Report: 'timely' but 'flawed' response to 2015 sex assault | News | Palo Alto Online |


Report: 'timely' but 'flawed' response to 2015 sex assault

Law firm's findings echo failures in other Palo Alto Unified Title IX cases

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An investigation into an alleged 2015 sexual assault at Palo Alto High School has determined that school administrators' response was "timely" but "flawed." Photo taken March 22, 2016, by Veronica Weber.

A law firm has found that the Palo Alto school district responded promptly but failed to take the legally required steps to investigate and assess the impact of a reported 2015 on-campus sexual assault on the alleged victim, then a junior at Palo Alto High School.

The March 13 report, released under a Public Records Act request but heavily redacted, was compiled by Cozen O'Connor at the district's request and in response to concerns from the female student and her family that the district mishandled the case.

The report found practices and failures similar to those outlined in an investigation Cozen O'Connor conducted last year into an alleged sexual assault involving two students at Paly in 2016, including missing documentation, a lack of oversight by the district's Title IX office and a prompt but "ad hoc" response by school administrators.

In November 2015, the Paly junior reported to a teacher that a male Paly senior had sexually assaulted her on the quad during school hours two weeks before, according to the female student. Her name is being withheld to protect her privacy.

The Cozen O'Connor lawyers found that the district responded promptly by initially providing her with unspecified interim measures (that section of the report is redacted), reporting the incident to law enforcement and taking "some steps" to investigate what took place. But on the whole, the report states, the investigation was "inadequate."

The investigation was not documented and the school failed to determine whether the female student was experiencing a hostile environment at school as a result of the alleged assault, which is required under federal civil rights law Title IX. The female student's father said that the school failed to realize that the two students shared a class, which his daughter, feeling unsafe, didn't attend until the male student was removed. Her mental health also suffered as a result of the alleged incident, she and her father said.

Paly also did not notify the female student and her family of their right under district policy and federal law to file a complaint through the Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP), a district process for investigating discrimination-based complaints.

There was no written investigation report, a misstep that makes it "difficult to ensure that the context of the conduct or the requirements of Title IX ... are fully considered," the lawyers found.

There is no indication that Paly applied the legally required standard of proof in Title IX cases — the preponderance of evidence, or whether it's more likely than not that the alleged conduct occurred — and it is also unclear who determined whether the male student was responsible for committing the alleged conduct, the report states. Paly also did not follow up with law enforcement to see if additional information had been gathered or whether criminal charges would be filed, the lawyers found. (The police department forwarded the case to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, according to the female student's father, but it is unclear if formal charges were filed against the male student.)

The report states that Paly "followed its procedures for disciplinary action" under state law, but details about discipline are redacted.

And while Paly provided a written notice of outcome on the case to the male student, the school failed to do the same for the female student, as is required under district policy and law.

"While administrators were involved in supporting" the female student, "the efforts were ad hoc, rather than coordinated or tied to a demonstrated understanding of Title IX obligations," the lawyers wrote.

The female student's father has been particularly critical of the lack of response from then-principal Kim Diorio and Adam Paulson, then an assistant principal, to his concerns about the school's response and his daughter's well-being at school. Diorio has since resigned and Paulson was appointed as her replacement.

District and school administrators failed to evaluate the "appropriateness and sufficiency" of unidentified remedial measures, the report states.

The lawyers found there was "no coordinated oversight" of the investigation by the Title IX office, which was then led by Chief Student Services Officer Holly Wade. Wade, who left the district last year, was similarly criticized in Cozen O'Connor's report on the 2016 incident.

The female student's father said the Cozen O'Connor lawyers informed him that Paly administrators did not notify the district office of his daughter's report, as required under district policy and law.

The 2015 report is heavily redacted to protect student privacy. The names of the administrators involved in the case were not released. In the 2016 case, the involved Paly and district administrators were not initially identified in the law firm's report, but their names were later released at a school board meeting.

In footnotes, the Cozen O'Connor lawyers note that some of the missteps in the case, including improperly documenting investigations and not providing the written outcome notices to both parties, have been addressed by new leadership at the Title IX office. In the wake of the 2016 sexual-assault incident, which was publicly reported before the 2015 case was, the district hired a new, full-time Title IX coordinator.

The Cozen O'Connor lawyers note that at the time of the 2015 incident, the district was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for alleged Title IX violations at both Paly and Gunn High School. This "should have led to a heightened awareness of and attention to Title IX obligations and responsibilities," the report states.

The Office for Civil Rights found last year that the district repeatedly failed to "promptly and equitably" respond to and investigate reports of sexual harassment and assault on and off its campuses, in violation of Title IX.

The federal agency is currently monitoring the district as it reforms relevant policies and practices as required by a resolution agreement.


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49 people like this
Posted by Inconceivable
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2018 at 10:17 am

This is inconceivable and absolutely mind boggling. How can the administration at Paly be so inept at handling something as important as this?

51 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2018 at 10:35 am

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Bigger question. How can the PAUSD board PROMOTE Adam Paulson after reading the report?

16 people like this
Posted by Tony Putulin
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2018 at 11:03 am

I want to know how much the District paid to the law firm who did the report. Great reporting, Elena.

51 people like this
Posted by Collaterally Damaged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2018 at 11:44 am

My family was seriously retaliated against because of an OCR complaint, including creating a hostile environment among staff and in school against our student. We told McGee we would take a restraining order out on one of the administrators if it would mean we could protect ourselves from that person’s toxic influence and gaslighting. Instead, she was given oversight and control, making educational decisions even as our child and family were kept at arms length and not allowed to develop normal interactions in school. The retaliation worsened the longer we didn’t file another complaint. Eventually we just left because we could not see a way that even proving the retaliation (for which we have copious evidence) would be worth it or result in fixing things. The district showed it was willing to systematically gaslight us including hurting a really sweet student, it didn’t seem that complaining again would be worth it.

The reason I bring this up is that the extent of coordination and overt intent in the retaliation was shocking to us. One administrator who is no longer with us would violate privacy laws and essentially gossip a combination of falsehoods and private information behind our backs. We know this because he did with teachers outside our district who were so shocked they told us about it. We are sure similar things happened within the district, but we just experienced the toxic outcome with his involvement, no one was ever honest with us much less willing to investigate a complaint of persistent retaliation. While the teachers were definitely inculcated, some still remember the strangeness from the district. One serious complaint of cyberbullying, we were never even given the outcome when we asked. We have the written denials to our requests for the outcome. No one did anything to stand up for us, and the perpetrators were the only recourse. Our district needs an office of ombudsman that does not work for the district but where families can go to get help.

I bring this up because I do not believe such serious problems just work themselves out, and I am very worried that these Title IX complainants will be sitting ducks in the event of any further personal grievances being taken out on the children in school. Two of our worse tormenters are gone, but not people who carried water for them without questioning what they were doing, who I’m sure still believe what they were told. The administrators can even use district legal and the teaching staff against the children to pressure the parents. Since there is no entity protecting families, there is still a culture that finds gaslighting families easy. The situation became so bad, the fabric of our lives was negatively changed. It felt manifestly unsafe to send our child to school or certainly to try to solve even ordinary school problems, much less highly charged ones. I am very concerned about how those concerned can protect complainants against future retaliation, including the use of the very protective structures of system to make life hell for the students.

And if I’m honest, I still wish for an honest investigation into our own experience and an accounting an apology. Retaliation atemming from an OCR complaint is illegal. But like antiquated stalking laws, the OCR doesn’t do anything until after the damage is done, and only if you complain again (in the way that produced the original retaliation).

Thank you to those who stood up to make our district follow the law to protect our students. My fear is that it’s not over. The OCR oversight will be gone before the long memories of those harboring grudges.

14 people like this
Posted by Bye bye women
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2018 at 12:02 pm

I applaud the hiring of Paulson. [Portion removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2018 at 12:07 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 12, 2018 at 2:15 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I told you so,* I told you so *, I TOLD YOU SO!!!! I even outline a response for PSUSD to follow. If my recommendations that were made by my Special Ed teacher, principal and finally an Assistant Administrator parent had been followed, this issue would not have surfaced again.
I guess the " rocket scientists " have created a failure, so it is back to the drawing board...again..and again..
Everyone has to pay for your failures. How many $Millions were spent to try to beat a Federal " rap " by doing the opposite of what the OCR required?
Not only this family has been scapegoated for doing the right thing, there are many students who are or have been victims that did not get recognized because they had harassment issues that were " minimized " because of deliberate PAUSD " unwritten policies " to minimize actual problems, even after an OCR visit that made the OCR " recommendations " ( that are low key orders, because an existing issue can turn into a real problem if the Feds are forced into taking care of an issue that M$M could turn into news. Good or bad, the PAUSD would not be flattered as the world spotlight is turned on them. Hey, its all about money and plenty of money is what Palo Alto is about, right? I *suggest* that you had better look at the many *suggestions* the OCR has made with a quick response and actual timetable to meet the *suggestions* the OCR has requested.

5 people like this
Posted by You are pigs
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2018 at 3:35 pm

[Post removed.]

19 people like this
Posted by Title IX is a disaster
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Hopefully DeVos can roll it back. Putting school administrators in role of judge and jury of sexual assault cases only invites problems like this. Additionally the "Dear Colleague" letter changes criteria from clear evidence to preponderance of evidence, an unfair process for he said/she said cases. We have a judicial system to deal with this, use it.

35 people like this
Posted by unnecessary editing
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 12, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Why cross out Paly staff members' names?

The "public interest in disclosure of a report of a personnel investigation finding a teacher had violated his employer’s sexual harassment policy outweighed the teacher’s privacy interests...regardless of the fact that [he] was not a high profile public official [because] he occupies a position of trust and responsibility." Web Link ("Court of Appeal Holds that Personnel Investigation Report is Subject to Disclosure" February 2, 2012)

51 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 12, 2018 at 8:10 pm

This no doubt explains why they stonewalled the Public Records Act request for so long - and why they redacted it so heavily. They wanted to promote Paulson before his reputation was tarnished. The district seems more concerned with protecting administrators' jobs than with protecting our children. Is it too much to ask that our district simply follow the law?

23 people like this
Posted by white elephant
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 13, 2018 at 12:02 am

Where along the way, did adults put in charge of student education and wellbeing at schools, lost their souls and their humanity? I do not believe any adult paid for such a responsibility needs additional classes and training, nor do they need to be a lawyer to know that one does not continue to put the victim in the same class as the offender. Given that the police had already, reported to Paly that the offender had sexually assaulted another teen in church (prior to the Paly assault) . Why can't anyone of these adult admin. own up and apologize for their lack of responsible behavior, and say that they will change their poor policy (“deliberate lack of documentation to avoid leaving a trail of consistent failure in doing their job”) . Why do we promote irresponsible admin? These admin. were found at fault by independent investigations? Why should the public not see the complete Cozen report with redaction of the names of victims and offenders only (for obvious reasons)? We paid for this investigation, and the admin. are public figures with salaries paid by taxpayers? Our children go to school everyday and we have the right o know the character of the admins. in charge of our children's safety. No public apologies have been made, no principal has publically said " We will not tolerate harassment, assault, and bullying in our school. We have an anonymous method or reporting incidents when they are witnessed or occur, we will investigate each incident reported " how hard is it to stand up and say “NOT IN OUR SCHOOLS"?

29 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2018 at 3:24 am

@Collaterally Damaged, Thank you for sharing your experience. We also have been severely retaliated against, and people refuse to believe it is true and label us as unstable. The school with stop at nothing! We experienced such sick behavior from personnel at every level that my child stopped going to school for their mental health. We are out of this sick town.

Being transparent and honest just makes families targets, staff including teachers circle the wagons and get their stories straight and attack the family. Unbelievable stories made up and yes lots of personal sensitive private information free flowing....Unfortunately, some good teachers got a load of bull from the CYAers to joined the kick the kid party.

Not a single helpful safe adult at school my child could go to that would actually be helpful without twisting and attacking even more.

Go Eugenics! Your strategy is working. Us unwanted are leaving, totally damaged, broke and facing a huge uphill battle, thanks for ruining our lives PAUSD.

35 people like this
Posted by NoAccountability
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2018 at 6:25 am

Three years. It took THREE YEARS to investigate this fully. And honestly very little accountability: DiOrio was allowed to resign, Paulson promoted and Max retired.

None were terminated for cause.

Three years is a lifetime for this student, who, in the end, saw no justice.

When admin, staff and teachers fail in their jobs, our district puts endless energy and time into preserving the employees career, and zero effort into providing for the students, their well being and ensuring a just outcome.

The students come last in this district. This issue should have been investigated, resolved within a month, and failed employees marched out the door within the same school year.

Not Three Years Later.(and allowed to dance out on their own terms)

28 people like this
Posted by Collaterally Damaged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2018 at 11:46 am

@PA Resident,
I am so sorry to hear it happened to you, too. I truly think most of the teachers are good people so it's doubly awful that they become unwitting accomplices because of this backbiting culture from above. This district *must* find a way to create an administration that supports everyone at doing the right thing, and values like trustworthiness and honesty.

Like you, we went broke on legal and other costs the district forced us to incur (some they were supposed to reimburse but never did). We are still licking our wounds. We're afraid to even ask for records, it never got them for us and it typically resulted in someone doing something else overtly nasty (and creating a written record of having complied with the records request when they never did).

The silver lining is that when we left, our child's education could be focused on learning, on being balanced, and lo and behold, tests scores went up along with the more balanced life. Academic problems this child was made to feel inferior over worked themselves out when there was time to just read. Having agency and control over learning and life have improved our lives more than I could describe here. All that suffering was not only unnecessary for our child to get an education, it turned out it was stunting it. Nevertheless, we have to scrape by when even a quarter of what we pay in taxes for the district to educate others would make a huge difference to our child's education.

I know others who have left, though. Sending you positive thoughts. You are not alone.

My worry is that those who complained over this latest Title IX round will get the same treatment. I can't see any reason to believe it's over.

3 people like this
Posted by Anon-Parent4
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 15, 2018 at 11:05 am

There still needs to be due process and examination of evidence, even for Title IX. Otherwise, it's all onesided.

1 person likes this
Posted by George Polk
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 15, 2018 at 11:17 am

Consent remains a very challenging issue in these cases, especially when there is alleged criminality. It's hard for Juvenile Courts as well. In some cases the students are very close friends that have known each other for a long time.

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