In a "historic year" for the Palo Alto school district, school officials received in the 2017-18 school year more than 200 reports of sexual violence, gender and racial discrimination and other forms of harassment.
The vast majority of the reports — 130 out of 210 — alleged violations of federal civil rights law Title IX, according to an update to be presented to the school board on Tuesday. The district's Title IX office formally investigated and resolved 60 of the total reports.
The unprecedented spike in reports under Title IX and the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP) followed a reported student sexual assault at Palo Alto High School that caused an uproar in May 2017. Just two months before, the school board had approved a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, bringing to close a yearslong investigation into sexual misconduct at Paly and Gunn High School. The Paly case reignited concerns about the district's compliance with federal and state law and board policy in such incidences.
Tuesday's public data presentation is required under the resolution agreement. It does not include information about outcomes or findings in any cases.
While the majority of reports in the prior school year were related to Title IX violations, a "significant" number, 44, alleged racial discrimination or harassment, which "could indicate that there are issues of perception and bias that exist at schools," a staff report reads. The report, from Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks and Title IX Coordinator Megan Farrell, recommends the district offer further training on bias this year.
Last year, the district received 10 reports related to disability-based harassment or discrimination, three of harassment based on religion and 23 reports categorized as "other."
The majority of cases handled under the Uniform Complaint Procedure in 2017-18 were investigated by the Title IX office (29) compared to 16 that were probed by external investigators. Twelve UCP investigations were handled by school sites and four by the district's human resources department, according to the report.
Throughout the year, "administrators who had initially approached the Title IX process with trepidation became more comfortable using the Title IX Office as a resource," the report states.
However, this might not have been consistent throughout the district. "Fear of negative retribution" related to Title IX, the report states, "led to disperse management of these matters at the schools."
From July 1 through Nov. 16 of this year, the district received 48 reports of Title IX, discrimination and harassment complaints. Thirty-six allege Title IX violations, seven allege racial discrimination or harassment and three allege discrimination or harassment based on disability.
Of the total reports this year, 15 formal UCP complaints have been filed, resulting so far in three formal resolutions and four informal resolutions. Other investigations are still open. There had been no external investigations through Nov. 16, according to the report.
The Title IX office is now staffed by Farrell, the district's first-ever full-time coordinator, as well as a part-time administrator and full-time investigator. This has reduced costs, the report states, by cutting down on services provided last year by outside attorneys.
"These hires have allowed PAUSD to internally manage Title IX operations, including providing advice to school sites, conducting in-house investigations, training all staff, and undertaking proactive initiatives with school sites to minimize the risks associated with Title IX exposure and to standardize procedures and process," the report states.
Hendricks and Farrell made a series of recommendations for the Title IX office for the current year, including finding ways to resolve more cases informally than formally, when parties agree to do so. Nearly all of the people reporting concerns last year opted for a formal investigation process, "while the more rarely used informal resolution may have better served the parties," the report states.
They write that the individuals who opted for the formal process "did not appear more satisfied when compared to other means to resolve most of these matters."
Other recommendations include building relationships with administrators and meeting regularly with a designated Title IX point person from each school; adopting uniform descriptions of incidents for the public log to simplify data collection and better protect privacy; developing tools to aid investigations and documentation at schools; and increasing Title IX training at schools.
Under the federal resolution agreement, Palo Alto Unified is required to train all of its teachers and staff on Title IX and UCP by the end of the year and anticipated that 98 percent would have received such training by this week's board meeting.
The district is continuing to regularly post an updated UCP incidents log on its website.
The school board could discuss on Tuesday the Trump's administration's recently released Title IX guidance for colleges, universities and K-12 school districts, which diverges significantly from previous directives from the Obama administration, including by strengthening due process protections for the accused and allowing schools to change the standard of proof in investigations. The proposed federal regulations are subject to a public comment period of 60 days.
In other business Tuesday, the board's newest member, Shounak Dharap, and re-elected incumbent, Ken Dauber, will be administered the oath of office. The board will then elect a new president and vice president.
The board will also discuss a proposed candidate for general counsel; a revised memorandum of understanding with the Palo Alto Police Department; expanding an agreement with the city of Palo Alto to include Greendell School and a district-owned site at 525 San Antonio Road in the Cubberley Community Center master plan; and an update on Public Records Act requests, among other items. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.