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, firstname.lastname@example.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."