, if any actions, were taken, or what constrained the district from reassigning him to another campus.
The church victim said allowing him to continue to attend school at Paly and play sports felt like the school prioritizing him over the "safety of female students."
In October, the week after the Paly freshman reported the incident to the school, her mother obtained an emergency restraining order against the male student. She said it was served on him at school in front of an assistant principal, who called her afterwards to inform her. McGee confirmed that Paly received the restraining order, but said he "was not made aware of it at the time."
The administration changed the boy's class schedule as a result, the Paly victim's mother said, but her daughter continued to see him on campus. She didn't eat lunch to avoid him, her mother said. Graffiti referencing the incident appeared in a bathroom, which the mother said she immediately reported to administrators, including Diorio.
Her daughter felt she was being bullied and starting missing school, her grades slipping, her mother said. She told a school counselor she felt suicidal, according to the mother.
The mother also met with the coach of the football team, for which the student played. She said he apologized and said the student would be removed from the team — which she characterizes as the sole satisfactory response she found among staff and administrators at Paly. The student did not play the last three football games of the season in October. The coach, Daniel Sullivan, declined to comment for this story. The student has continued to play on the varsity baseball team this season.
A call to action
After the male student was sentenced in January for the church bathroom assault, the victim in that case discovered from comments made by the judge that the same student had been accused of a sexual assault at Paly. She contacted the Paly victim on Instagram, the Paly student's mother told the Weekly. The church victim asked the Paly student if she knew the male student, her mother said.
"My daughter said, 'yeah, he sexually assaulted me.' The other girl said, 'he sexually assaulted me as well,'" her mother recalled.
The mother said she notified Paly as soon as she learned about the other victim, and conveyed to school officials that the off-campus October 2015 assault had resulted in a conviction.
The Paly incident with her daughter was not consensual, her mother said. She's indignant that it took months for the district to launch an official Title IX investigation into the allegations, which it did in late March. She said school officials did not inform her of her right to file a complaint through the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure, which is required by policy.
Godfrey said the district opened the Title IX investigation after a person from outside the district notified Palo Alto Unified that he or she had been the victim of a sexual assault by the same male student, although the Weekly was unable to confirm any information on this third alleged incident.
The church victim said she shared her story publicly in the hopes not only to spur the Palo Alto school district to action, but to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence in high schools. She said without her own separate, background knowledge of Title IX, she wouldn't have known to push the district to launch an investigation.
Sexual assault is "not some obscure issue that happens only in dark alleys and frat parties," she said. "It happens everywhere and it's something we all need to have in our sphere of discussion and consciousness."
Since last week, Paly has made additional counseling staff, as well as extra female administrators, available to students who need support, Diorio said. A message posted on the Paly website Monday, titled "Learning Environments Free from Sexual Harassment," urges anyone who has been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault to notify a school administrator or the school district's Title IX coordinator "to facilitate appropriate action."
This, however, the freshman's mother said, is where the district failed her daughter. She's now calling for the resignation of Diorio, McGee and "all the school officials ... that had knowledge of this incident and did not step up to do anything to make my daughter feel safe."
She said she is refusing to participate in the district's Title IX investigation, which is now being conducted on behalf of the district by the Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer. The law firm reached out to the mother after last week's media reports, she said, and has said if she doesn't respond by Wednesday, the investigation will be closed.
The mother is also preparing to file the lawsuit, and writing a letter to Congress urging an exception to FERPA that would allow schools to notify parents when a student has been convicted of a sexual offense.
The mother, who grew up in East Palo Alto and attended the Ravenswood City School District, said she sought a spot for her daughter in Palo Alto Unified through the district's longtime Voluntary Transfer Program, or the Tinsley program, hoping for a better education for her daughter than she had received.
"We as parents fight so hard to get our kids to these schools," she said. "I put her into the Palo Alto Unified School District thinking that that's the safest place for my child."
• View a timeline of events in this story here.
For immediate in-person crisis assistance and counseling services, contact the YWCA of Silicon Valley's 24-hour Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Support Line at 800-572-2782. For more information, go to ywca-sv.org.