News

District log reveals reports of discrimination

Nearly 100 incidents across school district show nature, extent of alleged misconduct

As of Dec. 1, the Palo Alto school district has logged nearly 100 reports related to sexual and racial misconduct, harassment and discrimination.

Like a scientist adjusting the lens of a microscope to bring a network of cells into focus, the log reveals for the first time the frequency, location and severity of these incidents as the district works toward a higher, required level of legal and policy compliance.

The most recent log, which new Title IX coordinator Megan Farrell is now posting on the district's website on a weekly basis, has 96 reports from this school year. Most of them come from the elementary and high schools, but there is at least one incident from every single campus in the district.

At the elementary level, Ohlone Elementary School has the most reports — 10 out of 41 total at the elementary level. Incidents at the school range from unwanted sexual touching and bullying on the basis of disability to a student's pants allegedly being pulled down during a game.

The district's three middle schools have logged the fewest reports: 16 total. JLS Middle School has the most reports (seven), followed by six at Jordan and three at Terman. The incidents are almost evenly split between ones that are sexual and racial in nature. There are reports of both verbal and physical sexual harassment as well as racial harassment and discrimination, including an allegation at JLS of "physical harm on the basis of race" and different treatment by a teacher based on race, also at JLS.

At the high schools, the majority of the 38 total reports are sexual in nature. More incidents have originated at Palo Alto High School — 24 compared to 14 at Gunn High School.

The vast majority of incidents on the log took place on school campuses: 77 out of the total 96. Ten incidents also took place both on- and off-campus, according to the log.

The vast majority of the incidents are currently under investigation. Other cases are "under review," meaning the district has not yet determined that a formal investigation is merited.

In four cases, parents requested that the district not conduct an investigation.

The district has determined that the alleged conduct occurred in four incidences, according to the log.

In only one case this school year were the allegations not substantiated.

Most of the reports were alleged to have taken place this year, but some stretch back to 2016, 2015, 2013 and even 2011.

As the district works to address discrimination allegations of all kinds, the newly staffed Title IX office is in particular feeling pressure to keep up with the sheer number of reports.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks said that she plans to hire a full-time investigator and a part-time clerical employee to support the office for the rest of the school year. Having an internal investigator would offset costs the district has incurred hiring outside legal firms to conduct Title IX investigations, Hendricks said. The investigator also would provide much-needed on-campus support for school administrators still adjusting to the new level of compliance expected in the district.

The district budget includes an additional $130,000 to fund these positions through the end of the school year in June. This is on top of more than $700,000 the district has spent since this spring to hire a law firm to investigate the district's handling of a sexual assault case at Paly and to fund a temporary Title IX coordinator for five months.

The district needs to "build out the infrastructure of that office while we're making sure we're meeting all compliance and accountability measures," Hendricks told the board.

The board discussed the funding as part of an interim budget update the district provides to the county. The board "gave guidance" to staff that supported including the additional $130,000 in the update but did not take a formal vote to approve it, DiBrienza said.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to capture ongoing coverage of sexual misconduct in the Palo Alto school district. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.

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Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Still hurting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2017 at 10:00 am

I still don't understand, are they investigating all discrimination complaints, or just Title IX? I can't seem to get an answer.

I am trying to decide whether to complain now or whether it will only make us vulnerable to more of the vicious retaliation by employees for a past complaint (that was substantiated). We came to the conclusion that the district wasn't really interested in doing the right thing and we were better off leaving, but at a cost to our family.

I think it would be immensely helpful to our students sense of safety and trust of the schools if there were an honest and earnest look into what happened, a real apology, and clear actions to ensure it never happens to anyone else (an improvement in the administrative culture), as well as a good faith attempt to rectify the wrongs.

The trouble is that our district tends to deal with families in an opaque, arms' length manner, making it easy for an employee with a vendetta to smear families behind their backs among staff and getting otherwise "innocent" teachers and employees to basically do their dirty work. There is no way then to correct the record. Without any advocate in the system for families and for truth, I still worry that filing a complaint will only lead to greater harm to already harmed families.

Who can answer the question: how long will the OCR monitor, and can we bring complaints of other discrimination and retaliation? Can we be protected from retaliation rather than have to endure it (especially harmful for a developing child) and only then, if we aren't too damaged to do it, make a new complaint about it?

To me, the bigger question is when the district becomes a place that is glad to know about problems to solve them, rather than cover them up? Where teachers can feel safe to be upstanders instead if just preaching it hypocritically to their students?



6 people like this
Posted by Kathy Jordan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2017 at 12:23 pm

@Still hurting - I could try to help answer your questions if you got in touch. pausdcomplaints@gmail.com.

The OCR is only monitoring PAUSD for sexual harassment complaints, not other types of complaints. That doesn't mean a complaint of another discriminatory type of behavior can't be made to OCR, which may then step in and investigate if they accept the complaint. Or a complaint can be made to PAUSD itself. Or a complaint can be made directly to the CDE. But there are time limits, 6 months from the time of occurrence, or 6 months from the time someone becomes aware of the discriminatory (if it is that) incident or act. If you are over the limit, an interested third party can make a complaint on your or your child's behalf, assuming it is an incident of discriminatory behavior, if the third party has learned about the incident and is within the 6 month time window of becoming aware of the incident.

While I can't discern the nature of your complaint, hope that information is helpful. Please email if you feel comfortable doing so.


14 people like this
Posted by Kathy Jordan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Regarding the article, a few things:

1) there is a misstatement in that these are not new levels of compliance that are required of PAUSD, they are the same levels that are required by state and federal law and regulations, but it seems that PAUSD has not frequently met that level of required compliance, judging by the various OCR investigations and their results. This level of compliance has already been required under Title IX (federal law) and 5 CCR UCP (state law), and the question is why PAUSD has not been meeting its requirements under law to its students and families.

2) what is also missing is the acknowledgement that PAUSD is most likely continuing to miss its deadlines. A number of these complaints listed in the log have not been resolved by PAUSD within the 60 calendar day deadline that the state of CA mandates for UCP complaints.

3) what wasn't mentioned in the article is the discrepancy between complaints on the "active" log and how many of those are formal (written) complaints. There is a huge discrepancy there if you look at it. In the two recent sexual assault incidents, and the Jordan MS bullying incident, all of which are lawsuits now against PAUSD, none of the families were informed of their options under the UCP (a state law), even though the complaints they brought forward are by definition UCP complaints (contain allegations of a violation of state or federal law which may include discrimination against a protected group), and even though PAUSD's complaint procedures require it, and even though Title IX, a federal law, applies and applied to the same type of discriminatory complaints anyway, which means PAUSD would still be having to perform most of the same requirements due to Title IX. (if anyone found out, that is) In my view, this not informing these families was deliberate, and apparently the beneficial outcome was to rid PAUSD of having to comply with pesky requirements, like investigating, reporting back in writing, making a determination about what happened, having to follow though on the disciplinary process under EDC 48900, documenting the complaints, holding hearings for offenders who are students with disabilities, and so forth and so on. Following this route, PAUSD could then sweep things under the rug, do less work, and pretend as though it was almost like nothing ever happened.

Maybe the next article will explore this.....still good reporting though.


22 people like this
Posted by New Low
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2017 at 5:06 pm

I think we have reached a new low with an unofficial email account to register complaints.

[Portion removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Still hurting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2017 at 10:53 pm

@Kathy Jordan,
Thank you. I will think about it. I think the six months can be waived for good cause, although the reality is that the damage continues. Every time we tried to let the district know about problems, we were retaliated against in some really nasty and pernicious ways, so we eventually moved on out of self-preservation, but we still live in the district and pay tens of thousands every year in property taxes that support the schools we cannot feel safe to use.

There are other ways the issue is current, and I can't see any reason to believe that things would be different now, so my first responsibility is to protect my family, since the laws and even OCR doesn't do that. If you do some reading on the issue of retaliation against families who have complained to the OCR, you will see that the situation is in the stone ages, you get no protection, you can only endure the damage then go about complaining and proving it (against people who retaliate if you complain). You see the problem, I hope.

Thanks for your involvement. I wish your level of concern for doing the right thing was in the job description of every employee.


7 people like this
Posted by Still hurting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2017 at 2:27 am

I should probably clarify that the threat of retaliation alone isn't the whole reason for leaving. If anything, the worsening retaliation only caused the evidence against certain people to pile up, making a stronger and stronger case against them.

It took a lot of effort not to get sucked into a fight (that we seriously could have won) - have you ever had to deal with someone who hurts families and really deserved to be made to face what they had done? We thought that at least what we were doing was going to help everyone who came after. But at some point, we realized that nothing we did was going to help anyone, the administrative culture (and certain persons) was way too sick. We had better things to do with our lives, our family was the priority. And it became all too obvious that fighting wasn't worth it.

A reconciliation and apology would be worth the effort to bring the complaint, although I just want to know when the district office is populated by good people with a backbone to do the right thing, not just sweep things under the rug.


10 people like this
Posted by Group Effort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2017 at 9:08 am

Dear Still Hurting,

I am so sorry about what your family has gone through! The unfortunate truth is that many Palo Alto families have similar experiences are yours, many left at their own cost. Your request for investigation and resolution is absolutely the right move, all parents would do that for their kids. We as parents have the responsibility to teach our kids the fundamental expectations of respect and equality. The relentless retaliation you and other families experienced is a revelation of a sick culture has existed in our district over a very long time, as evidenced by the cover-ups of the many bullying and sexual assault cases.

Your concern that your fight may not lead to any positive outcome is a very valid one. Many have tried, on their own, and been thwarted. This is similar to the nationwide sexual harassment trend, where pervasive conducts were allowed to go on for decades because victims were repeatedly silenced, ignored, and retaliated against. However, as numerous misconduct cases pouring to surface in recent months, we are finally seeing a movement that's never been seen before.

The district now has nearly 100 complaints and several lawsuits. This is the beginning of the movement, I hope. But it can only be sustained if families collectively come forward, fight the abuse of power which is so disturbing in our community. Harassment is an act of aggression that belittles, unnerves and controls. It violates the humanity of the person being harassed. It is worth fighting, and now is a great time to fight.



2 people like this
Posted by Smokey
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2017 at 2:25 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Sara
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2017 at 10:18 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by kid
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2017 at 1:19 pm

@ still hurting.

the difference in this community is that when you went in an complained, no other family would go in with you and risk what they knew was going to happen. You probably became poison to the families and friends that were trying to avoid abuse. To others, your story may seem crazy or trumped up, but this same exact story with all the same details is so common. On this website, there are hundreds of recounting the same exact details and can describe how their kids were hurt.

Watching adults stand by silently knowing kids are hurting also causes all the kids to lose their center and be off balance. BUT... you did not. you took them out and stopped playing the stupid game and stood up for your child and tried to stand up for others, so you are the winner. You have no loss. I think PALY is not known as much for academics as they are for antics. Good luck to you and I hope that the younger parents are reading along and watching and knowing the older families and will stand by each other more. There are so many teachers that would love to do the right thing, but they also suffer retaliation . Seriously. posting on this website puts you at risk and an online data collection for complaints can not be anonymous. If they wanted to address complaints and help their students, they just would. Making parents beg all the different organizations to document their complaints shows lack of care for students lives and souls actually. The timeline for most of these complaints needs to be be about 10 days, not sixty and that would be an eternity for most teens. 60 days in a bad situation perceived or not is just wrong. I do know that Kim is really sincere about settling things down quickly for the kid and even if all the paperwork is not done, she does care about her kids and is really doing all she can. What I would love to see is an ombudsman just for the students who knows code and student rights so the students can go directly to them for help. Parents are very emotional which is great, but they do not always know what the rules are what they can ask for and often go in ready to fight without having the information they need.


3 people like this
Posted by as effective as going to HR
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 14, 2017 at 10:48 pm

It's just not a priority for school administrators and teachers get dressed down for getting too involved. Filing a protective class bullying incident or any other legitimate safety concern with PAUSD is like handing the keys to the enemy. They are not objective and more effort goes into discrediting your complaint, albeit, strategically with delays, avoiding the parent and getting the child to state they are unsure about what happened, after they are grilled by a dozen administrators without the parent present. The things I've seen, I wouldn't have believed were possible by adults who CHOSE to educate children. If you want to be shrewd and win kudos for quashing things and protecting the budget by not doing what you're supposed to - please go work somewhere else where children are not damaged by the dysfunction. I've had doctors and other specialists tell me that even if a child is at the brink of suicide (the school does give anxiety tests to some kids), they will change and do nothing. They don't change a thing affecting the child and blame it on parenting.


2 people like this
Posted by Bill Johnson
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 4, 2018 at 10:29 pm

PAUSD registered a total of 71 complaints on its UCP log from January 2014 until June 2017. District board president Terry Godfrey, in a memo to the community, says there are 10 new cases now listed on the Uniform Complaint Procedure log. Are other HS Districts in Santa Clara County and other California Counties having a similar spike? Does the District or D.A. have more detailed statistics that are publicly accessible? Is there a racial breakdown of the perpetrators and victims? What patterns are we seeing? I prefer information to hysterics. I also know that at this time in life, many teenagers do not realize they are saying yes and no at the same time, which is another reason why we need appropriate school dress codes.


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Posted by Paul Drake
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2018 at 11:25 pm

In reading all of this, I am seeing that many want their children to be safe at school and are imploring the School District to guarantee this. Still most of these "alleged" non-consentual events have occurred off-campus. No way for the school to corroborate except via hearsay. Would it not be better to have some type of intermediate alternative system to receive and hear complaints and rebuttals? In most cases involving minors (under age 18) 75% of what occurs is experimental and half-consensual (according to established European Union Psychiatric Association). Basically, at this age, these kids are discovering, experimenting...aren't sure if what they initiate is what they want. Do more research...all here.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmm
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 6, 2018 at 1:14 am

According to the Post, Paly students have been caught streaking during Winter Break at the Stanford Sunken Diamond.

When students are no longer on campus, when is it the school's responsibility to discipline students?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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