News

School board on sex assaults: 'A change in culture' is 'needed'

District announces personnel and other changes to curb ongoing problems, fix broken processes

The Palo Alto Unified School District needs "a change in culture and in processes," Board of Education President Terry Godfrey wrote in a message Thursday updating parents on the district's response to numerous reports of student sexual violence on and off its campuses over the last several months.

In her message — delivering on transparency the school board promised after intense community uproar over a then-Palo Alto High School student who had been convicted in juvenile court for an off-campus sexual assault and reported for an on-campus incident — Godfrey states that interim findings from a law firm's investigation into the district's "institutional response" to this case as well as community feedback and work with the federal Office for Civil Rights has led to "immediate systemic improvements" in the district.

Since May 31, an additional 10 incidents of sexual violence have been reported, Godfrey wrote. Some of the cases are current, some are from prior months, some are off-campus and some on-campus, but all "will be investigated," she said.

As planned, the district has created a full-time coordinator position to oversee Title IX and civil rights — a responsibility that was previously held by the associate superintendent as one component of the job, Godfrey wrote. This person's "full time duty will be to help us build a culture throughout PAUSD in which all members of our school communities respect the civil rights of others," she said, "and to lead us in implementing of processes by which we can respond to potential violations of civil rights promptly, vigorously and effectively."

The Title IX/civil rights coordinator will report directly to the superintendent.

Until that person is hired, an interim compliance officer, John DiPaolo, is handling that role and can be reached at a newly created email address, complianceofficer@pausd.org. DiPaolo is in charge of the investigations into the most recent reports of sexual misconduct, according to Godfrey.

The district is also seeking to make the process for reporting Title IX concerns more accessible, with a new complaint-procedures webpage and dedicated Title IX-compliance page. In Godfrey's message, the district also released its most recent Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP) log, which documents allegations of harassment, intimidation, bullying and discrimination. The UCP log is typically only accessible through a formal Public Records Act request.

Cozen O'Connor, the law firm the board contracted with this spring to investigate the district's handling of the Paly sexual assault case, will share its final findings with the board in the "coming weeks," Godfrey wrote. The board will share those findings in an open board meeting after summer break "to the extent permitted by state and federal privacy laws," she said.

The district is also continuing to update its relevant board policies and administrative procedures as part of its resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (which the board signed prior to the public disclosure of the Paly case).

In other personnel changes, Komey Vishakan, who was initially hired on a part-time basis to manage Public Records Act requests for the district, is now a full-time "manager of policy and legal compliance" charged with managing stipulations the district agreed to in the resolution agreement. Godfrey encouraged anyone with questions to email Vishakan at KVishakan@pausd.org.

District staff will also be trained this summer on Title IX compliance "with a practical look at how to effectively respond to reports, complaints and/or observations of discriminatory or harassing conduct based on sex," Godfrey wrote.

The district in March already agreed to annual mandatory Title IX training of employees throughout the district as a part of an agreement with the federal Office for Civil Rights, which investigated prior cases of civil-rights violations by the district. The district is also already required under board policy to train leadership and staff on sexual harassment and discrimination.

The training announced this week will be in addition to what is required under the OCR resolution agreement and under board policy, Superintendent Max McGee told the Weekly.

Godfrey ended her message with a call for unity, noting Gunn High School's "We're all in this together" slogan and student-created wristbands at Paly that carried the message, "I stand with victims of sexual assault."

"Our students are all in this together and do stand together. It's time to ensure those messages permeate all of their interactions both in and out of school," she wrote. "We must talk openly and frankly about consent, caring and respect, about how to stand together, and how to seek help when needed.

"There is a role for all of us — students, staff, families, community — to play in creating the school environment in which our students will thrive."

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Paly Teacher
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 14, 2017 at 3:34 pm

[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2017 at 6:33 pm

KTVU is on this again.

I wish they would look into other school districts and make some investigation there. I can't believe that Paly is the only school where this is going on.


20 people like this
Posted by for Healthier High Schools
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 14, 2017 at 8:35 pm

I applaud the board for being concerned about "caring and respect, about how to stand together." Surely, there's no arguing with such values!

But it will be impossible to move the climate of our schools in this direction as long as we continue turning a blind eye to certain basic, corrosive schoolday conditions at Gunn and Paly.

Only 18% of our high-schoolers have never engaged in cheating (according to the Challenge Success surveys of 2015 and 2016). Only 18%! Talk about a disrespected minority that we have never moved to protect!

In our failure to create a climate of academic honesty we are demoralizing our kids every day and every night, on every type of assignment. (The surveys showed cheating on homework, tests, papers, at rates as high as 70%.)

Second, because we lack the rules and the enforcement, kids are accessing their smartphones all day long.

Yes, kids do so for the emotional support they necessarily crave because of the loneliness, the distrust in our school culture; but the phones are used also for gossip, harassment, insults, intrusive or racy photos, and on-campus sexual assignations.

"Caring," "respecting," "standing together"--these are admirable ideals. But turning them into realities will call for courage from our school leaders.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Chairman, Save the 2,008--for Healthier High Schools

P.S. Join our 572-member alliance--at savethe2008.com--and support six practical proposals for school change.


22 people like this
Posted by jimmyh
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2017 at 9:26 pm

@resident - It's that attitude that got the school where they are today. "Let's look the other way, this is making us look bad. Let's talk about test scores and Merit Scholars."

I'm sure this is going on at other schools. But, why ignore what's going on in front of your nose. There are administrators at Paly, including Principal Diorio, that looked the other way to sexual assaults. That's a fact that cannot be ignored and must be dealt with. Ideally, Diorio will be gone by the end of summer.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2017 at 8:05 am

Jimmyh

That is not my attitude or what I am saying.

My point is that I am tired of hearing our dirty laundry being washed in public. I would be pleased if KTVU found some other districts with a similar problem as a comparison. We need to clean up PAUSD, I agree. We don't need to hear it continually talked about on local tv for all and sundry in the Bay Area to hear their version of the scandal, sensationalizing it for entertainment value - as their investigative reports often are.


21 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 15, 2017 at 8:40 am

@Resident
I agree that it would be preferable to not have a TV spotlight on our problems. Unfortunately, prior to the KTVU reporting these problems were hidden from public view and not being corrected as a result to the harm of students. This is a good example of why a strong, free press is so valuable.


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2017 at 9:23 am

I agree that the press did a good job bringing it out into the forefront and I don't mind that. It just seems to me that their continual follow ups are now entertainment or patting themselves on the back rather than newsworthy. If they were really investigating as good journalists should, they would look to see if the problem were more widespread. My suspicion is that there are other school districts pleased that the spotlight is on PAUSD while they are trying to cover their own problems. Why should we get the media coverage while others are remaining hidden while they tidy up shop?


26 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 15, 2017 at 11:06 am

DTN Paul is a registered user.

I'm not sure why I understand why it requires a full time officer to ensure people (administrators, teachers, students) follow the rules. Isn't this the job of the administration? If they can't handle it, and need to hire a special officer to do it, what exactly are they spending all their time doing?


11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 15, 2017 at 12:10 pm

@Resident
If we concentrate on solving our problems rather than hiding or denying them, our press coverage will improve. We get enough today out of D.C. of blaming the press. In our case we should be thanking them. Fortunately, we finally have a school board majority that appears to be facing and addressing the issues. This KTVU report may have even been the final and long overdue tipping point for them.


27 people like this
Posted by Keith Ferrell
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 15, 2017 at 3:52 pm

@DTN Paul - Exactly!! If the administration were doing their job, and following the law, PAUSD would not need to hire anyone to be an additional layer of payroll. A full-time compliance officer is not going to help if Diorio et al continue to bury the facts and treat sexual assaults as disciplinary problems.

It is the Palo Alto High School administration's negligence that is costing the district at least $1,000,000 in lawyer fees and additional payroll/benefit/pension outlays.

The bond money that was voted on last election to be used for additional teachers has now been allotted to lawyer fees.

@Resident - your criticism should be directed to the PAHS administrators who decided it was a better idea to bury the truth than to deal with the situation as spelled out by the law. It's quite possible that other districts actually follow the law and, therefore, this is not an issue. I'm sure if MVLA school district handled their sexual assault cases in the same manner [portion removed] PAUSD, it'd be in the papers.


24 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 17, 2017 at 7:01 am

Please get rid of Kim Diario. [Portion removed.] Her actions fall short in many ways to provide quality educational environment to all students.


6 people like this
Posted by Oh Keith
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2017 at 7:27 pm

Keith, let's drop the pretense.

[Portion removed.]

This community faces life and death issues on a quarterly basis. So I'm tired of seeing people exploit this situation for their own gain when we have progress to make.

The board has clearly taken steps to move forward. So stop anchoring us in the past. We need to move forward. So make your move now to get what you can, otherwise get out of our way.

Your neighbor


13 people like this
Posted by Keith Ferrell
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 18, 2017 at 9:02 pm

@Oh Keith
Please let me know what I have to gain. Feel free to explain your post. What is being exploited? If you are "my neighbor" please come and talk face to face and explain what you mean. I'm more than happy to discuss.

I don't have "a move". What I want is for administrators to be held accountable. Have you seen that? Is ignoring the past actually moving forward?


2 people like this
Posted by Oh Keith
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2017 at 9:29 pm

[Portion removed.] This community has a lot of healing to do from the last few years. And a lot of stress with a coming school year. So please consider the consequences of your continually picking at our societal scabs. [Portion removed.]

So please let us move on. The more you continue to hype past events and share your moral outrage with us, the more you hold us back. We need to start this new year on a high note. Not a sour one.


13 people like this
Posted by Keith Ferrell
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 18, 2017 at 9:38 pm

Sounds like the attitude the district is hoping for. Let's all put on a happy face and pretend everything is wonderful.

Again. Please feel free to stop on by and we can discuss in person. I wouldn't call this "hyping". It's simply calling attention to the negligence of the administration. An administration that will still be there when school starts up again.

The students deserve better.

Don't feel like going back and forth online. So, please contact me if you'd like to have a conversation.


16 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2017 at 1:04 am

Keith Farrell
How do I get in touch with you? I have read your posts and would like to share some things, and I speak for several families.

Sorry to see you getting attacked by the coverup crowd who think problems magically solve themselves when they get swept under the carpet. I appreciate the intelligent way you stand up to that.

Per the poster above, ktvu recently posted data on complaints, and there have been way more here thana the comparison districts including larger ones. The problem here is that denial and coverup create a backlog of problems. And more of them as problems don't get solved. We have already tried ignore the past and hope it will go away. Time to learn from mistakes, and the only way to do that is face them honestly.


16 people like this
Posted by Way to go Keith
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 19, 2017 at 1:44 am

I agree with you. Pretending everything is great when it's not creates problems. And then we say the students have mental health issues. I wonder why? I admire you for standing up for our youth. Clearly you are annoying some people who like to play pretend. Good for you!


16 people like this
Posted by Paly Dad
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 19, 2017 at 8:09 am

"The more you ... share your moral outrage with us, the more you hold us back."

I've never understood this type of thinking, which seems common among some folks in Palo Alto. Maybe it is a defense mechanism to deal with problems they don't feel comfortable facing (or doing anything about). Maybe it is just confusion.

There's a lot of culture change that needs to happen in our schools, esp. among the staff. They are under-trained and have been misled by their own managers and past boards. They care deeply about students, but don't know how to follow the rules and laws (in many cases, they literally don't know what the rules are). And they are worried, rightfully, about messing up; the scandals create a bunker mentality at the school, which can lead to move cover-ups.

Change won't come without persistent focus from the top - looking at you, Board and Superintendent - and that won't happen without "moral outrage" persistently applied by the community. Keep in mind - the most recent scandal happened AT THE SAME TIME WE WERE SETTLING THE LAST BATCH WITH THE OCR. If we couldn't follow the rules then (and we didn't) we are a long ways from being able to "move ahead" with dealing with sexual assault.


5 people like this
Posted by @Keith Ferrell
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 19, 2017 at 10:20 am

@Keith Ferrell

Your above censored 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).

BTW - I posted the following questions on 5/18/2014:
"... 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.

\/ill/\ge foool


8 people like this
Posted by Keith Ferrell
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 19, 2017 at 11:28 am

@a parent - Feel free to email me at ferrell.keith@gmail.com

I don't see it as anyone attacking me. Some people don't want to think that these things are happening at their school and being ignored by people they thought were looking out for the students instead of themselves.


16 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:27 am

Change in culture???? When you talk about changing culture, you are talking about changing the leadership at the highest levels.

So Board President, Why is McGee still here next year? Why is Diorio still here next year? You have the power to make culture changes immediately. Stop talking, let's see real action, and not some 5 year re-training program for school employees.


3 people like this
Posted by PAUSD parent 1
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 22, 2017 at 7:54 am

The community cannot move on with this. Damage was made, it is not acceptable to move on with the lack of accountability. Accountability is missing from board members all the way to staffs.


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