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Special-ed advocate to run for school board

Parent Stacey Ashlund brings candidate pool to four

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Stacey Ashlund, a Palo Alto parent who has devoted much of her time to advocating for the rights of special-education families, plans to run for a seat on the Board of Education in November.

In an interview Monday, Ashlund said she decided to run because of "heartbreaking" divisions she's seen deepen in the school community, particularly in the wake of a contentious debate over renaming a middle school for a Japanese-American alumnus. If elected, she hopes to bring a unifying, positive voice to the school board.

"What I've been hearing, reading and seeing lately — every individual group is feeling the need to speak up and say, 'don't forget about me and don't disrespect me'...as opposed to the unified thing, which is, what brings us together?" Ashlund said. "I find when we start from where we agree as opposed to starting from where we differ we get more accomplished together."

Ashlund pointed to her early special-education advocacy as evidence of her ability to bring people together. Ashlund left her career as a usability engineer to support her son, who was born with disabilities, when he turned 1 year old. She thrust herself into learning about the rights of children with disabilities and their parents — a complicated world to navigate, she said, even from a place of privilege.

She felt compelled to help others with fewer resources and started volunteering with the Community Advisory Committee, a parent advocacy group for special-education students in the Palo Alto school district, and then the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and education foundation Partners in Education.

When she took on the role of special-education representative for the Palo Alto Council of PTAs a decade ago, the group had no designated special-education parent representatives at the school sites. Ashlund brought together the Community Advisory Committee and PTA group to do their work together "instead of in isolation," she said.

Since 2007, Ashlund has worked with the Special Education Local Plan Area Community Advisory Committee, which represents four Santa Clara County school districts in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. She currently serves as the group's co-chair.

She has advised other parents on special-education advocacy, presented at and organized education conferences and created and facilitated support group for parents and professionals, according to her resume.

Ashlund has volunteered in numerous other capacities, including on school site councils; with the Usher 1F Collaborative, a nonprofit that fundraises for research on Usher syndrome type 1, a rare genetic disorder that causes both deafness and blindness; with nonprofit Peninsula College Fund, which supports low-income first-generation college students; and as a Girl Scout troop leader, where she said she has worked to expose young girls to STEM and feminism. Ashlund holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science and a master's in computer science.

She also served on the board for the Magical Bridge Playground, a nonprofit that builds inclusive playgrounds; on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission from 2011 to 2015; and as a Democratic delegate representing Assembly District 24 during the same time period.

In 2011, Ashlund graduated from Emerge California, a political candidate training program that aims to increase the number of Democratic women in office.

Ashlund said the biggest challenge facing the school district is a still-narrow definition of academic achievement. She referred back to the importance of the Developmental Assets, 41 community values developed in the wake of a teen suicide cluster.

The Developmental Assets state that "your social emotional health and wellbeing is just as important and essential to your academic achievement," Ashlund said. "They rely on each other."

Another campaign priority of Ashlund's is "mutual accountability" on the school board. Members should share responsibility with the district administration for mistakes rather than be quick to punish staff, she said. High turnover at the district in recent years, from the superintendent's office on down, has created a sense that "there is no redemption," she said.

"If there's a spider in the house we burn down the entire house," she said.

"We have to work together; we have to collaborate; we have to have an ounce of forgiveness," she added.

Ashlund, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, has lived in Palo Alto since 1992. She is the parent to a 19-year-old son who attended district schools and a daughter entering her junior year at Gunn High School. Ashlund currently works as a user experience consultant.

Ashlund is the fourth person to announce a bid for the two open school-board seats. Sitting board President Ken Dauber, parent Kathy Jordan and newcomer Shounak Dharap also plan to run.

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Comments

49 people like this
Posted by Fellow Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2018 at 1:38 pm

I do love Stacey and think she would be head and shoulders better than people like Melissa Caswell and Camille Townsend, but I am worried about the analysis of the district turnover recently. We can thank our lucky stars for the turnover that meant we were finally rid of certain people who look nice but just have the kind of personalities that are, behind closed doors, poison to an organization yet people around them rarely know the cause of the drama. I have read Stacey write a glowing letter in support of one of those people who did immeasurable damage to my family and others I know, which tells me that person knew Stacey was civically powerful, i.e., she knew to curry up to Stacey.

Administrators in this district tend to go after the weakest of the herd; parents who volunteer in some key positions have often developed insufferable superior attitudes because they are never on the receiving end of the worst of it so they blame other parents for what they experience. But if we kept trying to make nice, we would still be stuck with those terrible admins. Whatever the reason, we owe a deep debt to Max McGee for getting rid of Young, Carillo and Wade. Stacey, I love you, but I suspect you would tend to support them and be blind to what they were doing. Please give me a reason to believe I am wrong.

Stacey has certainly done a great deal for our community in the capacities she's engaged. But right now, I hope she will think carefully about whether she is better off continuing to serve in those capacities instead of school board. Because we really don't need anyone who thinks that the conflict itself is the disease to squash down rather than the symptom of things that need to be fixed. My experience with this district is that the harder you try to work with admins who have no respect for parents (and children's rights), the more you will be treated like a chump or even retaliated against. (That is distinct from the PTAC and other privileged volunteers who, I'm sorry, just don't get it, literally.)

PTAC candidates have historically favored the go-along-get-along tack over doing what it takes to get the best outcome. This works for them because the staff treat them better, but it doesn't work for those who need someone to stand up for what is right.

I am really not categorizing Stacey, I really don't know for sure. The district will get a really hard-working, honest, caring person if she is elected. I could say the same about Heidi Emberling, and she was a terrible board member. Right now, we need upstanders for our kids -- upstanders who are able to lead rather than cover up when things go wrong.

[Portion removed.]


59 people like this
Posted by confused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2018 at 2:33 pm

"Another campaign priority of Ashlund's is "mutual accountability" on the school board. Members should share responsibility with the district administration for mistakes rather than be quick to punish staff, she said. High turnover at the district in recent years, from the superintendent's office on down, has created a sense that "there is no redemption," she said."

So, who would be mutually accountable then for the $6 million misspent in the $6 million blunder? Taxpayers? Students?

And who would be mutually accountable when District administrators fail to follow laws and policies and harm students by not providing access to their education? Students? Parents? Whom?


15 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 2:49 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Stacey Ashlund's history of volunteering on behalf of the children of Palo Alto over many years is impressive. Palo Alto's council, commissions, boards, and committees would all benefit greatly if members, either elected or appointed, had a proven track of involvement and volunteering, bringing with them a broad and deep knowledge of the local issues and histories that come before them.


33 people like this
Posted by Fellow Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2018 at 3:28 pm

margaret,
I don't disagree with you. She is also a stellar human being. But I felt the same way about Heidi Emberling who was a pretty poor Boardmember. I felt the same about Teri and she turned out better than I expected although my standards were pretty low by then, anybody was better than Caswell and Emberling.

Stacey can continue to be an effective community volunteer, in fact I wonder if it's better for the community if she continues to do those things. One of the people running is an experienced lawyer who might be good at checking our legal bills, it's very common for law firms to feel no one is minding the store and rack up expenses.

Again, I think the biggest issue for me is judgment. Stacy works well by working on things that really aren't controversial. I have never seen her stand up where there was conflict, and I worry she'll be another force to try to window dressing the conflict rather than for truth and reconciliation, which we really need. She will not be able to work only on things that aren't controversial as a board member, in fact right now what we really need is a backbone and a willingness to see and deal with rather than gloss over or blame the victims for conflict. I am not sure that's Stacey's strong suit. In fact, I think one of the pervasive problems in our district has been people giving a pass to leaders just because they like them personally, no matter how abysmal a job they do as leaders. Again, I will wait until I see more.


48 people like this
Posted by Privileged and Unbalanced
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 3:46 pm

I agree with @Fellow Parent that our district has many "privileged volunteers" in PTA, PTAC, who are capable of getting what their kids need. The rest of us working parents who don't have the luxury of time to volunteer get treated as "the weakest of the herd" when dealing with administration.

The proportion of the current board members with special ed children way outnumber the make-up of the district. It is obvious that over the past several years, the agenda have been pushed towards special ed. While the work is admirable, there is not enough representation for the rest of student body. For example, did majority of our student body agree with the weighted GPA proposal? There is also the misrepresentation of data. For example, academic stress has often been used to explain teen suicide cluster, while CDC investigation clearly listed academic stress as one of the bottom (not top) contributors, behind mental illness, ongoing bullying, etc.


19 people like this
Posted by My vote
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Stacey is heads above every other candidate at this point, especially those running for re-election. She has our votes.


30 people like this
Posted by No
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Sounds better than another Caswell, who wants to make the curriculum more rigorous.

However, I won't vote for her. Special ed students should be at small, private schools, not a college prep factory.

Plus, how can we be unified with the VTA program that brings students from San Mateo County? It's like trying to mix oil with water and will never work. My children tried to stay friends with some of them, but they feel like outcasts since they don't live in Palo Alto, so they stick with the friends from their cities. And our schools are already overcrowded. Any board member have the courage to end the antiquated VTA program that was started in the 1980s when there weren't enough students in PAUSD? It's not PC to touch it, so I'm guessing no one will, lest be blackballed.


21 people like this
Posted by Fellow Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2018 at 7:05 pm

That's just it, @No. Special ed students cover a wide range of situations, and most of the students need to be integrated, not separated. The law says least restrictive environment. This district owes every child an appropriate education, and it can do that. I think Stacey is right that we need to be making broader opportunities.

I think right now the four candidates I have seen are all good people, smart, hardworking, and in it for the right reasons. I think the question is which can be the board members we need right now.


9 people like this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 26, 2018 at 11:52 am

Special ed teachers rock! And they have communication skills. This can be very helpful with some of our disruptive element. Happy to see her run.


16 people like this
Posted by Annelise Mora
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm

I have known Stacey for years and can vouch for her dedication to kids of all shapes and sizes and her incredible work ethic. She is absolutely not afraid of conflict and to call bullsh*t where she sees it. I greatly admire this quality about her — she will take on anyone if she feels mistakes are being made. So I’m not sure, Fellow Parent, where your perception of her as someone who will defer to going with the flow comes from. Stacey has my family’s vote as I know she will work responsibly for the benefit of the children and not any personal ulterior motives.


35 people like this
Posted by Hoover parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 26, 2018 at 1:24 pm

Sorry but what she says sounds meaningless to me. When people disagree you can't solve it by focusing on where they agree. When staff doesn't execute well, the board's job is to improve the situation, not engage in mutual accountability. The last thing we need is another person who doesn't know how to be a board member.


12 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 1:36 pm

resident3 is a registered user.



"Ashlund holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science and a master's in computer science."

In combination with her leadership activities advocating for kids with special needs, am happy to see her run.

Fact is that what students with special needs need is what every student needs, and why not come together on what we agree on.


8 people like this
Posted by time for change
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Anyone's better than the current board. The idea that someone can be so fiscally irresponsible and then ask to get re-elected shows arrogance in the extreme.
Definitely time for change.


12 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 26, 2018 at 6:46 pm

"every individual group is feeling the need to speak up and say, 'don't forget about me and don't disrespect me'...as opposed to the unified thing, which is, what brings us together?" Ashlund said.

What PAUSD needs is someone willing to acknowledge the many voices who are not heard, instead of an approach that glosses over differences. PAUSD needs someone who will address and acknowledge the differences, because maybe we don't all agree. Need to deal with it.


35 people like this
Posted by Agenda Committee
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 26, 2018 at 7:26 pm

Agenda Committee is a registered user.

@observer - Correct. Ms. Ashlund's remark shows a lack of understanding of democracy. What's more, it's insulting.

If every individual group is "feeling the need to speak up" - then the Board needs to do a better job of hearing them. Who are we supposed to leave out? The people she decides to leave out, the people senior administrator's decide, the vulnerable?

The only way to be heard in PAUSD is in groups. Immediate problems are not attended to until they become massive, large group problems that cannot be hidden. Even getting the law followed here requires a crisis or Federal intervention to get action.

Glossing over the differences is too much like Heidi Emberling and Holly Wade, the Assistant Superintendent and Law Firm she supported blindly.

Why does the candidate think people need to say 'Don't disrespect me?'

Maybe because the District is being Disrespectful.

Are we supposed to respect only certain groups? If so, which ones? The elite committee volunteers, who have the income to volunteer outside of work and child care duties?

Do we respect her and not the suffering families and children who are honest about problems?

Respect means listening, identifying problems honestly, and telling staff they must change or corrective action will be taken. It is not respectful to allowing staff to show the Board only half an issue, the part that attacks or ignores families, students, and every individual group.

Employees fear losing their jobs because their poor performance was allowed until it reached catastrophic stage. The Board did not hold employees accountable and listen to opposing views. The Board did what their Administrators and Attorneys told them to, believing staff when they said they had taken care of problems. That is like allowing a child to eat cake all day then complaining they have cavities. You did the child no favor. The Board did the employees no favor, only created an environment of confusion and distrust.

Special Education parents who run for the PAUSD Board tend to fall into two groups:

1) Parents of students with milder disabilities who do fairly well with few services, so they do not see the problems with Special Education. They think parents who want accountability are just complainers. Heidi Emberling was in this category.

2) Have children with disabilities severe enough the District cannot hide their deficits so that their students do receive help, and may even be sent to private schools outside the District. These parents do not really work with Special Education in the District on a day to day basis, and do not understand how bad it is, especially how rude, dismissive, and disrespectful it is. Todd Collins is in this group.

A characteristic of these candidates is leadership on high profile and prestigious committees and PTA Presidents who district's must listen to, or management of single focus organizations - President of PIE - which gives money so they are treated with respect. These are great organizations and the work these volunteers do is wonderful. They really don't know how to run large, complex, mean organizations, and that is what we need.

Ms. Ashland is wonderful and her work admirable, but she does not bring the background we need now.

We need Board Members who are Executives with strong background in finance and accounting to run the District until we can get a qualified and stable management system in place.


13 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 26, 2018 at 7:40 pm

@Agenda Committee

We are not on the same page - my comment is not to bash teachers. I'm criticizing the tendency to not deal with the fact that we have many disenfranchised voices in the community who never get a hearing because of the power dynamic that favors the wealthy, the ones who have the leisure to volunteer, and this group has the power.


3 people like this
Posted by My vote
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 26, 2018 at 10:18 pm

We need fresh voices, we need youth voices!
I am voting for Stacy because of her own experience as a parent and her tireless commitment to serving our kids!
I am voting for Shaunak Dharap because we finally have someone who not too long ago was was a student in our system and is a smart successful professional with fresh ideas!
No on Kathy Jordan - who will not be solution focused and is all about what will get her elected. I doubt her commitment and worry about her not getting things done!
No on Daubsr because it’s time to change the board culture and move forward so kids needs can be met!


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of University South
on Jun 26, 2018 at 10:44 pm

@time for change
Dauber is the only incumbent running and he was the only board member who opposed the recent screwed up budget. He and Collins have added much needed fiscal oversight.
Ashland is a passionate advocate for some groups, but fiscal oversight does not seem to be a focus for her.


16 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 26, 2018 at 10:47 pm

Change the Board culture? To what? Dauber has been the most effective Board member in as long as I can remember. The idea that replacing would be an upgrade is laughable.


24 people like this
Posted by Momof3
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2018 at 11:12 pm

Dear My Vote,
I would like to correct the record on Kathy Jordan. She did not get involved in protecting students to get elected. She saw injustice and stepped in. She was concerned about a sexual predator and did something about it (I believe well before #Metoo). She is hard-working and cares about our District protecting all its children. None of her own children was involved in any of these incidents. She is selfless and tirelessly hard working. No wonder she was a world ranked tennis player. She works and works and works, undaunted by administrators who would have tired all the rest of us out.
Undaunted by parents who shun her because they would rather look the other way. Undaunted. Exactly the type of person we need to keep our children safe and well educated.
Thank you.


10 people like this
Posted by time for change
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 27, 2018 at 7:08 am

@Resident,

Dauber (and Collins) both screwed up in not making sure the union was notified and their incompetence resulted in the loss to the district of $6,000,000. Web Link

Even worse, they also "virtually guaranteed the payment of $1.5 million in bonuses to employees at the end of this school year by adopting a projection so conservative that actual property-tax revenues this year would likely exceed budget by much more than the trigger 1.5 percent, as is turning out to be the case based on early county tax estimates.)"

This is all their doing. They had the opportunity and choked. If you think the loss of 6 million dollars still deserves re-election, start looking at the out of control legal spending.

They have shown no fiscal oversight whatsoever and do not deserve to remain on the board.

@Old Timer,

You can't have been here that long. NO ONE has ever produced such a massive financial loss while on the board. The idea that Dauber is an effective board member is laughable.


17 people like this
Posted by Board watcher
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 27, 2018 at 7:28 am

Board members aren't responsible for exercising HR functions. Collins and Dauber essentially fired McGee over it, and the HR head also left last summer and the finance officer is also on the way out. Dauber voted against the ridiculously generous teacher contract in the first place, and lost on a 4-1 or 3-2 vote. I can't remember whether he picked up another vote or not. The district also negotiated a giveback from the union on the bonus, if I remember right.


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of University South
on Jun 27, 2018 at 7:36 am

@Time for Change
The lack of notification to the unions to reopen their contracts was a big screw up, but it was an administrative failure by Bowers and McGee, not by the board. The board does not have those responsibilities and they do not have them. We had administrators who did not do critical job functions.
The board did have oversight responsibility for the budget and contracts. Dauber stood out for questioning those. A review of the reporting from those meetings and watching the videos confirms that.
We have had weak board oversight of the finances by the board majority for awhile. Dauber and Collins took flack from the rest of the board for their scrutiny of the budget and union contracts and they were soon proven right. You may not agree with them on other issues, but I am glad they have stood up on this.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2018 at 7:56 am

What baffles me about something like this is the fact that we have part time board members who are basically serving in their roles as enthusiastic volunteers on a very important board while at the same time having full time professional jobs and very involved in other aspects of their lives.

Now is this a good way to run a school district or is there a better way? I don't know the answer to this but I do think that we have overly high expectations for what we expect in a board member.

The only professional running the District is and should be the Superintendent but of course there have to be guidelines and oversight. How this can be done by a random group of individuals with no past experience of doing this and attempting to do it on a part time basis.

I always want to thank anyone who is willing to take this on and even if I do not agree with some of the things that board members do or say, or how they vote, I still want to thank them for their time and efforts in doing what they think is right for our children.

I have very low expectations for any board as I see the limitations, but at the same time I do have high expectations for them to have chosen the best superintendent to lead our district. I thank anyone who is willing to give us a selection of individuals to choose our best board possible, and I do expect us to be able to choose a diverse board with various experience. I do not expect every individual on the Board to be perfect, but I do expect them to use whatever experience and interests they have to make our overall board a body with various different experiences and focus.


3 people like this
Posted by board owns this one
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2018 at 1:53 pm

The $6 million budget mistake was on the School Board too.

Todd Collins called this a collective failure by district leaders. Agreed.

That would have been McGee, Bowers, Godfrey, and Dauber.

The first mistake was on the old board (Godfrey, Dauber, Caswell, Townsend and Emberling) signing a union contract that had an automatic 3% raise triggered if x happened, a fiscally irresponsible provision that should have been structured the exact opposite way so that the union would have had to be the ones who notified the district by a deadline if its members wanted a raise. Web Link

Then the new school board leaders (Godfrey and Dauber) forgot to put the deadline in their Google calendars to check whether the Superintendent was on top of it.

Yes, McGee and Bowers should have remembered but they had nothing to lose if they "forgot" about it and, hey, what's their downside when their PAUSD friends get a $6 million easy, and unexpected raise and, with the “me too” raises, they might have gotten one too?

At least they apologized.

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by board owns this one
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2018 at 2:20 pm

To Board Watcher,

Bowers and Mak retired.

McGee announced his retirement too, right after the Paly Title IX firestorm erupted. That was months BEFORE the Weekly ran the $6 million budget mistake story and Dauber and Collins urged McGee to get out of town.

Dauber and Collins did not “essentially fire” McGee. They had taxpayers give him $153,000 so that he’d move his retirement date up a few months.


1 person likes this
Posted by kinda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2018 at 8:03 pm

Board Watcher,

"Dauber voted against the ridiculously generous teacher contract in the first place."

Kinda.

The four who voted yes wanted to pass the surplus on as raises.

Dauber voted no because he wanted slightly smaller raises and to spend the rest on hiring few new high school teachers.


7 people like this
Posted by Board watcher 2
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2018 at 8:56 pm

Actually, Dauber wanted to give $5 million lower raises (not small) because he thought the compensation wasn't needed, and advocated hiring 35 new teachers (not few) to reduce class sizes with the savings. If the other board members had gone along, the district wouldn't have a fiscal problem. It wouldn't have the extra teachers, either, but at least it wouldn't be making cuts.

Web Link

Dauber responded that his criticism has not been aimed at the teachers union, but rather at his own colleagues on the board.

"It's the board's responsibility to assess the cost of the contract in relation to the other needs of the district and strike a balance," he said. "That, I think, is what the board has not done."

Though no changes could be made to the new contract on Tuesday night, Dauber had suggested that the district offer teachers instead a 9 percent base salary increase over three years with 1 percent one-time bonuses — a raise he said would maintain the district's position as one of the higher-paying districts locally and across the state.

Dauber estimated that the level of compensation increase would free up an additional $4.5 million annually — the equivalent of 35 teachers, which could reduce class sizes at the high schools by an average of six students, the same number at the middle schools or by three at the elementary schools, he has said.


25 people like this
Posted by pa resident
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 27, 2018 at 9:22 pm

I like that she supports special ed but it is so grossly flawed, I'd like to understand what is actually different with the candidates involvement. I'll go out and campaign if there is sustainable change that can be highlighted.

@Agenda Committee - stated so correctly! The board involved with special education fall on the extremes and do serious harm to all the other children the district fails in teaching, fails in following the laws, are told to not document what they offer parents for 504 and IEP plans and find ways to CYA. I too have had meetings held without me and had documents changed without my permission and even had my signature from another document attached. It is painful to see the hurt, children that have lost out on their future because the school has wasted their school time with efforts to give the illusion they no longer need services, going as far as eliminating all diagnosed disabilities from documentation.

@privileged and unbalanced
You're right, the weakest of the herd are not looked out for. If boards have been too heavily focused on special ed - then they are clearly more than incompetent and they definitely should not be focusing on special ed. I'd say have them focus somewhere else but that wouldn't be fair to the new victims. It's not the boards role to hire competent special ed admin and teachers who have the desire to educate kids - not find ways to limit services. If special ed admin have no compassion left, they should take a sabbatical because they have lost their compass on what is primary - educate kids and ACTUALLY provide the INDEPENDENT learning programs required by law. If they are unable to - just admit it (but they want the $$$ per student).

@No
I agree w/no, special ed should be at small schools, there are so many flaws to effectiveness that our schools are incapable of resolving and scaling solutions. No amount of $ will do it.

Our schools DO NOT EDUCATE OR INCLUDE special ed children and cause significant damage to these children. Families leave in order to avoid wasting their child's time because they are not getting an education and are being damaged - it's the condoned strategy by the district and they are probably laughing it up for the parents that try to enforce their rights because there is no way the district will fulfill a fair and appropriate education by providing support to equally enable education. At that point it becomes a stalling game - meanwhile the child suffers.

We need a mindset change but instead people dig in - I don't see how equity and the laws will be adhered to while we have the current administrators and board members - what I do see is getting better at fighting families to reduce the claims against the district. I see that it's more important to attack children and parents then to do the hard work and create a true community and a safe school that also provides a great education to EVERYONE. There is so much corruption that I don't see legal expenses declining...


27 people like this
Posted by legalistic
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 3, 2018 at 9:26 am

legalistic is a registered user.

@pa resident - @NO Response is very true. Special Ed staff do try to get disabled students to leave the District or get families to home school. It saves them money. They hint heavily in meetings with 'you have the right to unilaterally move child to a private school if child is unsafe,' or 'you can homeschool if the child can't be kept safe at school.' They want you to believe they are helping you by telling you your "right", but do not tell you you need an attorney and to follow certain legal steps to do this. They hope the parent will leave in desperation not knowing the legal steps, because then they can blame the family. It was 'parent's choice' they tell the Board.

It's an open secret, but no one can ever say it. They District will deny it strongly. There is an enormous loss of students after Grade 5.

The Board had a Goal to measure why families left the District, but Melissa Baten Caswell removed it. She has a child in a private school and running for a third term, and did not want this issue brought up. (And she is the only Board member to oppose term limits.)

True, it is senior management's job to hire competent special education staff who treat families with respect. The problem is, all the current staff, management and two Co-Directors were trained by past Administrators. More crucially, they were trained by their attorneys. The District's former law firm had training to be rude to parents, interrupt, talk over, avoid discussing problems, pressure them with 'we are the experts', blame parents for disabilities, and to write vague documents that obfuscate and delay, all while smiling and saying how helpful and diligent they were. (What working adult in America feels the need to tell someone they are diligent?) You see this in the proposed letter to parents rejecting records requests based on number of pages. Web Link

Until Special Education stops writing rude, condescending, legalistic letters that do not reply to the request, nothing will improve. The problem is this behavior is ingrained. They are so heavily trained to be legalistic and rude, they believe it is normal business practice.

I really like Stacey, but am not sure she understands she has to represent all children, not just ones who fit the mold. She hasn't always seen the other side and has a hard time understanding she must represent all students and families, not just those she agrees with. She has done some great volunteer work, but in prestige positions, many involving single issues and awarding funds. Like Heidi Emberling, she has had a relatively easy time with Special Education, so is unlikely to understand troubled families. She is more likely to believe whatever employees tell her until it is too late, which is what we experienced the last 4-6 years.

Whatever work she did on County Special Education hasn't helped PAUSD students. The District violates County guidelines and rules all the time. We fought for years to get a copy of a County procedure for dealing with violent student behaviors. County policy appears to have no bite. Most staff are shocked to hear there is a county manual. There isn't a way for parents to have input to County policies, parent's do not have recourse to the County when PAUSD breaks rules.

The best candidate comes to the table with an open mind. Not an insider, but someone with strong finance background and who can look at rules and see when they are being violated and manage the staff to fix it.


16 people like this
Posted by what?
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2018 at 1:20 pm

what? is a registered user.

"The District's former law firm had training to be rude to parents, interrupt, talk over, avoid discussing problems, pressure them with 'we are the experts', blame parents for disabilities, and to write vague documents that obfuscate and delay, all while smiling and saying how helpful and diligent they were."

Did this really happen? Do you have evidence that the law firm actually held an official training session on a certain date and at a certain time that taught these techniques to staff? If that is really the case then the school district has yet more skeletons in its closet than we originally imagined! It's one thing to speculate that they did, and keep doing, this stuff, but it is another to have specific details that the district sanctioned this and paid for it using pausd families' money!


25 people like this
Posted by Fellow Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2018 at 10:19 pm

@What?

For sure those things happened. And worse. It was almost funny the way you could start saying something, and the admin would cut you off, and if you tried to say it again, they would cut you off again, and again. The letters weren't just obfuscation, I heard them described as "not one thing in here is true", "masterpieces of falsehood" and other things I cannot repeat here.

If they were the result of the law firm training the staff to do those things, then this ought to be front page news. Or it ought to have been shared with the public by new board members.



29 people like this
Posted by Really
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 5, 2018 at 10:18 am

Really is a registered user.

@Fellow Parent
This information from training was posted in Town Square of Palo Alto Online. The public expressed disgust at the time. The majority of the Board ignored it, although some Trustees like Mr. Dauber did further research, read parent submitted documents, and obtained all law firm e-mails with PAUSD, and expressed concern.

Also, Board members spoke at meetings of attending conferences presented by the law firm and the sense of fear they generated that Districts were attacked, and needed their law firm's services. Which they obtained.

Dear @What -
"Did this really happen?"

Yes it really happened. Please review the Palo Alto Online coverage for the past 5 years. Or talk to any Special Education parent. Or listen to any parent's recording of a Special Education meeting. These tactics are not only common in Palo Alto, but in most school districts.

"Do you have evidence that the law firm actually held an official training session on a certain date and at a certain time that taught these techniques to staff?"

Yes, there is really evidence, and this information has already been posted in Town Square of Palo Alto Online.
It was Board of Education Members themselves who raised public questions leading to the public examining what was being taught. For example, when Fagen and Fulquist was retained as the law firm and Holly Wade promoted, public concerns were raised in open Board meetings and Board Members stating they reviewed all the firms e-mails and found they were not acting in the interest of families. Board Members stated they attended Board Member Conferences in San Diego, California where the law firm held sessions to raise fear about the OCR's work and protest it. Mr. Dauber asked this and other Trustees to stop making accusations about families of children who were bullied because they were disabled they could not attend school. The attacks on the OCR were a major factor in the last election, where Heidi Emberling lost her Board seat and Melissa Baten Caswell's voting support fell dramatically.

The behavior of the past law firm is extensively documented, not only in PAUSD but in other districts in court documents sanctioning the firm for unethical conduct. Many of the attorneys left the firm and started 2 new firms, which PAUSD hired without a search process. You can find this information in Board of Education recordings. The Board expressed unhappiness with their work and got them out.

"If that is really the case then the school district has yet more skeletons in its closet than we originally imagined!"

It is impossible to know what you originally imagined. It could not get much worse. In the last year, skeletons have come out of the closet that could not be more serious. We are under OCR Agreements for violating disabled student's rights and allowing them to be bullied at school. The District signed Agreements to the OCR's findings that the District ignored children reporting sexual abuse to senior administrators, so that more sexual abuse occurred. For direct evidence of this, you can also look at the disciplinary record of PAUSD senior administrators, the mass resignations of the last year, the meetings on poor performance. Be sure to look at the role of the law firm in this, writing a report that attacked administrators wanting to act on the abuse, the fact that the Superintendent had to get a different attorney to re-investigate, and the that the involvement and names of these attorneys were sometimes left off of public documents, leading to Holly Wade's sudden resignation after being told there would no longer be a job for her.

"It's one thing to speculate that they did, and keep doing, this stuff, but it is another to have specific details that the district sanctioned this and paid for it using pausd families' money"

Mr. or Ms. @What, part of a participating in a democracy is attempting to be informed before commenting a public form. This requires holding a basic knowledge of the background, history and reporting of issues before you comment on them. Instead,
you are coming late to the game, or pretending to, and throwing stones at the weak and vulnerable of the District (Disabled, Minorities, Sexually Abused). You are questioning the integrity of posters and Palo Alto Online, and the families who reported these tactics extensively, in letters to Board Members, at Board Meetings, in Palo Alto Online, in OCR reports, and in Office of Administrative Hearings hearings.

The irony is you yourself are speculating that the children, parents, teachers and staff who reported "this stuff" do not know what "they did". They must have made it all up, I guess. The Board Members, Judges, families, law firms who documented the problems must have some sort of illness to fabricate tactics they could not imagine existed before they experienced it themselves.

Your tactic is to harm the weak and vulnerable. Even when official channels found the problems were real, you try to begin the cycle of pain and disbelief all over again. How did that work out last time? Raising claims of broad ignorance ('we never heard of this', it's the first we heard of it') is also a tactic the board and Special Education attorneys used in past years. You can see it in Board meetings and read it in OCR case findings.

@What - are you a PAUSD P.R. person? Public Image Consultant? PAUSD's attorney? Similar postings seem to pop up whenever there is a legal issue. They carry a note of sarcasm, broad disbelief, and broad attacks. If the source of these are PAUSD, let's hope the new Superintendent will stop them. It is not working.

But one note of thanks - we can appreciate knowing someone wants to keep using these tactics, ironically now using the fact that there is so much information available over time, that it is harder to cite only a single incident without providing massive amounts of documents you will probably ignore. Given the District uses attorney client privilege to block release of information, the fact that so much of has become public shows families want change, and are willing to open themselves to ridicule and attack for speaking the truth. (Another tactic we have seen extensively in the past few years.)

The Board fired multiple staff after poor performance, not protecting children, poor evaluations of special education, mismanagement, parent disgust, and spiraling legal costs. New staff was brought in to fix it and repair relations. Let them do it. Don't set up backward. Don't start the tactic of raising doubt again.

Again, before you make these broad attacks on families and children you do not know, please do your homework and read the extensive record in:
Palo Alto Online
Palo Alto Online, Town Square
Public Information Requests, Posed on Palo Alto Online (pull down menu above, under school documents)
Public Information Requests, Posted sporadically on Palo Alto Unified School District Web site
Recordings of Board of Education Meetings for the past 5 years (3-13 hours a week of meetings), posted on Mid Peninsula Media Center
Recordings of Board of Education Meetings for the past 5 years (3-13 hours a week of meetings), posted on Palo Alton Online
Office of Administrative Hearings, Court Orders and Findings, State of California
Office of Civil Rights, US Department of Education
Attendance at Palo Alto CAC meetings, the Special Education liaison group for families in PAUSD
Recordings of Special Education Meetings


7 people like this
Posted by what?
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2018 at 12:46 pm

what? is a registered user.

Dear Really:

I don't know what you are talking about when you accuse me of "speculating that the children, parents, teachers and staff who reported "this stuff" do not know what "they did". They must have made it all up." I did not say you made any of this up. I merely asked for evidence which you would need if you ever decided to go after the district for denying pausd children access to education. And yes I have heard about the law firm's tactics but I was only asking if you had written evidence because you seem very knowledgeable about this. I was wondering why in a case so egregious as this sounds like it is, nobody has done anything yet (yes I'm familiar with the OCR cases in the district too). If we have solid evidence perhaps we should do what they did in Morgan Hill:
Web Link Or maybe there is another method. I'm not being sarcastic here. I truly want to know what can be done.

And about the skeletons in the closet. I think it could be much worse. I've heard stories about other school districts that experienced things that are much worse, which is why I want to see the problems here stopped before they get worse.

I'm not a ".PR. person," attorney or anybody else representing pausd except for a concerned parent whose high schooler has a IEP. We haven't always been treated very nicely either which is why I was wondering what we can do about this. If Stacey became interested in this issue along with the many others affecting us, she would have my vote.


20 people like this
Posted by pa resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 16, 2018 at 2:51 pm

@what: It happens all the time. The top heavy replacement staff is no improvement over the staff that was dismissed.

Why the pausd school staff supported by our pausd school board do this, I don't know. It can't be solely about money because they spend many times more on legal fees than what it would cost to do the right thing. Only those brave or desperate enough go up against the school district, which employs shark lawyers that blow up the situation instead of try to find a common ground. Schools only fight weakest families who don't have the resources to properly defend themselves and the school can win because they have lawyers that tell the school what to say. Just read the judgments, a lot of credibility is given to poise. And the school spares no expense to pile on people to attack the family.

Its a shame no one is doing any debriefing. In fact, its more of a shame that no one on the school board actually talks to families before they are attacked by lawyers. The Board just takes the lawyers word for it I suppose since they have to approve it. The lawyers many not even understand the disability since the school won't list it on documents.

The district does not take on VIP families, VIP families can afford more legal resources, can leave/pay for private school. It's shocking really that living in Palo Alto you would have your school attack your child and family because they needed customized support (which is the definition of IEP, Independent Education Program), a school is supposed to be safe and open minded for learning, instead it's abusive and depriving those that will have the most challenges to go on to take care of themselves as adults to critical years of education.

It's those that depend on the law being followed that are robbed of their child's education and future (as well as having to indirectly pay for their right to a public education, that is if you actually need anything unique). I know one family that ended up homeless after the pausd school blocked resources and they tried to fight it.

The district will backdate documents, fabricate actions, say they did something when they didn't, threaten parents with all kinds of made up rules to get them to sign special education documents. I also heard some parents say their signature appeared on documents they'd never signed. Another parent said that when were late for the school meeting, they went on without them and changed the student plan without calling out the changes and rushed them to sign. The parent embarrassed did and didn't realize the school removed several services. This is what happens when you trust the school. The school will tell you a meeting is about X so you will go, and then bait and switch to something on their agenda. Even if you say you are not interested, they will log it and add a student summary that is all rosy but nothing to do with your child's actual status so they can create an evidence trail. Is anyone looking into this or is the fox guarding the henhouse?

Like someone said above, talk to any special ed parent...

@Really: Thank you! The more people point out these tactics the less those of us that expose them get ridiculed and maybe someone will put a stop to it.


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