News

School board to review law firm contracts

Staff recommend legal-services RFP for human resources, business, other areas

The group of law firms the Palo Alto school district relies on to provide advice on everything from personnel issues to civil-rights complaints has started to shift and could continue to do so in the 2017-18 school year, with two new firms hired just this year and a proposal to seek new services in some areas next year.

The board will discuss the district's legal services contracts at its Tuesday meeting as part of an annual evaluation process that involves both the board and superintendent. Staff are proposing increasing next year's legal budget by $350,000 — for a total of $800,000 — to accommodate higher costs due to a recently approved resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, investigations into violations of federal anti-discrimination law Title IX and an increase in the number of special-education cases, a staff report states.

Last year, the district hired Pleasanton-based Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo to replace longtime and sometimes criticized firm Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost. The new firm, which the district selected after putting a request for proposals (RFP) in 2016, was brought on to assist primarily in special-education matters. Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost also represented the district in several investigations the Office for Civil Rights opened in Palo Alto in response to allegations of discrimination and bullying.

An Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo attorney, Eve Fichtner, has been helping the district this year with required sexual misconduct and discrimination policy revisions related to the Office for Civil Rights resolution agreement.

This spring, Palo Alto Unified also hired national firm Cozen O'Connor to comply with another stipulation of the resolution agreement: to conduct proper Title IX investigations into past allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct and violence at the district's two high schools. Cozen O'Connor is also now investigating district leadership's handling of student sexual-assault reports at Palo Alto High School.

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This year, the district paid Cozen O'Connor $50,000; the district anticipates that will jump to $200,000 in the 2017-18 school year, according to the staff report.

The district also recently contracted with another firm, Sacramento-based Ellis Buehler Makus, to conduct two Title IX investigations. The district estimates the investigations will cost $40,000. Staff could later request to extend the firm's contract to cover any additional investigations, the report states.

The school board last discussed the district's legal contracts in May. At that meeting, trustees suggested issuing another request for proposals for legal services that have historically been provided by the firm Lozano Smith, which has advised the district on issues relating to personnel, the teacher's union and general governance.

Staff are planning to issue this month a RFP for legal services for human resources, business, curriculum and other areas and bring a recommendation to the board in late August, the staff report states. Staff are still, however, recommending that the board allocate $100,000 for Lozano Smith in the 2017-18 school year to tide the district over until they or another firm is awarded the contract, Superintendent Max McGee said.

In addition, staff are recommending the board renew contracts with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo for $400,000 and Dannis Woliver Kelley, which has worked on bond financing and construction matters, for $100,000.

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The district does not plan to continue working with Dora Dome, an attorney who has consulted on bullying-policy development and trainings in past years, nor Amy Oppenheimer, who has conducted three Title IX investigations for the district, including into the arrest of Paly teacher Ronnie Farrell for inappropriately touching a student on campus last summer.

Since the 2013-14 school year, the district's legal expenses have gone down slightly -- from about $1.2 million that year to about $737,000 through April of this year, though in response to a question from the Weekly, Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak said the total for this year will likely end up at about $950,000.

McGee told the Weekly he does not plan to reopen a proposal he made in 2015 to hire general counsel because there hasn't been enough time to prepare an "in-depth cost-benefit analysis." After disagreement on the board at the time over who the in-house attorney would report to, McGee postponed hiring for the position.

In other business Tuesday, the board is set to vote on its 2017-18 budget, a districtwide equity plan that lays out how the district should work to close its achievement gap and an updated design for a significant remodel of the Addison Elementary School campus, among other items.

During closed session, the board will discuss an evaluation of the superintendent and the appointment of a high school principal. Gunn High School Principal Denise Herrmann's resignation, which she announced in late May, went into effect June 17.

Tuesday's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.

This week, the board is also convening for an all-day retreat on Wednesday, June 21, and for a policy workshop from 8-10 a.m. on Thursday, June 22. At the retreat, the board will discuss progress on district goals, board governance and other topics from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in open session and then go into closed session until 5 p.m. to evaluate the superintendent.

Absent from any of this week's agendas is a discussion of McGee's revised organizational chart, which has been postponed from two previous meetings. He said he is waiting to finalize a reorganization of the district office until hiring an assistant superintendent for strategic initiatives and operations, a new high-level district position McGee created in recent months. The district interviewed a third candidate on Monday and has a follow-up on Tuesday morning, McGee said.

Board President Terry Godfrey said the board plans to meet again before the end of the month and the organizational chart will "likely get reviewed" at that meeting.

View all of this week's meeting agendas here.

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School board to review law firm contracts

Staff recommend legal-services RFP for human resources, business, other areas

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 20, 2017, 8:45 am

The group of law firms the Palo Alto school district relies on to provide advice on everything from personnel issues to civil-rights complaints has started to shift and could continue to do so in the 2017-18 school year, with two new firms hired just this year and a proposal to seek new services in some areas next year.

The board will discuss the district's legal services contracts at its Tuesday meeting as part of an annual evaluation process that involves both the board and superintendent. Staff are proposing increasing next year's legal budget by $350,000 — for a total of $800,000 — to accommodate higher costs due to a recently approved resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, investigations into violations of federal anti-discrimination law Title IX and an increase in the number of special-education cases, a staff report states.

Last year, the district hired Pleasanton-based Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo to replace longtime and sometimes criticized firm Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost. The new firm, which the district selected after putting a request for proposals (RFP) in 2016, was brought on to assist primarily in special-education matters. Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost also represented the district in several investigations the Office for Civil Rights opened in Palo Alto in response to allegations of discrimination and bullying.

An Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo attorney, Eve Fichtner, has been helping the district this year with required sexual misconduct and discrimination policy revisions related to the Office for Civil Rights resolution agreement.

This spring, Palo Alto Unified also hired national firm Cozen O'Connor to comply with another stipulation of the resolution agreement: to conduct proper Title IX investigations into past allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct and violence at the district's two high schools. Cozen O'Connor is also now investigating district leadership's handling of student sexual-assault reports at Palo Alto High School.

This year, the district paid Cozen O'Connor $50,000; the district anticipates that will jump to $200,000 in the 2017-18 school year, according to the staff report.

The district also recently contracted with another firm, Sacramento-based Ellis Buehler Makus, to conduct two Title IX investigations. The district estimates the investigations will cost $40,000. Staff could later request to extend the firm's contract to cover any additional investigations, the report states.

The school board last discussed the district's legal contracts in May. At that meeting, trustees suggested issuing another request for proposals for legal services that have historically been provided by the firm Lozano Smith, which has advised the district on issues relating to personnel, the teacher's union and general governance.

Staff are planning to issue this month a RFP for legal services for human resources, business, curriculum and other areas and bring a recommendation to the board in late August, the staff report states. Staff are still, however, recommending that the board allocate $100,000 for Lozano Smith in the 2017-18 school year to tide the district over until they or another firm is awarded the contract, Superintendent Max McGee said.

In addition, staff are recommending the board renew contracts with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo for $400,000 and Dannis Woliver Kelley, which has worked on bond financing and construction matters, for $100,000.

The district does not plan to continue working with Dora Dome, an attorney who has consulted on bullying-policy development and trainings in past years, nor Amy Oppenheimer, who has conducted three Title IX investigations for the district, including into the arrest of Paly teacher Ronnie Farrell for inappropriately touching a student on campus last summer.

Since the 2013-14 school year, the district's legal expenses have gone down slightly -- from about $1.2 million that year to about $737,000 through April of this year, though in response to a question from the Weekly, Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak said the total for this year will likely end up at about $950,000.

McGee told the Weekly he does not plan to reopen a proposal he made in 2015 to hire general counsel because there hasn't been enough time to prepare an "in-depth cost-benefit analysis." After disagreement on the board at the time over who the in-house attorney would report to, McGee postponed hiring for the position.

In other business Tuesday, the board is set to vote on its 2017-18 budget, a districtwide equity plan that lays out how the district should work to close its achievement gap and an updated design for a significant remodel of the Addison Elementary School campus, among other items.

During closed session, the board will discuss an evaluation of the superintendent and the appointment of a high school principal. Gunn High School Principal Denise Herrmann's resignation, which she announced in late May, went into effect June 17.

Tuesday's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.

This week, the board is also convening for an all-day retreat on Wednesday, June 21, and for a policy workshop from 8-10 a.m. on Thursday, June 22. At the retreat, the board will discuss progress on district goals, board governance and other topics from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in open session and then go into closed session until 5 p.m. to evaluate the superintendent.

Absent from any of this week's agendas is a discussion of McGee's revised organizational chart, which has been postponed from two previous meetings. He said he is waiting to finalize a reorganization of the district office until hiring an assistant superintendent for strategic initiatives and operations, a new high-level district position McGee created in recent months. The district interviewed a third candidate on Monday and has a follow-up on Tuesday morning, McGee said.

Board President Terry Godfrey said the board plans to meet again before the end of the month and the organizational chart will "likely get reviewed" at that meeting.

View all of this week's meeting agendas here.

Comments

Anonymous
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2017 at 9:04 am
Anonymous, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2017 at 9:04 am
9 people like this

As PAUSD pays outside law firms more, more cuts for schools and programs for students. So what do all those administrators actually do?


resident
Charleston Meadows
on Jun 20, 2017 at 10:33 am
resident, Charleston Meadows
on Jun 20, 2017 at 10:33 am
1 person likes this

Hopefully the system can come up with a set of policies that are published so that all participants - parents, administrators, teachers, students understand what the ground rules are in any situation. Legal problems tend to arise when individuals take it upon themselves to exercise some action that is inconsistent with school policy. Then you have a free for all that gets everyone angry. Political, religious, and sex education anomalies tend to create the most tension - and subsequent legal action. Goal is to reduce the number of legal consequences.


Deceived PAUSD Families
Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2017 at 11:30 am
Deceived PAUSD Families, Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2017 at 11:30 am
3 people like this

Because there is no way for parents to provide input about the new law firm, the only way is here in Palo Alto Online. The new firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo has been difficult for parents. Very slow to respond or get anything done. Everything is dragged out. The documents they draft are contradictory, confusing, almost unreadable. They are costly for families to fix.

When we asked other parents, we heard the same complaints.The law firm really costs the District more money than needed to because they operate so inefficiently. It is very stressful and expensive for children and families.

Thank you to the posters in other articles describing parents feeling that they try to work with the District, only to learn the District lawyer worked behind the scenes manipulating against families all along. That rings true. We had the same experiences. It is really helpful you told people.

Parents need to be really careful dealing with Special Education, and know the District is using the law firm to establish a situation against the children from the beginning.

Be extra cautious because the new staff doesn't know what is going on, then sends out messages which are quite adversarial, legalistic, confusing, contradictory. Lawyers write or review these, but they often get their facts wrong. Good attorneys would not tell Special Education to send things. They just alienate parents and send a message they will pounce with legal action. The tone is so objectionable. It is bad legal advice to client, the School District, who has to maintain relationships with these families, some times for 17 years. Ultimately, it is poor service to the public taxpayers, who are the ones paying for these lawyers to advise school districts.

There really is no way for parents to complain or communicate problems. Look at how badly McGee treated families who tried to speak at Board meetings before, then mocking families in retreats saying the District has no bullying complaints. He ignored parents who complained to their school, principal, Special Education, but the District did not keep records of it. It meant District's law firm was saying, 'ha, ha, the parents didn't know they had to file this form, their complaints don't exist.' And this very gullible Superintendent believed it. Even when Board member Dauber took extraordinary steps to get all the last lawyer's e-mails, hold parent meetings, collect parent's written reports, and the Board still opposed even evaluating the law firm at the time. And he was not even asking to change law firms, just for a Request for Proposal.

When the current law firm was chosen, surveys were given to employees, not parents, and then not distributed with the board packet or to the public, only read out loud. And Dauber can't get the full e-mail records, because District lawyers sometimes send them only to other lawyers, so he won't know they exist and they can't be public. There is no way to shed light on it, because legal is exempt from public record requests under "attorney client privilege". The public is not the client, just paying the bills. In terms of the District saying legal costs are up because of more Special Education cases, the District always says that.

It's more concerning because a new Special Education Director is being hired tonight based on job posting only open to current employees, without external competition, just like last time. This person has great control over the attorney, since the Superintendent won't supervise or get involved. He will just say all families are emotional.

Finally, the Board of Education needs to remember no parent chooses to deal with their law firm. If things are at the point parents have to deal with your law firm, you really screwed up. You probably screwed up for years, and parents tried to be nice and let it go.

The Board needs to realize parents are given District documents and threatened with law suits if they don't sign (calling it "filing due process" or "mediation" is still filing a law suit against them. "Friendly mediation" typically costs $5,00000-$8,000.) Threatening to do this or "suggesting" you will it with a smile on your face is just as bad as doing it. It may even be worse, because you then require parents to hire attorneys. Some District documents require the parents to hire an attorney, with no way to pay for it. The Superintendent can say he is cooperative and never filed any legal case against families, but all District legal actions or threats or suggestions of legal action are the responsibility of the Board and the Superintendent. They occur using their staff whom they pay, using their resources, and with their chosen law firm.


Kathy Jordan
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2017 at 11:35 am
Kathy Jordan, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2017 at 11:35 am
13 people like this

The District has so far paid $50,000 to Cozen O'Connor to investigate its own handling of the sexual misconduct cases. To investigate District employees conduct for the sexual assault incidents, which they have already admitted they mishandled, by not performing Title IX investigations. Why are the taxpayers left holding the bag for District employees' misconduct? Not to mention that the victims in these incidents were not taken care of properly. What will the District and the School Board do about this? Will we continue to employ non compliant District employees? These funds, monies from our pockets, are being diverted from educating our PAUSD children. The District is currently in a financial deficit. PAUSD just underwent a 4 year investigation for not complying with Title IX. 4 years. And still, after that investigation was finished, District employees did not comply with Title IX. Isn't it time to turn over a new leaf and look for employees who will keep students safe and comply with all applicable laws?


Improve
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2017 at 8:21 am
Improve, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2017 at 8:21 am
2 people like this

@Deceived PAUSD families makes some really good points. I think it really is incumbent on the board to take steps NOW to ensure that district legal serves the taxpayers and families, rather than acting as personal lawyers for misbehaving employees. Those are two different things yet as long as I can remember, employees have been able yo make them the same. No wonder we have problems. In most organizations I know, if an employee acts outside the law, they have to retain their own attorney. They may have insurance for this, but they do not get to co-opt the district legal for their own personal legal benefit, as Skelly did. Employees should not get to take over the actions and direction of the organization's legal for their own benefit.

@Deceived,
What you say rings 100% true to me, too. What you don't realize is that the stress caused to families through legalizing everything is deliberate. They want it to become so stressful that they "win" (get your special needs child to go away, unaccommodated). This is an old legal tactic unbefitting a school district, not to mention doing this is illegal in so many ways, for example under the Child-Find provision of the ADA. I suppose you could sue, but I just think this is a neverending injustice because the district power structure is so insulated from checks and balances. I think families would be better off if the could figure out how you can change things once and for all. I have seen this suggested before, to change the City charter to change the school district. Our district is formed under the Palo Alto city charter, which can be changed a similar way to referendum.

Parents could change the City charter by making a proposal, collecting signatures, and putting it to the voters, to make a position in the City that answers only to families and has equal but separate power as the Superintendant. Or give the mayor's office power and requires an ombudsman separate from the district who has power to act on behalf of families, investigate complaints confidentially so children are protected against retaliation, etc. Or that requires superintendants and law firms to be approved by a very high percentage of district families or a large parent commission. The most important thing is for the person to be on the side of families, and advising families how they can make districts better serve families all the time.

Education is supposed to be equal access under state and federal law. School districts aren't supposed to use lawyers in a way that protects employee misbehavior, costs taxpayers lots of money, and effectively means that only parents who can afford lawyers can get their children the fair education. Todd Collins should be sensitive to this issue.


Former Paly Parent
Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:01 am
Former Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:01 am
3 people like this

My youngest graduated in 16, so I still feel emotionally connected to the Paly community even if I am no longer on the email lists!

I watched the report last night on Channel 2. My gut feeling is that Paly is not unique in these types of things, but probably the one to get caught. Stanford has issues and I expect most high schools have similar issues. If nothing else, the media attention to Paly is helping all schools with their own systems in place to deal with these issues.

What really gets me as a parent and as a tax payer is the amount of money we are spending on these types of things. I used to be naive enough to think that the money we paid in taxes went to educating out kids. Now I see that is not the case. Over the many years of fundraisers, donations requests, PIE and other PTA blackmail requests, I am feeling that we no longer pay our taxes to educate our kids but to support the money grabbing districts retirement funds and legal coverups.

Somehow something is very wrong here. If we are spending so much money on lawyers to protect the system rather than the kids, our kids are losing out on their education dollars. It annoys me that no matter what we do, money is being spent on legal wranglings that have very little educational value and that we are always being told about budget shortfalls and no money for blank.

I have no idea what the answer is, but I can tell you that as one former parent I hate the system whereby my taxes which I would like to see being spent on educating my neighbors' kids, is being spent on lawyers while the parents will continue to be expected to dip into their pockets to pay for playground supervision and smaller class sizes.


Transparency
Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:21 am
Transparency, Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:21 am
9 people like this

Bravo to Todd Collins for asking Cathy Mak to clarify the extremely vague reporting of the lawyer costs over the past several years. In 3 of 5 years, including this year and the budget for next year, fees for lawyers are over $1,000,000. Or, as Collins pointed out, the equivalent of approximately 8 teachers. Teachers that could be used to reduce class sizes. Instead, during the budget discussion they voted to cut teachers that were going to be hired to reduce class size as promised to us in the last bond measure.

Let's get rid of the administrators like Diorio that are forcing the district to spend funds that should be going to educate the students, on covering up their mistakes. How tough can this be?


resident
Charleston Meadows
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:47 am
resident, Charleston Meadows
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:47 am
Like this comment

Bond Measures are taking a beating. In the Alum Rock District the saga continues about the bond measure to fix some schools and nothing done but now under legal review by the county. Money paid out -- nothing done.
So now you have a bond measure to protect our teachers and guess what - nothing done.
The next time a bond measure comes up then it needs to be nailed down with very strict reporting guidelines.
The paper says that we are one of the most educated assembly areas but we keep coming up with dumb mistakes. And you all wonder why Trump is trying to tell you that the current system is not working.


Fact checker
Crescent Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 11:36 am
Fact checker, Crescent Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 11:36 am
Like this comment

We need more transparency on the facts for planned spending. The big question should be are these legal dollars helping our students and District. Who is responsible for this determination? And, where is the information? But, there are many other issues:

1. Money spent to improve processes might be well spent, but do we need law firms to do this. Aren't there compliance firms that have these processes down pat and can train and implement for a much lower cost?

2. Money spent to cover the tracks of poor administrators is well spent only if the Board is sure that legal payments to injured families will be decreased by AT LEAST the legal spend. If it were my money, I would spend money to negotiate settlements with all injured parties and not cover anyone's tracks. Instead, I'd fix the problems.

3. Administrators who were grossly negligent regarding Title IX should not be paid severance if they have "for cause" agreements that are well drafted.

4. What would our legal spend be if we terminated administrators involved in Title IX issues for cause and negotiated settlements with families? Does anyone know?


Fact Checker is correct
Barron Park
on Jun 23, 2017 at 3:19 pm
Fact Checker is correct , Barron Park
on Jun 23, 2017 at 3:19 pm
Like this comment


@Kathy Jordan,

One of your censored past comments can be found (before being censored) on the page I dedicated on my blog to the ongoing censoring. I copy and then post comments before and after they are censored here (only a tiny sampling) here:
Web Link (or search for: village fool palo alto before and after).

And I posted the following questions more than three years ago:
"... The following is a partial list of questions I asked myself, particularly in light of the recently published allegations around the prior principal’s actions and his subsequent demotion. I do hope that these questions were properly considered:
1. Was Ms. Diorio aware of the sexual harassment allegations that were investigated by PAUSD officials before those became a cause for PAUSD official’s investigation?
1.1 – If Ms. Diorio was aware of the allegations:
1.1.1 Where did she take the info?
1.1.2 – If she was aware, and did not forward the info, why didn’t she? (Was it because she was afraid of retaliation?)
1.2 If Ms. Diorio was not aware of the allegations –
1.2.1 Was she approachable to the woman who felt harassed?
1.2.2 How come she was not aware?

2. Streaking, campus culture etc. sampling –
2.1 Did Ms. Diorio think that a clothes-optional school is a blessing to this community?
2.2 If she did not approve of the streaking occurrences, where did she take her concerns before she was promoted? What did she do about her concerns?
Basically, if any of the allegations published about the prior principal are correct, did Ms. Diorio roam around campus with her eyes/ears/mouth closed? And if so, why?..."
Above copied from my blog link: Web Link (or search for: village fool palo alto cleanup Hercules)

I hope you will see this comment, it will vanish soon.

Thank you for speaking up!
\/ill/\ge foool


Not the Whole Story
Jordan Middle School
on Jun 23, 2017 at 11:26 pm
Not the Whole Story, Jordan Middle School
on Jun 23, 2017 at 11:26 pm
1 person likes this

The Superintendent may be pleased with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo performance, but the parents are not. While it is very nice a firm HE pays responds to HIM at 7:00a.m. in the morning, but that is not a reason for using them or parents to have confidence in them. Recall the Superintendent made a similar argument for the now disastrous promotion of Dr. Wade and keeping her past law firm - response to HIM in a timely manner. What came out of that were legal violations, investigations of investigations, and dumping the law firm anyway.

It's disturbing that once again, the evaluation of this firm was conducted by the business manager, and the public only gets a summary statement that their evaluation found the firm satisfactory. Why no written reports? Where are the survey forms? Who took them. Who was consulted? What were the parameters of the evaluation? Why was there no community input?

It was very concerning to hear the Superintendent's say the overwhelming majority of attorney fees were for Special Education, and that's just the way it is. This is an attitude, not a truth. And it's his attitude, not the way it has to be. It is due to a culture he created, not an expense that must exist.

There were many reasons completely in his control that made Special Education legal fees high: the bad attorneys per above, his staff threatening to sue families of disabled, filing cases against families and then dropping them when they realize they would lose, abusive, rude e-mails and letters attacking families of the disabled, sending frightened families of the disabled to get lawyers to protect their kids from bullying, sexual abuse, on and on and on. He can say they only used words like take disabled to mediation, filing due process, legal action, defending their District's expert's rights, but he is still using his employees and law firms to threaten people. In Mediation the "impartial" mediator is an employee of the County Board of Education, meaning a Special Education insider on his side, not impartial to families. Fees for mediation like $5,000-$8,000, some families have to pay $12,000-$15,000 to lawyers.

For posters saying the District wins it's cases - that is not really accurate. What the District never tells you:

a) The District only "won" on part of the issues. The judge ruled against the District on the other issues in the case. So the District lost most of the case, and should not have gone to court on this case, which could have been worked out more cheaply.

b) The cases the District "won" were not necessarily "won" on appeal. We've asked the Board, Special Education many times what happened on cases that were appealed, and District never responds. (Surprise, surprise.) Most appealed cases seem to disappear, meaning the District drops them or settles them when they can, or loses and does not publish this.

c) Even if the District says they "won" a case, they lost by showing too much of their insider game strategy. Palo Alto on line posters identified District testimony made public that was weak or misleading (someone's mother testifies as an expert witness to backup District behaviorist testimony, not disclosing she was their mother); District giving silly testimony like they "lost" crucial documents but were "defending" them anyway, and a teacher magically knew what an autistic child who didn't speak was saying because, well, she knew these things. The teacher had zero background in autism. Parents saw which employees the District uses to testify against disabled kids, damaging the trust of parents forever. Any District employee who testifies against their own student has lost parent credibility and trust forever. It doesn't matter where they go, parents can find out they testified against disabled students under the guise of wanting to help them. They are marked as District legal darlings, hired not to help children but to sound good in court. Nobody trusts them again.


Improve
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2017 at 10:11 am
Improve, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2017 at 10:11 am
1 person likes this

@Whole Story,
What you describe has been going on for far too long. Parents need to take their energy to fix things once and for all - use you energy to fight a battle that will make things positive forever, instead of every parent fighting their own losing battle as you described.

The School District is formed in Palo Alto under the City Charter, which us the City's constitution, basically. Charter cities in Palo Alto have more local power than other cities do. Palo Alto's City charter happens to create the school district, the board, the superintendant position, and says what rules we follow, mainly the California rules. But the great thing is that can be changed, particularly when it comes to accountability to the community. The reason the Governor of California has a lower salary than the Palo Alto Super is that CA has a citizens commission that re-sets the governor's pay at intervals, up or down.

Palo Alto residents and families have the power to change everything, if only they would realize that all the efforts they are making now, resulting in futility and stress, could be put into creating checks and balances and fixing the system for everyone who comes after. Change the City Charter. You think, as you described, that the legal should work for families, not act like some kind of personal lawyer for misbehaving employees? Change the rules.

It helps to look at other districts that have different power structures, or that have solved similar problems through such fundamental change, for ideas. You can find the process for changing the City Charter online, from the City Clerk, and then also (very important), by consulting a government law firm (though that shouldn't be nearly as costly if citizens do most of the leg work up front).

There is so much parents can do, if they just realized that we can change the City Charter regarding the school district. Changing the board regulations is useless since the board regs are "binding" but impossible to enforce. A Charter amendment could create easier ways for families to amend the board regs to create checks and balances, enforce board regs, and get districts to follow the law. It could create a position outside the school district, answerable to families, that could step in and advocate in an effective way. Some districts do this by giving the mayor's office power, but I'm not sure that's a good answer here.

My point is, for all that effort and expense fighting losing battles on their own, families could band together and for less energy and expense, change the rules to improve things forever.


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