News


Interim Title IX officer comes with civil-rights experience

Temporary hire spending bulk of time at Paly in wake of sexual violence reports

A man the Palo Alto school district has hired as its interim Title IX compliance officer, charged with helping the district improve its compliance with the federal civil rights law, has spent most of his career on the other side of the fence, including as acting chief attorney in one of the federal Office for Civil Right's enforcement offices.

John DiPaolo, an education attorney and Obama administration appointee who held several positions in the U.S. Department of Education over the last six years, started his work in Palo Alto Unified last week. His immediate, primary focus, he said in an interview Thursday afternoon, has been interviewing staff at Palo Alto High School, where the initial public disclosure of sexual assault allegations last month has sparked a spike in students reporting sexual violence and harassment.

DiPaolo spent his first few days in the district meeting with Superintendent Max McGee and school board members, he said. The bulk of his time this week was spent at Paly interviewing staff about incidents that are or have been the subject of official Title IX investigations and ones that haven't, he said. Some cases will require writing investigation reports and providing resolutions to complainants, while others could require full investigations, he said.

He has not met with any students and doesn't yet plan to but clarified with the Weekly after this interview that he's "very open" to talking with all members of the community.

DiPaolo is working with Palo Alto Unified on a temporary basis through a national law firm, Cozen O' Connor, which the district has hired to investigate senior leadership's handling of the initial Paly sexual assault case. DiPaolo joined the law firm as an attorney earlier this year after leaving his post in the federal government "as a political point" when the new president assumed office on Jan. 20, he said Thursday.

In his interim role, DiPaolo replaces Chief Student Services Officer Holly Wade, who doubled as the district's Title IX coordinator. She announced her resignation in April.

DiPaolo declined to comment on specific cases or evaluate the district's response, but said staff have been "fully cooperative" and are "ready to get this right."

He declined to state whether he believed the district had failed to fulfill its obligations under civil-rights law Title IX in the recently reported case at Paly. A male Paly student who had been convicted in juvenile court for an off-campus sexual assault and also reported to school officials for an on-campus incident left school voluntarily last month after the allegations were publicized in media reports.

Generally, DiPaolo said that "the degree of understanding and sophistication of responses on Title IX issues in the K-12 level is not where it needs to be."

In districts across the country, school staff are failing to recognize when reports require the immediate launching of a full Title IX investigation, he said.

DiPaolo's short-term focus in Palo Alto, he said, is to continue the work expected of the district Title IX coordinator. Longer term, he plans to help the district put a structure in place that's "extremely professional, extremely effective and dealing very intensively and capably with these issues."

He has not worked for a school district in this capacity previously.

DiPaolo urged the district to consider creating a position dedicated to broad civil rights oversight, including Title IX as well as race- and disability-based discrimination and harassment. This role should have a focus and expertise on "how do we educate people on rights and responsibilities in those areas and then how do we deal with it when there are problems ... both through an educational approach and also through investigation and adjudication and necessary restorative or corrective measures," he said. "These issues are all connected so it's good to have them under one umbrella."

DiPaolo said he will draft a job description for a permanent Title IX compliance officer, who he hopes will be on board before the end of the summer.

The "theme" of his career, DiPaolo said, has been "expanding educational access and opportunity," from working as a high school math teacher to his work as an education attorney. He first joined the Office for Civil Rights in 2011 as chief of staff, then worked as deputy assistant secretary for policy for just under two years.

In the latter role, his team wrote a 2014 update to the Office for Civil Rights' well-known "Dear Colleague" letter, a guidance document that laid out K-12 school districts, college and universities' obligations for responding to sexual violence.

In his time at the Washington D.C. enforcement office, which oversees Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, the agency resolved two major Title IX investigations at the Virginia Military Institute and Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia, DiPaolo said.

As for the future of Title IX enforcement under a new presidential administration, DiPaolo noted the Office for Civil Rights has already indicated a shift in approach. An internal memo from the new acting assistant secretary for civil rights released this week directs enforcement offices to investigate complaints individually rather than broader, systemic probes, as was done under the Obama administration.

"That means from that perspective, (there's) a little less energy going into it," DiPaolo said.

Board President Terry Godfrey has previously said that the district expects to receive a report on Cozen O' Connor's investigation in time for an annual evaluation of the superintendent scheduled for this Wednesday, June 21. The district also added a superintendent evaluation to the board's closed session agenda for its regular Tuesday meeting.

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Editor's note: This story has been revised to include John DiPaolo's clarification that he is open to speaking with students as part of his work for the district.

Comments

13 people like this
Posted by for Healthier High Schools
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm

"He has not met with any students and doesn't yet plan to."

I hope Mr. DiPaolo will change his mind.

No matter how good his legal mind is, if he doesn't inform himself about the minds of teenagers--and 100% of these incidents have to do with our teenagers--he is likely to retain a very clouded version of reality.

Such a version won't serve him well as a guide to action and recommendation.

If he can't talk with kids (and, after all, they do deserve less stress over the summer) then a good place to start is with a reading of the NYT best-seller, "Girls and Sex," by Peggy Orenstein.

I wish I could recommend a book of similar insight on the modern-day sexual thinking and dilemmas of teenage boys.

To "investigate" without trying to understand the perspective of the kids--in their own words, from their own mouths--is not to investigate at all.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Chairman, Save the 2,008--for Healthier High Schools


16 people like this
Posted by But, but, but...
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 16, 2017 at 6:29 pm

[Post removed.]


29 people like this
Posted by JDiPaolo
a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2017 at 7:59 am

A MESSAGE FROM JOHN DIPAOLO, INTERIM TITLE IX COORDINATOR

I actually agree 100% with the previous comments that dialogue with students is essential to addressing the Title IX issues in the District. Mr. Vincenti is totally right that to understand you have to hear from students (and I would add parents, too).

I realized as soon as the interview was over that I had probably given the wrong impression in what I said about meeting with students. It's the case that I haven’t yet made plans about that. I’ve felt I had to spend my first week or two figuring out what the open matters were at Paly and elsewhere and how we were going to address them, and generally understanding what’s necessary to keep the Title IX function going during this transitional time.

But I absolutely intend to meet with students and parents, and I look forward to it. I will figure out a way to do some kind of open forum or office hours or something like that. Meanwhile, if anyone wants to talk, now or later, just send me an email at jdipaolo@cozen.com and we’ll set something up!

Thank you to everyone who is helping PAUSD address these issues through your input and engagement.

Sincerely,
John DiPaolo


6 people like this
Posted by disagree with Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2017 at 3:54 pm

While I agree with Mr. Vincenti’s statement that DiPaolo should meet with students, I take great offense to his insinuation that this is a “sex” problem. This has nothing to do with how girls or boys view sex today. This is about violence - harassment, assault and rape. While many could argue that sex might also be an issue with today’s youth, and I would agree, that is not what the Title IX investigations are about. To insinuate that these girls are at all to blame for their rapes is reprehensible and Mr. Vincenti should know better.


3 people like this
Posted by More expensive insularity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2017 at 8:34 am

I saw Mr DiP (not going to bother learning his name since he isn't going to bother dealing with the community) on TV last night. He says he wants to change the culture, while doing exactly what all predecessors have done: only learn about what is wrong with the culture from the people in the district office creating it, and not the community being hurt by it. I have news for him: you don't understand a problem culture from within the echo chamber. They want you to listen to and like them as nice people so much, you wouldn't believe the families and students anyway, so why bother going outside their circle? That's what McGee did, what could be wrong with that? (Hint: if they have you convinced that they want change but just needed your help to do it, that creaking sound is your backbone wrapped around their little fingers.) Furthermore, he's taking exactly the tack that got this sexual assault mess in McGee's lap: assume that burying the past "mistakes" and moving "forward" is even possible while refusing to even understand, correct or learn from past and ONGOING mistakes.

You can't expect people to change a culture when no one is ever anything but rewarded for the bad behavior that caused it. If this guy thinks he has fixed everything, and there is a new culture now, then our situation should be glaring for the illegal injustice, and I expect a letter of apology and a correction of the liar liar pants on fire letters from certain persons in the district office, and extension of accommodations I couldn't fight for while pulling knives and arrows out of my back from Churchill and by extension, the school. Not to mention steps will be taken so my student can be and feel safe in school. (This is not a Title 9 issue, it's just the next rights violation issue that will hit the fans because of this useless window dressing and nothing really changing. Or the one after the next one.) After the apology, when you've got things fixed, perhaps people will spontaneously fill all those unanswered records requests so I can correct what's wrong in there for the safety of my student since they won't actually do it once their new culture falls apart for lack of anyone having a gram of inclination to change. Oh, and a phone call might be helpful to talk with me in person so I have an inkling that working together might actual be a thing here in PAUSD in the future. No? You mean, I still won't get the legally due records because burying the past, i.e. Coverup is essential for "moving on"? Those who do not learn from the past....

Interesting that MrDP isn't going to even get out of the district office shadow far enough to know that he's just more window dressing on the same old same old. Good luck with your next scandal, Dr McGee. Remember, if you get a car with a "history" but you refuse to look in the trunk because you want to move on without cleaning up, then you own the mess. Too bad you couldn't see that when you got here, you had promise. Too bad you still can't see that this mess was the direct result of your failure to own up to past district problems, and doing exactly what MrDp is doing, thinking he can close his eyes to what is really wrong and expect it and the culture that created it to just magically go away as we move "forward". That doesn't correct relationships forever damaged because teachers were lied to as part of some administrator's retaliation or coverup, even if that person is leaving. It doesn't make a child feel safe again when staff have ignored the legal protections and held the child at arms' length. It doesn't fix the underlying problems that remain unaddressed. You can't change if you aren't ever willing to face and take responsibility for what is really wrong, or even hear about it from the perspective of those who have been wronged.


2 people like this
Posted by More expensive insularity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2017 at 11:55 pm

Mr. DiPaolo,
I should have read your message instead of just hearing the TV interview. I apologize, you probably have no idea of the many reasons we in the community have to mistrust these measures or even offers to listen. I hope you are open to speaking with families and students. Do you mean only Title IX compliance issues or all behavior and experiences that speak to our district's difficult history with and propensity for failing to comply with antidiscrimination laws and policies? If it's the latter, you have to realize, what has happened here goes well beyond accidental-just-needed-more-training-oops-sorry. The people you most need to hear from will take some effort to reach because they are wounded and will not trust that they can speak or that they won't be retaliated against. Just talking about these things can be traumatic and make people feel that they and/or their children will be open to attack. I know more than one family who picked up stakes and moved and can barely talk about PAUSD.

I don't think things can ever be made right unless the district is willing to go through a little truth and reconciliation, administrators and board members. Despit e the departures, there are still people who have done such breathtakingly wrong things to students and families, it is difficult to see how you could change the culture unless there is sone truth and reconciliation. Otherwise, administrators will never hold themselves accountable or change. Truth and apology are also essential for the kids. Setting an example of how you take responsibility for and fix mistakes (as opposed to thinking that moving right along is ok) sets an important example for our youth. And is probably the only way to prevent the next scandal, because there are others.


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