News

Palo Alto Unified settles Title IX case for $190K

Former Paly student said she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2015

The school board approved unanimously on Tuesday night a $190,000 settlement agreement with the family of a former Palo Alto High School student who said she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2015.

Palo Alto Unified Board of Education President Jennifer DiBrienza announced the terms of the settlement agreement after it was approved in closed session.

They also agreed that district staff would meet with the young woman, who the Weekly is not identifying to protect her privacy, to discuss the handling of her case and "steps taken to improve similar processes going forward," DiBrienza said. This meeting took place in December, she said. Title IX Compliance Officer Megan Farrell and Trustee Todd Collins attended the meeting, according to the settlement agreement.

The family declined to comment. They previously alleged that Paly and district administrators failed to properly handle the young woman's report that a male student sexually assaulted her on the school quad in November 2015, when she was a junior. They started the process of pursuing legal action against the district more than a year ago.

The district agreed in 2017, at the family's request, to sign a tolling agreement, in which the district waived its right to claim that any litigation should be dismissed due to the expiration of a statute of limitations, which would have occurred that month (two years from the date of the alleged assault).

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Cozen O'Connor, a national law firm the district brought in to investigate its handling of this and a 2016 report of student sexual assault at Paly, found that district responded promptly but failed to take the legally required steps to investigate and assess the impact of the incident on the young woman.

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

The investigation was not documented — there was no written investigation report — and the school failed to determine whether the female student was experiencing a hostile environment at school as a result of the alleged assault, which is required under federal civil rights law Title IX, the lawyers said.

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

The two Paly sexual-assault reports led to substantial public outcry and eventually, a series of personnel changes. They underscored the need for Title IX reform in Palo Alto Unified, which the federal government found to have repeatedly violated federal and state law in its handling of sexual misconduct cases. The district now has a full-time Title IX officer and new leadership that has committed to charting a more legally compliant and responsive path forward.

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Palo Alto Unified settles Title IX case for $190K

Former Paly student said she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2015

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jan 16, 2019, 9:17 am
Updated: Wed, Jan 16, 2019, 8:01 pm

The school board approved unanimously on Tuesday night a $190,000 settlement agreement with the family of a former Palo Alto High School student who said she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2015.

Palo Alto Unified Board of Education President Jennifer DiBrienza announced the terms of the settlement agreement after it was approved in closed session.

They also agreed that district staff would meet with the young woman, who the Weekly is not identifying to protect her privacy, to discuss the handling of her case and "steps taken to improve similar processes going forward," DiBrienza said. This meeting took place in December, she said. Title IX Compliance Officer Megan Farrell and Trustee Todd Collins attended the meeting, according to the settlement agreement.

The family declined to comment. They previously alleged that Paly and district administrators failed to properly handle the young woman's report that a male student sexually assaulted her on the school quad in November 2015, when she was a junior. They started the process of pursuing legal action against the district more than a year ago.

The district agreed in 2017, at the family's request, to sign a tolling agreement, in which the district waived its right to claim that any litigation should be dismissed due to the expiration of a statute of limitations, which would have occurred that month (two years from the date of the alleged assault).

Cozen O'Connor, a national law firm the district brought in to investigate its handling of this and a 2016 report of student sexual assault at Paly, found that district responded promptly but failed to take the legally required steps to investigate and assess the impact of the incident on the young woman.

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

The investigation was not documented — there was no written investigation report — and the school failed to determine whether the female student was experiencing a hostile environment at school as a result of the alleged assault, which is required under federal civil rights law Title IX, the lawyers said.

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

The two Paly sexual-assault reports led to substantial public outcry and eventually, a series of personnel changes. They underscored the need for Title IX reform in Palo Alto Unified, which the federal government found to have repeatedly violated federal and state law in its handling of sexual misconduct cases. The district now has a full-time Title IX officer and new leadership that has committed to charting a more legally compliant and responsive path forward.

Comments

Still Hurting
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2019 at 12:55 pm
Still Hurting, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2019 at 12:55 pm
38 people like this

I am glad to hear the family will get some closure, but why is this just Title IX compliance?

I still do not see that the district has come to terms with the long-term and very damaging retaliation, and the toxic environment that created for other kids not in the area of Title IX.

We actually told the last superintendent that if we could take a restraining order out on one administrator, we would, because of the retaliatory behavior (that we could prove). Yet that person was only given more (and sole) authority moving forward, and was able to commit further acts of intimidation, retaliation, and poisoning the well to create a truly toxic and unhealthy circumstance for our whole family, not just our child. The attempts to gaslight and undermine us were not limited even just to people within the school district, although that was bad enough and has ramifications to this day.

That person has only recently left the district, but is still in local education - and other influenced administrators remain - so we do not feel safe to pursue a complaint*, even though to this day, it affects our child’s education (who has a right to go to the local school but refuses to even go test there because of the fear and negative experience). *(While we have not pursued a formal complaint, we have tried to talk to some current board members about it and don’t see how it’s been any different than past board members like Townsend, in some ways, they’ve been worse now about it.)

I know people in the district read this and I know they know about others who have experienced and complained about retaliation — stop trying to sweep it under the rug. The nature of retaliation requires going into the past with an eye to truth and reconciliation. I do not think the district can extricate itself from this rotten culture if it does not make an attempt to proactively pursue dealing with the retaliations that were also part of its toxic culture that resulted in so many civil rights violations and the awful way it responded.


The Public Interest
Charleston Gardens
on Jan 16, 2019 at 1:05 pm
The Public Interest, Charleston Gardens
on Jan 16, 2019 at 1:05 pm
42 people like this

The district, which the federal government found to have repeatedly violated federal and state law in its handling of sexual misconduct almost two years ago.

The district did not disclose this incident to the federal law enforcement agency which was investigating it at the time this incident was reported.

The current Paly principal was the point person for this incident, according to the family, and was thus part of the mishandling of this incident, along with the just past prior Paly principal. Yet he was promoted......


Don't do anything extra
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:12 pm
Don't do anything extra, Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:12 pm
34 people like this

Great job PAUSD School Board and District! --- What a great commitment to compliance and civil rights you've shown by promoting the Assistant Principal who didn't follow the law in handling this incident to become principal of Paly! Does that serve our students? No, but it serves the union's goal of no accountability...


A Common Coverup
Community Center
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:23 pm
A Common Coverup, Community Center
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:23 pm
23 people like this

Curious. What happened to the individual who committed the assault?

That person should be sued as well.


Parent
College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:44 pm
Parent, College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2019 at 2:44 pm
5 people like this

Yes, the low person in the chain stayed and is now the principal. Meanwhile, the principal, compliance officer, and superintendent are all gone, presumably under pressure. So it seems like the leaders were held accountable for this incident and a pattern of related mis-steps. That seems like a good thing to me. The idea that the district was somehow too lenient or insufficiently diligent because the person four levels down is still around seems off.


Accountability?
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:00 pm
Accountability?, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:00 pm
10 people like this

[Post removed.]


Don't do anything Extra
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:01 pm
Don't do anything Extra, Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:01 pm
8 people like this

[Post removed.]


Parent
College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:33 pm
Parent, College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:33 pm
1 person likes this

My read of it is that the employee was inadequately trained and supervised, which is why the superiors were held responsible. You usually don't use the leaders as "fall guys" to protect a junior person who hadn't even been with the district very long (a year?). I can only imagine the howling if Paulson were fired and the others retained!


Accountability?
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:53 pm
Accountability?, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 16, 2019 at 3:53 pm
24 people like this

@Parent
They ALL should have been fired.

Paulson DEFINITELY should not have been promoted.

You don't really believe the lack of training excuse, do you?


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