News

Paly teachers: Facilities 'fall short' in campus safety

English department files complaint, requests immediate safety improvements

In the event of a school shooting, Palo Alto High School's English teachers worry that their classrooms are not sufficiently safe, with exposed doors and windows, a faulty intercom system and doors that don't lock from the inside. They are asking Principal Adam Paulson to take immediate action to address their concerns, captured in a formal Williams Complaint filed earlier this month.

"As teachers, we would rather spend our energy teaching the students—not worrying about how to quickly cover the windows of our classrooms or responding to yet another false fire alarm," the Paly English department wrote in a Sept. 11 letter to Paulson. "We are tired of waiting for safety improvements that needed to happen yesterday and would like immediate action taken to address our concerns."

Williams Complaints relate to instructional materials, emergency or urgent facilities conditions that pose a threat to the health and safety of students.

Paulson did not respond to a request for comment.

Shirley Tokheim, the English department's instructional leader, describes in the letter how the intercom in her classroom didn't work during an August lockdown drill, meaning she and her students didn't hear an announcement signaling it was time to barricade rooms across campus.

"Under the desk in the dark, I thought about the significance of what had just happened. Had it been an actual lockdown, with a shooter on campus, my students and I would not have heard the announcement and would have been wide open—doors open, lights on—for attack," she wrote. "All twenty-five of us might have already been dead."

Safety issues, particularly in Paly's 200 building and the new Media Arts Center, have been "ongoing for years," with teachers repeatedly asking for working intercoms and blinds to cover windows, the complaint states. Some teachers have made or brought their own curtains to cover classroom windows, according to the complaint.

Following a February lockdown training with the Palo Alto Police Department, the English department put together a list of safety requests, including installing dark curtains or roller shades in the 200 and Media Arts Center buildings; fixing intercoms and ensuring all rooms have working phones; installing door locks that can be locked from the inside; and ensuring all classrooms on campus have the same emergency bag system.

More safety issues surfaced after a shooting hoax that prompted a campus lockdown in March, when it "again became evident that our facilities fall short in providing a safe environment for staff and students," the teachers wrote.

In June, the school board allocated $111,399 for a contract to replace Paly's bell and speaker system.

The complaint also raises concerns about Paly's fire drill exit protocol, which hasn't changed as the school's population has grown over the years, the teachers note. They describe a walkway onto the football field, where the entire school gathers during a fire drill — including during false alarms, of which there were three in the first four weeks of school — as "the funnel of death."

Paly senior Caroline Furrier, the student representative to the school board, said at Tuesday's board meeting that there have been two false fire alarms this week alone.

Superintendent Don Austin said at the meeting that false fire alarms are a "front-burner issue" that the district and Paly administration are working to address.

"We believe that student conduct that puts students in danger through these series of false alarms Is completely unacceptable," Austin said.

In an email to the Weekly, Tokheim said there has been some changes in response to their complaint, including new blinds on doors, working intercoms and in the process of installing working phones.

"It seems the district has finally heard us and is taking our concerns seriously," she said.

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Comments

22 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2018 at 9:53 am

What is referred to above as "the funnel of death" is something that was brought to the administration's attention at least 5 years ago. How is it a good idea to put 2000 students (plus staff) in a big flat area with a fence around it and that has no concealment (let alone cover) in the case of a shooting?


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2018 at 10:43 am

There is a different kind of safety issue at Gunn. The campus is now divided by the construction work at the lobby of Spangenberg and the nearby (music?) building under construction. To get from one side of campus to the other requires going all the way around to and through the parking areas on either side of campus, or, through a single, narrow, fenced path through the middle.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2018 at 11:36 am

Obviously, the last principals didn't address this, hopefully, Paulson will.

My children said that as early as 2010, there were a lot of rooms that have nonworking TVs so they could never watch In-Focus (not like anyone listens, but still) everyone should have the choice to watch and listen.


17 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2018 at 12:13 pm

This is at least 20 years overdue. I have posted here previously that the security system in the older buildings is ineffective. There're buttons in the classrooms to activate a buzzer in the office, in case anyone's there & paying attention, which results in a maintenance or security employee getting a golf cart to go check out the reason for the alarm buzzer. This is slow & ineffective. Once a student collapsed during class & the teacher used her cell phone to call 911.
There's little support or assistance available to teachers yet everyone expects them not only to teach but "give emotional support" and career guidance to about 150 kids, some of whom come from quite dysfunctional homes & with parents who freely abdicate parental responsibilities to the teaching staff. "My child has poor self-esteem; My child doesn't get enough sleep & has to work too hard; My child doesn't get enough individual help at school."

They do their jobs as well as some jobs parents should do & still have to keep kids safe with obsolete & absent resources. Even Paly has little charmers like the kid who showed up on campus last (school) year in his truck adorned to demonstrate his solidarity with the NRA & 2nd Amendment crowd. That alarmed some of the other students, but Paly has more than its share of kids basking in entitlements their parents promote & subsidize.


13 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 12:37 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Glad to hear the teachers speaking up.

The fire alarms are out of control. There was another one yesterday, which makes, I think 6 or 7 for the year.

Pointed out years ago that the entire student body files in between the gym and the Auto Shop building a width of about 12 feet.

How can there already be issues with the safety of the MAC? It's a brand new building. Was student safety not taken into account when it was built?

Most large facilities have multiple staging areas. It doesn't make sense for those in the art building to walk all the way through campus to the football field. There's a large parking lot as well as the lacrosse field or the outdoor basketball courts that could also be used.

This is another instance where the school/district wait until there is a demand to action, before they do anything.

What was Diorio doing the past 5 years? I thought she was concerned about students' safety. Oh, but she got rid of those pesky streakers...


8 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:44 pm

One imminent related problem is the frequency of false alarms. They are very costly:
1.aprox $1200-1500/fire truck/car/use as fines x n times,
2.the instructions time aprox 1hr/each x number of students and teachers
3.the anxiety of each member in paly each time
4.the false positive feeling when a real threat occurs

School officials should take the matter quicker and more seriousl. Work with police department for forensic evidence to put a stop to this. There is high chance this is vaping related as well. It is not just a "prank".


11 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:56 pm

@ Samuel L.: Ms. Diorio did voice concerns to the District. The District did not adequately address the concerns. The safety concerns existed even before Ms. Diorio came to Paly.


9 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2018 at 2:36 pm

"Teacher " is correct. I asked about this even before the days of "chill Phil."


9 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 25, 2018 at 2:37 pm

There have been 8 false fire alarms since the school year began, and we are averaging more than 1 a week. A statement was issued by the principal warning about a $1K fine to any students pulling the alarms, and the following week we had 2 false alarms in one day.


Like this comment
Posted by Enforce Safety
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 25, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Teachers should be issued those 'alert buttons' to wear around their neck like old people do at rest homes.

As far as shooting prevention, an armed PAPD Community Services Officer (or SWAT team member) could be assigned to each of the two high schools as a show of force.

Metal detectors at the main entrances (like they have at county court houses) could be also installed with off-duty teachers serving as security.

Kids would now be required to show-up for school on time to ensure safe passage with detention for continued tardiness infractions.




7 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@teacher and Chip,
If it was such a concern and the district didn't respond, why didn't the principal's, Diorio, Winston, etc,or teachers go to a board meeting and publicly make the request? How high is the level of concern if they let it go on for 20 years? We are finishing up a 10-year $400M bond. Why weren't they addressed back then or during? The article states that the MAC has safety problems. How is that possible? The district found an extra $10M for gym upgrades, above their original commitment. Why didn't anyone demand that some of that go to school safety?
If money is being spent without concern for student safety, why should we vote to.pass Measure Z. Or is this how the district plans to scare us into voting for it???


10 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2018 at 4:11 pm

@ Samuel L and anothr
The issues were addressed & taken to the Board, whose members perceived no threat in our lovely Palo Alto & ignored the requests.

@ Enforce Safety -
Teachers aren't security guards, most of whom are minimum wage wanna-be cops. Teachers don't have "idle periods." If they have any free class periods, they're generally pretty busy doing lesson plans, reading, correcting & grading papers, grading tests, turning in grades to the registrar, writing recommendations for their students who are applying to colleges, responding to parental emails, helping kids outside of regular classroom hours, or maybe even trying to eat lunch. Got it? The last thing they want or are trained for is to be security guards.
Maybe you want the old people who work part-time as crossing guards in cross walks to stand around campus to sound an alarm?


8 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2018 at 4:16 pm

@ Enforce Safety - I forgot, please tell us where there are "main entrances" you'd like patrolled. Have you been to either high school? There are multiple access routes to every building & wing, not any main entrance.


27 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2018 at 4:37 pm

My freshman son said it's from all the vaping. In general, vaping can't set off fire alarms but so many students vape that it is possible. Students are vaping so much in the bathrooms that it deters students from using the toilets. My son purposely avoids drinking too much in the morning so he won't have to use a bathroom. This is a health issue that the school should address. Vaping detectors can be installed: Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 5:23 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Thanks Chip. Do you happen to know when it was that they addressed the board? I'd like to check the minutes to see how the board defended themselves.

@Paly Mom - I think they might be starting to lock the bathrooms. My son said one was locked today during school. Hopefully, this is not their answer to the vaping issue.

It would be nice if the administration were a bit more open and honest in their communications as to how they are going to solve these issues.


6 people like this
Posted by 70 Is the New 50
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 25, 2018 at 5:24 pm

> Maybe you want the old people who work part-time as crossing guards in cross walks to stand around campus to sound an alarm?

A supplement to Social Security?


>> I forgot, please tell us where there are "main entrances" you'd like patrolled. Have you been to either high school? There are multiple access routes to every building & wing, not any main entrance.


More job opportunities for seniors depending on entrances?

All they really need is a walkie-talkie.


7 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2018 at 5:43 pm

Samuel L, I don't know when it was, but when I visited an English classroom around 2000, I asked why there were no phones. I was told about the buzzer system & expressed concern about its inadequacy. I was told that the dept. chair at that time had brought the issue the principal & superintendent for board consideration, but I don't know exactly when.
At a later visit, it was obvious that there'd been no change.


7 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 5:51 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Oh, so it was brought up A LONG TIME AGO.

I wonder if it was brought up to the board since then. If not, why not. Why wasn't it put into the 2008 bond measure? Maybe Bob Golton can answer some of these questions.

Looking at the 2008 bond measure, there was definitely language that would have allowed them to upgrade those systems. The following is from the list of items the bond would cover for Paly:

Upgrade climate control systems, including passive technologies to conserve energy, such as shade canopies, energy-efficient windows, window coverings and shade control;install/replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
• Install/improve local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN) infrastructure to accommodate technology upgrades; install/upgrade communications systems.
• Building exterior and building shell renovation, including seismic structural upgrades and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) improvements to bring all buildings to current code; roofs; repainting and/or resurfacing.
• Classroom and other school facilities modernization and building interior improvements, including infrastructure and major building system upgrades.

Odd that Winston focused on harassing students and employees and Diorio focused on streaking, but neither bothered to focus on student and staff safety. Let's see what Pauson does.


14 people like this
Posted by Local parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2018 at 7:17 pm

@Samuel L,

There is a lot promised in the last bond measure and I cannot see that we got very much for all that money. It was especially ironic that elementary schools were justifying getting unequal improvements from donations because they didn't benefit from the bond, when it's hard to really see which schools actually got what the bond promised. It looks like a bunch of hardscape and new paint, and a few new big ostentatious buildings that could have been had for a fraction of the bond total.

Now we are being asked for more, right at a time when the middle-class families will be most squeezed because of the federal tax changes that suddenly made their property taxes non deductible. (I hope the Weekly will consider NOT endorsing any ask that isn't way more specific in how the money will be spent than this last bond and tax were, and unless the district provides a really clear accounting of how the money was spent and why they did such a poor job providing for what was promised. Oversight committees DO NOT ensure the money is spent WELL, only that it is spent for what the district says it is doing with it when the oversight committee meets, and the committee is pretty well led by Bob Golton, not the other way around -- which is not nearly what was promised.)

Glad to see the Paly teachers stepping up, although it makes me feel pretty sad that they had no courage to step up for special ed families or mistreatment they may have seen (or tried to ignore seeing), and that they have persistently failed to step up for other arguably more ever-present health and safety issues. Hopefully they have realized with Diorio's departure that they have to have courage to do the right thing and not just do what they are told.


10 people like this
Posted by Local parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2018 at 7:24 pm

@Chip,
I support the teachers, but find your attitude toward parents to be biased and dispiritingly negative. Read this recent op ed in the LA Times
Web Link

Our schools think all of students' time 24/7 is at their disposal and that parents trying to set boundaries are just meddling helicopers. Until families are able to set boundaries to protect personal/family time of students, the way laws protect the personal time of workers during the week, you cannot level such criticism against parents. When the school is such an overwhelming and dominant power in families' lives in order for the children to get their educations, the parents pretty much have to intervene when the child has needs that aren't being met in school, where they spent most of the day (and in schoolwork the rest of the day). Not that it helps much here since so many people in the schools have as degrading an attitude toward parents as you do. It might help if you read the ed code sometime on parent involvement. Them's the rules, too bad following the rules that protect students is so frequently just not honored here.


5 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 9:33 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

@ Chip @ Teacher,

Let's focus on solving this problem - really, who cares who used to work for PAUSD?

GB


5 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 9:58 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

@ Elena Kadavy

Have you confirmed that there are working phones in every classroom mentioned in the complaint? In community conversations with English teachers, it's not clear that the reporting is accurate.

GB


14 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2018 at 1:29 am

This is an outrage! Paly is locking bathrooms so people can’t vape?! Get vape detectors in the bathrooms and turn a blind eye towards vaping in a certain area. Back in the 70s, the hallway with the arches between the Tower Building and Haymarket Theater was the area where the “burnouts” (smokers) would hang out. Paly must offer bathrooms to students! What if someone is sick and has to vomit or diarrhea?


27 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 26, 2018 at 2:15 am

@ Local Parent-

I'm sorry you feel I've maligned PAHS parents & students. My comments are based on my experiences teaching in 3 different school districts. During 4 years at PAHS, I witnessed truly bizarre behavior from some parents there. For a couple of examples, a man entered the room, interrupted a class, said he was ___'s father, announced his job title & company & said he wanted to see all the grades given on a particular assignment on which his child had received a C so he could determine whether his child had been graded fairly. Is this normal & appropriate or does it indicate elevated egotism or narcissism.
One mother said, in front of her child, that he was "stupid" and needed extra help. She had a 2x week home tutor for him & wondered if that was enough. Only in Palo Alto have I had students living in homes alone, with only non-English speaking housekeepers, while the parents live in another country & don't even visit.
I left PA after 4 years for a nearby district & found those parents supportive of what I and other teachers consider appropriate classroom & campus behavior. They accepted the ban on cell phones in the classroom, supported anti-cheating policies, and understood that there are consequences for not turning in assignments on time or at all. They made appointments when they wanted to meet. They apologized if they called me at home late at night or on weekends. Pre PAHS, I taught in a very high-performing school outside the Bay Area. Coming to teach in Palo Alto was like falling down a rabbit hole & wondering what world I'd entered.
It is a unique community and the accepted attitudes & behaviors of many parents & students is also unique.


8 people like this
Posted by Local Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2018 at 11:59 am

@Chip,
You were in PAUSD for four years, and have a few stories to tell that I’d agree with you are outrageous, but they are not the norm, and it’s just wrong of you to generalize by them. We were here for more than twice that long and never witnessed anything like that. Instead, we witnessed many parents who sometimes had very high-powered jobs but you would never know it by how they humbly helped out in the classroom or to drive for field trips or serve at community get togethers, and worked with parents of very different SES backgrounds. Parents who didn’t have a lot of money sacrificially made sure the teacher never lacked for supplies and made sure that PTA fundraisers kept the library and arts supplies stocked. Parents served as the aides the district doesn’t really pay for anymore. In contrast to your experience, I’ve never been in such a giving and involved (in positive ways) parent community.

I have heard of stories like the one of the parent who called their child stupid and was raised by others, from friends overseas and in other communities, so I believe you that you witnessed that one here. I just think you are biased to using that to generalize to Palo Alto rather than understanding the origins of that and how it occurs in other places (and times). I have personally never witnessed anything like that here myself.

We had the opposite problem in which one teacher would come down hard and gossip about aparent as the overbearing parent if they sent ten emails in a year and asked for a teacher parent meeting once, while a friend’s teacher had no trouble staying in daily contact over their child (who was not special needs). Your standard of what is unreasonable is not universal, and the beat collaborative teachers are not that way because of policies.

I can see from your post that you have a very traditional outlook on education, and this could have resulted in conflicts in a community of people who are used to solving problems and innovating, a “maker” community, if you will. In my experience, I saw a lot of questioning of whether so much homework was healthy or even the only way to provide an equally high quality education. It’s why we have these choice orograms for lower grades, which unfortunately end by high school.

If teachers paid more attention to the impact their practices have on family life, that aren’t even necessary, they would get far fewer calls at home at night, as you say (though here again I have to take your word for it because I never witnessed such behavior.) As an example, the paper reported that one Gunn AP instructor worked 20 years to have his class not require any homework, and he found his students were even more engaged and they did just as well on the AP exam. No more arguments over kids who might have learning disabilities and struggle to turn in their homework, and kids do as well or better. (One thing I HAVE had contact with is kids who are trying their best but for whom so much unnecessary academic overhead is punitive and unhelpful, and THAT is what makes them relentlessly feel stupid and their parents complain. The level of academic busy work has seeped into lower and lower grades here, and if you were feeling pushback from that, that’s a different story to your other complaints. Just because you are justified to complain about some of those anecdotes does not mean all parent complaints you received were unjustifiedor unreasonable.)

The thing for us that was like falling down the rabbit hole here was the highly contentious, ineffective, retaliatory, self-absorbed, overpaid administration and upper leadership, who also had a really bad attitude toward parents, most of whom (that I knew if) were just trying to be reasonable and work through difficult problems. What I witnessed was that the harder the parents tried to find compromise and be reasonable, the worse they and their children were treated, including via vicious and often just wrong gossip at the top and to teachers. I have witnessed many more parents whose kids sometimes had significant and obvious disabilities who were never referred for services and were afraid to ask. I have never witnessed that anywhere in any organization, especially not one ostensibly for supporting children and education.


26 people like this
Posted by Meanwhile
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2018 at 1:18 pm

Another fire alarm has disrupted class today at Paly...likely set off by a student's actions and not an actual fire. Can we get back to the initial point of this thread rather than devolving into the same old finger-pointing that never seems to solve anything?


6 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 26, 2018 at 2:05 pm

@ Local Parent-
I cannot imagine how PA parents would be "afraid to ask" for needed services or why "significant and obvious disabilities" weren't identified before high school. Any requests for services are guaranteed to be forwarded to an appropriate agency or counselor. I saw no reluctance on the part of parents to ask for help but that was my experience and not yours.
All "big" assignment due dates were posted at the beginning of each semester. If a student waited to begin until the day before it was due, that's a time management problem better learned at the h.s. level than in college. Some kids plan their time well but others need help from parents to plan. Teachers can remind but have no control over what happens at home.
Paly had a policy on cheating, yet kids never expected to be caught. Some were serial cheaters. Often, parent of those who were caught begged for exceptions to the policy. "It'll ruin __'s chances to get into X school." Well, it's unfair to the kids who don't cheat to ignore the misdeeds. Cell phones were a common device used to cheat on tests, which is why they don't belong in a classrooms. Paly tried to ban phones in class & parents screamed as if they'd been stabbed. "It's very important that I be able to reach my child at any time in case of family emergency."
Maybe no parents came forward to offer me classroom supplies because I'd already spent $200-400 of my own money for needed items to set up my classroom before the children arrived in August?
Some parents skipped back-to-school nights but later wanted "private" sessions covering the same material.
Most late night phone calls weren't progress discussions or complaints about homework. They were usually to announce a last minute family trip, to Tahoe, Aspen, Hawaii or to accompany dad on his business trip to __, so what should we do about the exam jr. will miss or the assignment due while we're gone? And no, I wouldn't create a new, special mid-term to accommodate a jet-setting student and the regular mid-term will have already been graded & returned to the other students when the family returns.
Students who struggle in AP classes probably shouldn't be in AP, which is meant to challenge the ablest with more stimulation & depth than an average student needs. Some parents insisted on AP for a child who should never have been there based on previous performance. It's a choice. When teachers recommend that a child not take AP, there's a good reason for it. Some parents still insist & there are kids in APs who are under pressure because they are over-taxed. Should the teacher "soften" the curriculum? Should the parents blame the teachers if kids are taking classes above their levels of competency? We view it from different perspectives, obviously.
I just found attitudes at Paly I didn't experience either before or after at 2 other schools ranked among the top 25 public high schools in CA. I'm glad your experiences were so positive.


18 people like this
Posted by For the Birds
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 26, 2018 at 2:19 pm

>>Students who struggle in AP classes probably shouldn't be in AP, which is meant to challenge the ablest with more stimulation & depth than an average student needs. Some parents insisted on AP for a child who should never have been there based on previous performance.

Why would any parent do that? It only makes things harder for a struggling and misplaced student.

Does this have something to do with college admissions? Or parental bragging rights?

How lame.


Like this comment
Posted by Chris Dewees
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 26, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Two more false fire alarms at Paly this week, including one today.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Posted by Chip, a resident of Professorville

>> I cannot imagine how PA parents would be "afraid to ask" for needed services or why "significant and obvious disabilities" weren't identified before high school. Any requests for services are guaranteed to be forwarded to an appropriate agency or counselor. I saw no reluctance on the part of parents to ask for help but that was my experience and not yours.

I'm guessing that you left PAUSD prior to 2007, is that correct?

On the safety topic, has the origin of the fire alarms been determined? Can vaping actually set off fire alarms?


10 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2018 at 4:44 pm

My daughter was in a classroom with no functioning speaker system in place during the lockdown last year. Some staff were in the student center where there was also no functioning speaker system. A great portion of the campus was unaware of the lockdown because of the failed system. Most kids only knew because they have Palo Alto PD on their twitter accounts and saw the tweet. Paly is an open campus that can be accessed from MULTIPLE locations. Short of gating the entire campus and limiting entrance/exit points, you will never be able to ensure certain items do not make their way onto campus. To be honest, i would be just as nervous of a closed campus as i am such an open campus. Several of my daughter's friends were able to make it to Town & Country during the lock down and meet their parents. As for the highly obnoxious fire alarms...has anyone considered someone could be timing them? How do we know someone is not observing how long it takes for emergency response to happen? Can they be monitoring response time, faculty and student body routines? Our campus houses thousands of dollars worth of valuable electronics that can be readily and easily stolen. Think of the MAC, it sits on the OPPOSITE end of the designated evacuation site of the football field. How many laptops or computers can be driven off with? (not that this is the case but how easy it would be to accomplish that). My daughters have had to do the death march from one end of the campus to the football field during these endless false alarms and have said it makes them feel overly exposed and vulnerable. If there were a real fire happening, they've heard their friends say they'd run towards the Stanford lot or Town and Country before bothering to run towards the football field. Realistically, ushering everyone to the field seems inefficient and unsafe.
As a deterrent for the vaping the school will be closing bathrooms during the day. I'm not sure how it effects our Special Ed programs but I do know it will affect my children negatively to not have access to bathrooms when needed. How is this a solution?? For too long administration has let things slide and now students have a run of the place. it's maddening for students who are being punished for the acts of others. It's even more maddening that this has been happening for well over two years when the vaping first started to pop up. It's supposed to be a zero tolerance district yet kids are getting away with it. Hold kids accountable for their actions. Fining them may not phase them. If their academics were important to them, being reprimanded with suspension may have more of an impact.


7 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 26, 2018 at 4:58 pm

Tuesday, Sept. 18: "Today we had another false alarm at Paly before school started. I wanted to make sure families understand that this issue is high priority as the recent string of false alarms has interrupted the teaching and learning process.

The Paly administrative team has completed an initial walk through of campus to visually inspect each space where alarms have been triggered. We will be taking steps to mitigate these specific areas every day to minimize these interruptions. In addition, we will be sending information out to students about how triggering alarms affects both our school and community. We will also share with students the consequences for pulling an alarm which can include suspension and a potential $1000 fine. We will continue to refine the placement of security cameras and the placement of our campus supervisors in locations of concern around campus."

There was another fire alarm today during 6th Period.

From Adam Paulson, Paly Principal: "As part of our efforts, we will be closing restrooms periodically this week to inspect, test and potentially replace some of the sensors. All restrooms will be open during Brunch and Lunch to minimize the inconvenience for students. We will keep parents updated as we progress."


7 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 26, 2018 at 5:42 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

The vaping is causing the fire alarms. Why else would they be closing bathrooms to solve the fire alarm problem?

Why can't the school just come out and say that?

Paulson said they caught a student today. Wonder how big of a slap on the wrist they'll get. The alarm today went off during 6th, which is the 3rd or 4th one during 6th period. Advisory was cancelled and students stayed with their 6th period class during tutorial.

Some students have turned that place into a real sh** show.


11 people like this
Posted by Simple Solutions
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 26, 2018 at 5:53 pm

Why not just install a bunch of PA-style megaphone speakers on poles like in MASH?
Make the amplified signal loud enough and all the principal has to do is pick up a microphone in the office and make an announcement.

As far as vaping...just have a designated area. It wouldn't be hard to miss as the vape zone would look like SF on a foggy day.

And keep the restrooms open. When you gotta go...you gotta go.


8 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 26, 2018 at 6:51 pm

Closing the restrooms isn't acceptable. Is it possible to adjust the sensors in the bathrooms to be less sensitive?

Is it possible to determine if the alarms are triggered from the restroom sensors or because someone has physically pulled a hallway alarm lever? Better yet, can they tell which restroom sensor or exterior alarm was the trigger?


12 people like this
Posted by Local Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2018 at 8:17 pm

@Chip,

"I cannot imagine how PA parents would be "afraid to ask" for needed services or why "significant and obvious disabilities" weren't identified before high school. "

Like @anon, I am left to wonder if you were here when special ed was well-functioning, which was more than 10 years ago. Have you just been completely disinterested in the news, or do you know what has been happening here? Like the district persistently and flagrantly disregarding civil rights laws (that it writes itself to comply with the law), pre-emptively suing special needs families to intimidate them (and cost them lost of money), retaliating against families and their children in the classroom, fighting against parents and losing only to just ignore the hard-fought accommodations.

Either way, you were a teacher whose view would have been framed by the same administration who committed the above and more. I was a parent, and witnessed even children who had visible disabilities or very clear learning disorders, who were simply ignored (whether parents asked for help or not). I overheard the conversations of parents wondering how they would afford private school for their child with dyslexia or ADHD because PAUSD was withholding the services they needed. I have been told by parents who were overwhelmed by just dealing with their children's issues that they did not know how to fight. I have seen middle-income parents struggle to pay for the services a disabled child should be getting in school, with the district offering only very inadequate services years later when it would have been too late had the parents not simply shouldered the burden so their child had the resources to remain in school and develop as well as possible.

I have known more than one person who moved away because of how they were treated over their special needs child. By the way, the law requires teachers not to wait to be forced to offer accommodations but to reach out to parents and apprise them of their rights, because early intervention works better and is cheaper for the system. I have seen two situations in which the district went to the extent of doing an evaluation, then dropping the issue and quietly writing in the record (without parental knowledge at the time) that the problem was handled privately (when it was not). I have heard many stories of parents who were told their child did not deserve any accommodations even when very reputable testing found that they needed help. (And parents only paid for the testing out of desperation.)

You would be right that one "cannot imagine" such things, because I myself would never have believed people working with children could live with themselves for doing the kinds of things I've witnessed. Of course, I live on the other side of town, so I cannot speak to the bad behavior you saw. I've just never witnessed it myself, and I was very involved in the schools.

But then, you know what they say about people who tip the servers at restaurants. Rich people are not the biggest tippers. It's middle-aged women who have worked those kinds of jobs themselves. You chose the 90210 side of Palo Alto to work and live, and cannot generalize from that experience.

You aren't hearing what I'm saying about APs -- perhaps that's why you could never see eye to eye with parents. Challenging courses in which students learn enough to do well on AP tests do not have to involve crushing loads of homework. The belief that it's crushing loads of homework and only those who can shoulder them deserve to benefit from academic advancement is ruining the opportunities for hundreds of our district's children. But I'm more connected with independent learning communities now, and I have a lot of experience with students who suddenly thrive and can do far more and better than they ever knew was possible when they were out of a system that presented them with the crushing homework load or your life as the only option. It's discouraging to see that there are educators still so mired in that mindset.

I do think it was incredibly rude of people to call you at home at night to tell you about last minute travel to exotic places. Again, I've never witnessed that myself or known anyone who did that. On the other hand -- as someone who could never afford to do such a thing myself -- I feel really sorry for everyone who is so locked in that rigid system, where a child who has the unusual opportunity to take a business trip to a foreign land with a parent is expected to always forego such a special life learning experience because of inflexible minutiae of school that are unnecessary for learning the material in the long run.

Maybe you got a few lemons, I don't know. Maybe the parents on the north side of town are different than on the south. But I wonder if you have ever examined your own heart for how you could have contributed to obsessing over that kind of interaction instead of fostering the kind of generosity and care among parents that I have witnessed here?


8 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 26, 2018 at 8:32 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@Chip,
I do believe they can tell which alarm was triggered. In a note we received we were told that security would be increased in areas where alarms were set off.

We were also told that bathrooms would be closed to test and possibly replace bathroom alarms. Why do they need to close the bathrooms during school hours? Why not perform this work after 3:30?

Build one of those big glass smoking rooms that they used to have at SFO. Put them all in a box on the Quad and the other students can watch them be cool.


29 people like this
Posted by Meanwhile
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 27, 2018 at 6:40 am

Yes yes, the staff at Paly are sadists and the parents are terrible...now, what are each of those parties going to do about these fire alarms??? I know it's challenging to supervise the bathroom visits (staff), and it's never your kid juuling (parents), but maybe if we ALL did our part?


8 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2018 at 8:51 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

QUOTE: Closing the restrooms isn't acceptable. Is it possible to adjust the sensors in the bathrooms to be less sensitive?

Reflecting on my HS years (decades ago)...there were always guys used to smoke in the restrooms especially during AM brunch period. Time for a cig-break.

The Dean of Boys/Vice Principal would make his rounds & then bust certain individuals caught smoking. The punishment was usually a week of detention.

And of course there was always a 'lookout' who would stand outside the restrooms to alert the smokers that the VP on his way. Upon warning, the cigarettes got quickly tossed & the urinals became filled with butts.

Wondering if the girl smokers had a similar system...sans the urinals.


7 people like this
Posted by Up In Smoke
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 27, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Smoking and vaping tobacco should be legal on all HS campuses providing there are designated areas. School is stressful enough and sometimes you just gotta chill.

Pot breaks too (especially with a medical provision). Recreational usage should also be OK but only during brunch/lunch period...whether in the parking lots and/or TC Village!

Gonna do it anyway. Why create petty punishments?


5 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 28, 2018 at 12:12 pm

Cameras being installed outside Palo Alto High bathrooms to deter rash of false fire alarms
At least one alarm triggered by student vaping in restroom: Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2018 at 4:12 pm

There should be a designated smoking/Juuling (sp?) no-fault area somewhere, with punishment for using the restrooms. The punishment should be irritating enough that most students won't vape in the restrooms.


8 people like this
Posted by Student Patrol
a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 28, 2018 at 7:46 pm

How about student bathroom monitors? Let them patrol the restrooms and provide them with a walkie-talkie to verify any actual fires in progress. They could also issue vaping and smoking citations to various offenders.

It's another student activity they can include on their college applications and perhaps their efforts could be acknowledged with either a badge or special block letter of sorts.


3 people like this
Posted by PAEA nonsense
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 29, 2018 at 2:00 pm

The Paly teachers can get together to file a complaint but apparently they are unable to work collaboratively with their colleagues and the principal and vice principals. It's not that difficult.


2 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2018 at 11:45 am

kids is a registered user.

Parents can not have it both ways. you can not have a totally open campus and kids can not leave and go wherever they want, whenever they want to. You can not expect any staff to be able to monitor or keep kids accounted for or safe in this old situation. No human or security staff could keep this campus safe with the 20 year old protocols in place. Backpack checks, detention and supervised preps might be needed internally at least once in a while.

Children can not be put in harms way or breach privacy rights at bathroom doors.


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

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