The Palo Alto school district is anticipating spending an additional $200,000 this school year to investigate numerous reports of sexual violence, harassment and misconduct involving students and staff.
The district has almost exhausted $250,000 allocated during the last school year to a national law firm, Cozen O' Connor, to investigate the district's handling of past reports of sexual violence at Palo Alto High School. The district initially contracted with the firm this spring to conduct investigations into past sexual misconduct cases as required by a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, and later asked attorneys to probe the senior leadership's handling of a separate case that was reported publicly in May.
The school board will discuss the proposed budget increase as part of an action item on the district's legal services contracts at the first meeting of the new school year on Tuesday night.
The district has seen a sharp spike in sexual-misconduct reports since May, when it was reported in local media that a Paly student remained at school after being convicted for an off-campus sexual assault and reported for an on-campus assault. Close to 30 Title IX-related incidents have been recorded on the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure log since May, including five new reports made in July and August.
The allegations include sexual assault, sexual harassment, unwanted or inappropriate touching and involve both students and staff at the high schools as well as middle and elementary schools. Some reports resulted in the district taking action in the form of taking "responsive on-campus steps" or offering remedies to the complainant while some were not substantiated and others are still under investigation.
The district is now posting the Uniform Complaint Procedure log on a weekly basis at pausd.org.
Staff are also proposing an increase of $36,000 in the 2017-18 legal services budget to pay another law firm, Ellis Buehler Makus, for one-time investigations related to Title IX complaints.
Staff are also recommending that the board approve an increased contract with an existing firm, Dennis Woliver Kelley, to take over personnel services previously provided by Lozano Smith.
The district put out a Request for Proposal this summer to replace Lozano Smith following criticisms of its services from board and community members. A selection team made up of two board members, Superintendent Max McGee and three senior staff are now recommending Dannis Woliver Kelley "based on our positive experience with the firm and the firm's knowledge and expertise in these areas," a staff report states.
The San Francisco-based firm has historically provided legal advice related to facilities and construction to Palo Alto Unified, but is a full-service education law firm. Staff are recommending Lozano Smith complete open personnel matters with an estimated cost of $50,000.
The total proposed legal contracts budget for 2017-18 is $986,000. The largest chunk of that, $400,000, would be allocated toward the firm that handles special-education related issues.
On Tuesday, the board is also set to approve a set of Title IX-related policies that have been revised over the last several months as required by the Office for Civil Rights' resolution agreement. The federal agency formally approved the three updated board policies and two accompanying administrative regulations in August, according to a staff report. The Office for Civil Rights is asking the board to meet particular deadlines for approving the policies over the next several weeks.
McGee has said he will also present on Tuesday results from questions related to sexual harassment and misconduct added to the district's Strategic Plan survey last year, as required by the Office for Civil Rights.
"Following a summary of the results and findings, I will share several steps we are currently taking including staff and student training, online reporting of any incidents (including a means for reporting anonymously), employment of a Compliance Officer, updating of key policies, and more," he wrote in a weekly message on Friday.
In other business on Tuesday, trustees will discuss several ideas for how to run more effective meetings. Among the proposals are to change the default end time to 10:30 p.m. and allow only one extension; to limit public comment during open forum to 30 minutes, and if there are more than 20 speakers, to pick 20 cards at random; and to post on the district website instructions for submitting emailed comments to the board at meetings, including a "process for contacting the Board that doesn't result in those emails going into the packet."
McGee will also present results from a district survey on a new sexual-education curriculum that sparked controversy last year, particularly among parents of middle schoolers. The district has used this data to "determine some next steps for how to improve the teaching and learning of the program and how to make all the materials far more accessible to parents than last year so they can choose to have their students participate or opt out to learn from other resources," McGee wrote in his message.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.