News


Update: School board approves DNA privacy settlement

Five years after lawsuit filed, district to pay family $150,000

The Palo Alto school district has agreed to pay a $150,000 settlement to parents who alleged the district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when a teacher allegedly divulged that their son carries a genetic marker for cystic fibrosis.

The school board unanimously approved the settlement on Tuesday. The district's share is $41,253, subject to the remaining balance being paid by the district’s insurance joint powers authority, board President Ken Dauber said.

James and Jennifer Chadam settled their civil lawsuit with the district in an Aug. 1 conference presided over by Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James, court documents show.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Chadams will put $90,000 into a "separate and segregated interest-bearing account" until Dec. 12, 2018, when their son turns 18 years old. He will then receive the money, according to a court order the judge signed last week.

The Chadams will pay the remaining $60,000 to their attorney, Stephen Jaffe of the Jaffe Law Firm in San Francisco.

The settlement bars either party from contacting the press regarding the settlement, a provision Jaffe said was requested by the school district's legal counsel.

"I cannot speculate on its motive, but you can," Jaffe wrote in an email to the Weekly.

When asked if the Chadams are satisfied with the outcome of the case, Jaffe replied: "They're happy to bring this matter to a conclusion."

Superintendent Don Austin said he has no comment on the settlement. He said he had no knowledge of the provision regarding notifying the press.

Almost five years ago, the Chadams filed action seeking damages after their son, Colman, who carries the genetic marker for cystic fibrosis but does not have the disease, had been transferred out of his Palo Alto neighborhood school, according to court documents. (Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease in which a person must have inherited two defective CF genes — one from each parent — in order to have the disease. As a carrier, he does not have the disease and therefore does not pose any cross-infection threat to others with cystic fibrosis, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.)

Because Colman carries the genetic marker, and that information was made public to the family of two other students who actively have the disease, the school district forced Colman to leave Jordan Middle School (now Frank Greene Jr. Middle School) involuntarily after the parents of the other two students complained, according to court records.

The school district claimed it made the decision to send the Chadams' son to Terman Middle School (now Ellen Fletcher Middle School) allegedly based on a doctor's recommendation, but that doctor had never examined Colman nor spoken with his parents, according to an appeal the Chadams filed.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice filed an amicus brief siding with the family in February 2016, urging reversal of a court decision that ruled against the Chadams' lawsuit.

Nine months later, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal and sent it back to the District Court.

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Comments

45 people like this
Posted by Side w/the Chadams 2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2018 at 9:48 am

I don't know the Chadams, but know what they would have been up against behind the scenes. We left despite having an even more clear case of violation of our child's rights and safety (unrelated to this case, but caused by the same pernicious CYA culture in the district office), and clear evidence of persistent retaliation even against our child just for our trying to solve things. It was not worth fighting, even though I was sorely tempted to sue by CYA admins who wrongly seemed to think that further violating our rights by not fulfilling records requests (while creating a false record that they had) would deny us evidence (when we already have plenty) as opposed to just hurting a child more.

Good riddance to all the district admins and the district nurse who were involved in creating that totally unnecessary travesty for the Chadams (and us). Thank you to the Chadams for being willing to stand up to them, although our system really created no means of bringing about real justice or truth and reconciliation. Certainly, the terrible district legal advice got those lawyers the boat payments they wanted and the rest of us left with the damage.

Before anyone starts on about the money and what it would buy for the schools, I just want to volunteer right now that none of that would have been necessary if we had a collaborative, honest culture in our district administration office, so if the district learns the right lessons, it will be well worth it, a cheap lesson. The district spends more than that to pay a spin doctor every year.

I would also point out that no one really lost any money overall. My family will have put in an equivalent amount just in our taxes without being able to use the local school district ourselves because of the violations against our child, and I am much happier to see the Chadams win at least the moral victory (because I'm sure given what they experienced, five years of their lives in court was not worth this). If what they did contributed to the exodus of people who I feel shouldn't be working in education where they can do such damage to children, then it was well worth it.

I heard someone say recently that truth and reconciliation is a sequential process, and that first you have to get to the truth. I wish legislators would make it illegal for a public entity to put in a gag clause in lawsuits, misbehaving entities wouldn't count on throwing their weight around and might instead have an incentive to work things out. (Same for lawsuits related to any public interest, such as disasters.)


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2018 at 11:14 am

As a taxpayer, I'm relieved that this will only cost the district $150K, but, disappointed that the Chadams are barred from "from contacting the press regarding the settlement".

It is worthwhile attempting to understand how this incident could have happened. I think we all deserve to know what people were talking about when the PAUSD decisions were made. I can speculate that once the original, uneducated mistakes were made, people were embarrassed and afraid that correcting the mistakes might somehow affect the PAUSD "brand".

PAUSD exists to educate students, not to help sell real estate under the PAUSD brand or whatever other such concerns this might be about.

"Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income."


28 people like this
Posted by wayne douglass
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2018 at 12:21 pm

I can only echo the first responder to this story:
"Good riddance to all the district admins and the district nurse who were involved in creating that totally unnecessary travesty for the Chadams (and us). Thank you to the Chadams for being willing to stand up to them, although our system really created no means of bringing about real justice or truth and reconciliation. Certainly, the terrible district legal advice got those lawyers the boat payments they wanted and the rest of us left with the damage."
Alas, "the same pernicious CYA culture in the district office" is more widespread than this one incident. It pervades EVERY institution in public life and private: the fear of being sued. From this attitude comes the natural consequences when the loser of the suit crafts a "consent agreement" that simultaneously does not admit guilt and forbids contact with the press. Some "consent", some "agreement."
The effect is always the same: "When asked if the Chadams are satisfied with the outcome of the case, Jaffe replied: "They're happy to bring this matter to a conclusion." Throw a gang of lawyers at the plaintiff (at taxpayer expense), and wear the olaintiffs down. I'd be "happy to bring this matter to a conclusion," too.


25 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 21, 2018 at 8:19 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

How much did PAUSD spend on attorney fees on this case to fight the wronged family for a mere $41,253?

How pathetic that PAUSD prefers to fight families, to the benefit of the lawyers, instead of doing what's right from the beginning.


16 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2018 at 9:51 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Once again, these things have all taken place under the attempt to hide and coverup the facts from the community. The truth is always the first victim.

Oddly enough, I suspect that if the district would tell us what is happening, we would find that it is not nearly as bad as we often imagine.

The other strange thing is that it doesn't seem to matter who the players are. Superintendents come and go, staffers are expendable, and we elect new board members, often promising "transparency".


12 people like this
Posted by Side w/the Chadams 2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:48 am

"Oddly enough, I suspect that if the district would tell us what is happening, we would find that it is not nearly as bad as we often imagine."

@rsmithjr,
I know! I feel the same way. In fact, so many times we ourselves experienced situations where the district could have acted in a way that did the right thing, helped everyone, and made the district look good in the end. They forgo win-win after win-win.

The trouble is that people with a CYA tendency in the first place box themselves in, especially people who are prone to making up stuff or telling parents one thing while carrying on a whole different conversation with staff behind their backs. It's hard to keep their stories straight. It's hard to ever come clean. So they tend to fall back on CYA and intimidation tactics.

People like that really shouldn't be in charge of teaching or caring for children, who need to learn how to take responsibility in life, how to solve problems, and how to communicate. And live as honest, earnest human beings (who can sleep at night because they always do their best to do the right thing).

How does the district create procedures for staff to ensure and open, honest, collaborative culture? This is not new for organizations. (I personally think we pay administrators too much -- people don't want anything to rock the boat before they jump ship to an even higher paying job somewhere else.)


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

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