After trying to block the school district from publicly releasing its Jan. 11 letter of reprimand of her, Palo Alto High School Principal Kim Diorio took the offensive Wednesday and released the letter herself, along with a seven-page rebuttal that states she and other school staff were following the district administration's "directions" in their handling of a 2016 campus sexual assault case.
As reported by the Weekly on Wednesday, Diorio's attorney -- in response to the newspaper's Public Records Act request for the letter -- had asserted to the district that the letter's release would "violate her privacy interests" and that "the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighed the public interest in disclosure."
The district said Tuesday it intended to release the document by next Tuesday, providing Diorio time to seek a court order to prevent the disclosure if she wished.
Diorio, who announced on Feb. 23 she was taking a medical leave, opted instead to release the documents to Paly's student newspaper, The Campanile, and student online news site, The Paly Voice.
The Jan. 11 letter of reprimand, from interim Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Anne Brown, states that Diorio failed to provide a female Paly student who said she had been sexually assaulted on campus in 2016 with the "full range of procedural options" under federal and state law and district policy.
The reprimand letter cites the findings of an external law firm the district hired last year to investigate its handling of the sexual-assault report.
The firm, Cozen O'Connor, found that while Paly administrators initially responded promptly to the student, multiple missteps resulted in legal and policy violations "under your leadership," Brown wrote to Diorio.
(View the Cozen report here, including the executive summary.)
Diorio did not inform the student and her parents of their right to file a complaint under the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP), the letter states. School administrators also failed to maintain required documentation, conduct thorough interviews of the students involved and witnesses, conclude the investigation or reach a determination as to whether the reported conduct violated federal gender-equity law Title IX, state Education Code or board policy, the reprimand letter states.
The letter does not mention a federal Office for Civil Rights investigation that found Diorio, while assistant principal at Paly, 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.
Brown suggested a series of remedies to Diorio, including creating a "clearly identified site-based flowchart of responsibilities and communication regarding all Title IX investigations" that identifies the principal as the first person to whom staff should report any complaints received and should provide regular updates during the investigation process.
In her Jan. 29 response, Diorio defended her and her staff's actions and laid responsibility for the flawed handling of the incident squarely on the district office.
"School staff should not be held personally or professionally responsible for implementing district office directives," she wrote.
Gunn High School Principal Kathie Laurence was also formally disciplined for her handling of the case while she was assistant principal at Paly.
Diorio wrote that she and staff "repeatedly" asked the district's Title IX coordinator at the time, Holly Wade, and a district attorney, Dora Dome, and "were told that neither UCP procedures nor a 'Title IX launch' were warranted." Diorio said she was "never informed" by district staff that her response was "inappropriate" in any way. (Wade resigned at the end of the last school year.)
"Staff followed directions not wishing to defy the district structure or act in a subordinate manner," Diorio wrote.
Diorio said that Paly staff had not received training in "trauma-informed or effective investigative practices" — a misstep identified by the Cozen lawyers — until last May, after the case was reported publicly. The training was "requested by the school site," according to Diorio.
(Numerous Title IX trainings have been held over the past few years for administrators and teachers, however, as the district worked to comply with directives of the federal Office for Civil Rights. Those trainings included specific instruction on the UCP, which is identified as the district's procedure for resolving all sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints.)
Diorio stated further that any inconsistent documentation practices at Paly were "consistent with district procedure."
Diorio noted that the Cozen O'Connor lawyers were "complimentary" of the school's initially prompt and compliant response.
"Simply put, the Cozen report is replete with multiple determinations that the district had deficient policies, protocols and implementation," she wrote. "Outside counsel and the Title IX coordinator provided erroneous information to the school making it impossible to comply with the letter of Title IX."
She noted that Paly has completed the recommendations Brown made in the reprimand letter, establishing new "internal structures and improved communication" at the school.
Diorio describes the district's failures to uphold Title IX as "a sad chapter in an otherwise successful story.
"The district's reputation has been harmed and careers have ended. I understand that in an institution such as ours, we share our successes as well as our failures," she wrote. "The Cozen report made it acutely evident that without training, communication, and accountability the system can break down."
Diorio, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Weekly, is quoted by the Paly Voice as writing in an email to staff that "Our administrative team has acted with integrity, character and professionalism, despite the personal attacks, harassment and threats we've endured."