News

High school principals disciplined

District confirms Kim Diorio and Kathie Laurence have been rebuked for their actions at Paly

Palo Alto High School Principal Kim Diorio and Gunn High School Principal Kathie Laurence have been issued formal disciplinary notices by the district, the administration has confirmed.

Laurence, the former assistant principal at Paly under Diorio until last fall, received a warning letter in November for her handling of a Paly student's report of sexual assault in 2016. The Weekly obtained the letter through a Public Records Act request.

The district has confirmed it has discipline records for Diorio, but has neither produced the documents nor indicated what prompted the disciplinary action. Diorio has objected to the documents' disclosure, with her attorney suggesting that their release would "violate her privacy interests" and that "the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighed the public interest in disclosure," Komey Vishakan, the district's legal request specialist and compliance manager, wrote in an email to the Weekly Friday. The newspaper has objected, citing well-established legal precedent that requires the release of complaints of misconduct of school officials and any related disciplinary records or notices.

Vishakan responded Tuesday that the district will release the requested disciplinary documents pertaining to Diorio by the end of day next Tuesday, March 13, providing Diorio time to seek a court order to prevent the disclosure if she wishes.

Diorio suddenly announced to staff on Friday, Feb. 23, that she was taking a medical leave effective immediately, citing health reasons. She said she plans to "return to work" in the spring.

Diorio has not returned multiple requests for comment from the Weekly. Laurence declined to comment for this story, but according to Vishakan did not object to her disciplinary letter being released in response to the Weekly's request.

Paly administrators were faulted by an external law firm for their response to a female Paly freshman who said she was sexually assaulted in a campus bathroom by a male junior in 2016. Diorio was also criticized by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights last year for failing to report concerns about inappropriate behavior by former Paly principal Phil Winston while Diorio was vice principal. The Office for Civil Rights spent more than three years investigating allegations of sexual harassment and assault involving students and staff at Paly.

On Monday, the district provided a Nov. 16, 2017, warning letter for Laurence that was placed in her personnel file.

The letter, from interim Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Anne Brown, states that Laurence's violations of district policy and federal law "adversely impacted" the female Paly student "by failing to protect (her) rights."

The letter cites the law firm's findings that Laurence did not connect the female student's subsequent reports of bullying to her sexual-assault report, of which Laurence had been aware.

Several weeks after the alleged incident, the female student reported to Laurence that other students were harassing her. While Laurence "took timely action to address the concern, spoke with the students whose behavior was at issue, and admonished them to stop the conduct," lawyers from Cozen O'Connor found that she did not communicate this to other administrators, nor the district's Title IX officer at the time, Holly Wade.

Laurence "failed to identify the subsequent behavior reported to you as potential harassment, retaliation, or continuation of a hostile environment under Title IX," Brown wrote in the warning letter.

Laurence did follow up with the female student about a week later but did not inform Paly administrators about it, document the conversation contemporaneously nor inform the student of her right to file a complaint under the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure, according to Cozen O'Connor.

And when Laurence was copied on an email that described the female student's intention to leave Paly because of the impact of the incident and "subsequent rumors," Laurence again did not share information about the harassment to which she had responded, the Cozen O'Connor lawyers found.

Laurence later told interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks that she "had shared information with other members of the administrative team" about the case, but there was no documentation to confirm that, Brown wrote.

In an email to Brown, Laurence said that because she shared this information verbally, there was no documentation.

"I want to clarify that I was honest in my communications with Ms. Hendricks," Laurence wrote in the undated email, provided to the Weekly through a Public Records Act request. "I recognize the importance of documenting conversations."

The law firm found "systemic" problems with how Paly administrators handled the case. They initially acted promptly and in compliance with the law and district policy but their response then devolved into legal and policy violations: poor, and in some instances nonexistent, record keeping; a neglect to communicate sufficiently with either the female or male student or their parents; and a failure to launch a required Title IX investigation and to investigate a potential pattern of behavior by the male student, the firm found.

The Office for Civil Rights also found last year that Diorio, as Paly's assistant principal from 2007 to 2013, was not prompt in reporting sexual-harassment allegations about former principal Phil Winston that she had received from numerous staff over the course of three years.

As a "high level district employee," Diorio "did not discharge her responsibility to take immediate and appropriate steps to address them when they were reported to her," the Office for Civil Rights wrote in a formal letter of findings.

Diorio was named principal after Winston resigned in 2013, citing health and "work-life balance" reasons. The Weekly later reported, citing documents it obtained through Public Records Act requests, that Winston had been disciplined for sexually harassing and behaving inappropriately with both staff and students.

Since June 2017, the Weekly has made three separate Public Records Act requests for complaints and discipline and/or unsatisfactory performance records for eight Paly and district administrators who were potentially involved in the Paly sexual-assault case. In July, the district produced a 2016 letter of reprimand for former chief student services officer Holly Wade (for altering a memo from one of the district's former law firms by removing the name of an attorney who the district had asked to no longer work on school matters.) Wade resigned at the end of the last school year.

It was not until Feb. 23, in response to the Weekly's third request, that Vishakan said the district had identified new responsive records to the request. She said that the district was "providing the employees with time to review given the privacy interests involved."

The district has apparently not, at least as of Wednesday, taken disciplinary action against the other administrators involved in the case: former superintendent Max McGee and Paly assistant principals Victoria Kim, Jerry Berkson and Adam Paulson. The school board has held numerous closed-session discussions regarding employee discipline over the last several months, and as recently as last week's board meeting.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

64 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:24 am

I don't see anything the principles did warrant such disciplinary letters.

Principles are busy. It is ridiculous to require them bookkeeping every activities in writing. Nothing will get done if this is implemented. And had they broadcast these incidents to wider audiences the privacy of those affected would have been violated. The school will be sued by parents of both sides.

Palo Alto is turning schools into cages, run by expensive bureaucratics. Utterly disgusting. Only the lawyers are happily laughing into the bank.


59 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:27 am

By the way, superintendent of PAUSD is paid $300K salary. I just learned the salary of superintendent of New York City School District is just a little more at $330K. But NYC schools have more than 1 million students. Go figure.


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:30 am

Online Name is a registered user.

$300,000? Got fiscal responsibility?


134 people like this
Posted by Fed up
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:42 am

@m2grs – are you kidding? The principals are too busy to follow basic procedures as set by the federal government? The principals are too busy to keep victims safe? Wow, so who’s responsibility is it to protect the physical safety of our students? And by the way, if they followed procedure and reported these incidents to the proper person (Title IX Officer), then they would be off-loading most of the work to the person who’s job it is exactly to deal with these cases. And if they followed procedure then they wouldn’t have to spend so much time dealing with the Department of Education and OCR complaints. “Too busy” is no excuse for allowing these assaults to go without proper investigation.


9 people like this
Posted by Keith was right
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:51 am

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:02 am

@Fed up, it is not that the principle did nothing. She did admonish the bullying students. She did follow up with the victim. But sometimes you have to use your judgement. Teenagers are immature. We all have been through that stage of life. What is the school supposed to do? Destroy the future of some students just because they did a little bit foolish things?


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:02 am

Online Name is a registered user.

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


21 people like this
Posted by Borne Back Ceaselessly
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:04 am

[Post removed.]


57 people like this
Posted by Toxic and Destructive
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:07 am

The unremittingly negative drumbeat from the Weekly continues.

The board is hellbent on firing its way to success.

The Weekly views Title IX issues as easy to solve. Kids do bad things to each other. Administrators and others do everything they can to help those bad actions from affecting students' experiences, but they are human. And they don't cross every T or dot every I.

The Weekly and the present board are systematically destroying the district. [Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Keith part 2
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:07 am

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


5 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:11 am

And the surprise is?? We all knew it was coming.


55 people like this
Posted by A PALY Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:12 am

To @m2grs,

Umm, under your logic, does it means that I can violate the law without a consequence, just because I am a very busy high executive? (Well, many of us happens to be one of them in Silicon Valley.)

You will be surprised by how many other school districts actually obey the laws and keep documentations, not only for official records, but also to protect employees themselves (as Lawrence's case above.)

By the way, the principals in PAUSD also earn more than $200,000 a year, and only works for 9 and a half months a year!


47 people like this
Posted by The Board of Ed
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:13 am

I for one am glad that we have a Board that worries so much about their own power and re-election that they cater to the small minded corners of Palo Alto that like to call for blood every two years. [Portion removed.]

Per the previous poster, firing our way to success is not a solution. Just a short term way for Board members to avoid bad news during an election.

Did Lawrence's and Diorio's team mess up? Sure. Was it out of malice or gross incompetence? Surely not. So in a community plague with clusters, why are we hounding seasoned administrators who (best I can tell) really care about our kids.

Best I can tell it comes down to the tyranny of the minority and the seaweed-thin egos of our BOE. [Portion removed.]

Public education is not perfect and may never will be. Continually firing people for not living up to an unrealistic ideal only puts our kids in jeopardy and frankly sends then the wrong message.


52 people like this
Posted by Just asking
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:15 am

@m2grs You mentioned that you "don't see anything the principles did warrant such disciplinary letters" for not following procedure mandated by Title IX. Would it have been any different if it were your child who was the victim and admin didn't follow required protocol, failed to document properly, allowed the perpetrator to remain on campus and continue to play a sport while your child was taunted and bullied and you were not informed of your rights?


37 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:16 am

Mama is a registered user.

If you want to comment on educational matters, please learn how to spell and the difference between principal and principle,


59 people like this
Posted by Keep it going...
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:17 am

Great. Now we know disciplinary action has been taken. Can we now have the discussion about what parents can do to stop sending rapists and harassers for the school to deal with? Waiting for that op ed, PAonline.


7 people like this
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:20 am

The constant virtue signaling [portion removed] over minor failures to dot all the i's regarding bureaucratic minutiae is absurd and poisonous.


17 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:28 am

In case no one noticed especially “Keith” Phil Winston was male.
The argument that women can’t act under pressure is asinine.


37 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:30 am

"The Weekly and the present board are systematically destroying the district."

After nearly a decade of suicide clusters, sexual assaults (including by teachers), bungled forecasts and contracts, OCR investigations, illegal closed sessions, etc. - you think issuing a couple of personnel letters is destroying the district?

Hey, two seats are up in November, give it a try.


38 people like this
Posted by Borne Back Ceaselessly
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:32 am

I'm not sure this is the forum to ask an honest question... but can someone comment on why it should the place of a school official (whether at the high school or college level) to be investigating potentially criminal behavior? Isn't that what the police are for?

Furthermore, criminal determinations aside, if there are interventions that need to happen DURING an investigation (like separating parties, keeping everyone safe so kids can learn and minimize the educational impact throughout the process), wouldn't it make more sense for the police to quarterback that?

I promise this question is not meant to be rhetorical. If there's a good reason that this is so, please take the time to tell me and I'll learn something.


4 people like this
Posted by Aletheia
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:41 am

Aletheia is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


38 people like this
Posted by Realist
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:45 am

Kim and Kathie have fought hard against a PA culture that is not exactly as innocent as one would think. Until they started working together, PAHS had senior streakers at the close of every school year. It was not uncommon to be violated by a student running or riding through campus on a bike in the nude. That was a sensual PA tradition that they helped to break.

The bottom line is that there are mandates that must be followed, and it’s not easy to do so when you don’t have the support that’s needed to do it. Every school board and administration should be striving to go beyond just compliance in their standards anyway. If we expect our children to go above and beyond, then we must show them the way. It’s our responsibility to blaze the trail. School safety needs to be placed at the top of the priority list and it should be more important than how well a school ranks academically.

Administrators need to stop worrying about what the public thinks or the backlash they might receive from those few problematic parents. We need to show our children what’s right and then stand by our decisions. And when we make mistakes, we need to own up to it. That’s how we prepare our children for life.


39 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:47 am

Good question immediately above. Why not involve the police more? Not that high school administrators have no duties, but why internalize potential violations like this?


19 people like this
Posted by YP
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2018 at 12:06 pm

YP is a registered user.

I agree with “borne back ceaselessly “ . Title IX is an administrative disaster that places too much responsibility on school officials and addition makes them judge and jury. We have a criminal justice system. Hopefully De Vos will successfully roll back title IX


35 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2018 at 12:44 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

What privacy issues are Diorio afraid will come out? Anything in the disciplinary reports would be for her job as a public official and the result of a lengthy investigation performed by an outside law firm. I don't think these items include any private personal information

Is she afraid that she might look bad? That ship has sailed.

Doesn't the public deserve to know what the principals of their school district are doing improperly and how they are handled?

How many more shoes will drop?


8 people like this
Posted by Someone turned on the ceiling fan
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 12:46 pm

Someone turned on the ceiling fan is a registered user.

I bet at least one of the board members will claim this credit in the next election cycle. The issue is whether he/she was the one actually reaching out the axe first.


10 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2018 at 1:37 pm

iSez is a registered user.

Agree with Mama. We old timers were taught that “The principal is our ‘pal” so we could remember how to spell the word. I suppose they aren’t teaching that anymore and the statement is clearly untrue. [Portion removed.]


27 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@realist - At some point getting rid of streaking can't be the go-to item for what they've done to change the culture. There were many parents, staff members and students that were clamoring for them to end streaking.

How about staying on top of things and doing what the law requires? It's all about outward appearances. Great, there's no more streaking, but what about the kids that are bullied, harassed or assaulted? You know, the things that go on all the time, but just not out in public view during lunch.

Have you seen the article on the kids who won't use the bathrooms at school because of all the kids who hang out there and vape? How tough can it be for Reese and other campus supervisors to stop in the bathrooms every now and again?

Have things actually gotten better? Have you seen the latest UCP log? Have a look. It's on the PAUSD website. They've buried it pretty good, so if you need help finding it, I wouldn't be surprised.


24 people like this
Posted by Please stop.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2018 at 3:43 pm

Please stop. is a registered user.

Parents, our kids read this stuff. Let's please model our best behavior.

All of this is upsetting...but let's try to have a civil conversation that is based on facts and works toward problem-solving instead of complaining and blaming.

Thanks for considering my request.


42 people like this
Posted by Calsildia
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Calsildia is a registered user.

@m2grs, your comment below is extremely offensive, to all sexual assault victims and to this community!

You asked, "What is the school supposed to do? Destroy the future of some students just because they did a little bit foolish things?"

The assault incidents at Paly included forced oral copulation, and you call that "a little bit foolish things"? Your statement reminded me of Brock Turner's father, who defended his son by calling the hideous crime "20 minutes of action". People with views like yours is why sexual assault/sexual harassment is so prevalent in this society. You do NOT understand what a victim has to bear from being assaulted, then humiliated and retaliated. [Portion removed.]


27 people like this
Posted by For.the kids
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2018 at 6:46 pm

For.the kids is a registered user.

@please stop - the kids should know what is going on with those in charge of their school. What is it that you find offensive or not.based on facts?

The district has had the facts and continues to allow administrators who broke the law and were found to attempt to hide those actions, to be employed and have even promoted them.

That is what is offensive


9 people like this
Posted by PalyPop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2018 at 7:29 pm

PalyPop is a registered user.

Wow. We can request school staff personnel files? I'd love to have seen Winston's. There are surely some more juicy quotes from him.

But this Diorio letter sounds like the infamous Nunes memo. The investigation into the Paly investigations was all published in the Cozen report. So it's not clear what new is going to be in here. But I'll reserve judgement.


1 person likes this
Posted by DeniseW
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:01 pm

DeniseW is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by PalyPop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 8, 2018 at 6:25 am

PalyPop is a registered user.

FYI The Palo Alto student newspaper has the missing disciplinary letter. As I thought, it's page 23 of the Cozen report. Doesn't look like anything new. Web Link


43 people like this
Posted by Roger Dodger
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2018 at 9:59 am

Roger Dodger is a registered user.

Once again The Weekly's clear editorial bias rears its ugly head and the discourse devolves. This paper is creating a toxic environment with this online forum and fostering a continued level of incivility that is absolutely deplorable. There are systemic issues in the district that clearly need to be solved, and that work is happening. It won't be done next week, yet the paper appears to be doing everything in its power to obfuscate this and to create immediate conflict because, oh, I don't know, maybe it's generating a lot of page views? It's utterly shameful.

Your bias is revealed when the comment threads that trend to strong statements in support of these administrators and critical of the paper are shut down for further commentary while the threads the foment criticism and vitriol are allowed to blossom. Your online forum is a joke and does NOTHING to further the constructive resolution of these difficult and complicated issues. It's almost as if all you cared about is generating more traffic to your web site, as opposed to actual objective journalism. You should be ashamed of yourselves.


2 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2018 at 1:25 pm

kids is a registered user.

I have no opinion about recent events. I do think every parent should read actual ed code, mandatory reporting laws, the actual CA child abuse and neglect laws, federal privacy rights for their childrens technology, words and how their time at the HS is documented. This is a great habit and life skill to promote. They will need this in college and career and maybe as parents and or leaders. Be careful with your kids' privacy and they should not trust anyone but themselves with knowing their written legal rights.


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Why is it becoming increasingly impossible to open a restaurant on the Peninsula?
By Elena Kadvany | 27 comments | 5,130 views

Firing Judge Persky as a tennis coach was a big mistake
By Diana Diamond | 23 comments | 2,843 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 3 comments | 2,200 views

It just takes time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 579 views

Helping Partners Become Couples (vs. Helping Couples Become Partners)
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 497 views

 

PRICE INCREASES MONDAY

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now